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Monti Reflects On Evolution Of Antitrust

E.U. Regulator Had A Turbulent Tenure

By Jonathan Krim
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2004; Page E01

He was vilified in U.S. industry and government circles for blocking the merger of General Electric Co. and Honeywell International Inc. in 2001 after the Justice Department had approved it. And when the European Union directorate he heads ordered Microsoft Corp. to remove a key feature from its Windows operating system, the U.S. antitrust community convulsed again.

Now, as Mario Monti ends a sometimes tempestuous five-year run as Europe's antitrust commissioner, the man known as Super Mario envisions a continuing need for regulators to tackle unresolved international antitrust issues that might put some in the United States on edge.

Mario Monti says E.U. antitrust policy is "now something to be reckoned with," as he steps down as commissioner. (Francois Lenoir -- Reuters)

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In a wide-ranging interview yesterday, Monti said E.U. competition policy is "now something to be reckoned with." He said he is confident that his likely successor, Neelie Kroes, who is awaiting confirmation, is a strong advocate who can continue to push in new areas if she chooses.

Monti said he is concerned, for example, that a U.S. state is free to subsidize companies -- often as inducement to locate in the state -- while nations in the European Union are prevented from doing so. He said the international community needs to find a common approach to subsidies.

He also questioned whether companies should be allowed to cooperate on setting prices on products they export to other countries. Currently, such "export cartel" activity is exempt from U.S. antitrust laws, because, Monti said, the action does not hurt U.S. consumers.

Monti suggested that governments should not be able to act as cartels any more than companies. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, for example, has been able to set world oil prices and stay outside the reach of antitrust enforcement because the group is made up of governments, not companies.

"These are important issues in antitrust for the next 20 years," said Monti, an Italian economist.

As antitrust commissioner, Monti often was attacked by his critics as a power-hungry academic who knew little of corporate needs. Those who believe that markets should be unrestrained by regulation felt his primary motivation was to make the E.U. a gatekeeper on the world business stage, regardless of its impact on consumers.

But others credit Monti with bringing Europe's antitrust laws more closely in line with those in the United States, even if the Americans did not see eye-to-eye with him on every decision.

"He has brought economics to the fore," said Ernest Gellhorn, a professor of antitrust law at George Mason University. "I may not agree with all of his analysis, but he . . . invigorated antitrust enforcement. I'm an admirer."

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