Court tells EU to think again on three-year-old €10bn UPC-Ziggo merger

Alan Burkitt-Gray
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European Commission failed to look at pay TV implications, but 2014 was followed by Vodafone partnership with cable company

Telecoms competition in the Netherlands has been thrown into confusion after a European Union court reversed a 2014 merger approval.

The court has told the European Commission that it has to look again at its agreement three years ago that two cable TV companies, UPC and Ziggo, could merge.

But confusion has become even more complex, because since then the combined operation merged with Vodafone’s Netherlands mobile business to create VodafoneZiggo.

However, VodafoneZiggo is taking heart because the EU general court decided the Commission was at fault in the way it considered the impact on sports TV services that Netherlands operators carry – not on the fundamentals of the merger.

“We are confident we will still get approval for the merger,” VodafoneZiggo official Gradus Vos said, according to local media. “The court’s objections strictly relate to the procedure the Commission followed, not to the reasons for approval.”

Former incumbent KPN brought the case against the European Commission. A spokesman for the company, Stefan Simons, said: “It is now up to the European Commission to decide what they will do with [the original decision].”

KPN had said the Commission was wrong not to consider the potential effects of a UPC-Ziggo merger on sports TV. Liberty Global was the owner of UPC and acquired Ziggo for €10 billion. It is now a 50-50 shareholder in the VodafoneZiggo joint venture.