Viv U, Lagardere deal rests in EC’s hands

Single authority to investigate pact

The fate of Vivendi Universal’s attempt to sell its non-U.S. publishing business to rival French media group Lagardere will lie solely with Brussels trustbusters. The European Commission on Wednesday declined France’s request that the country’s competition authorities be allowed to review the deal.

Commission said the deal, which would shift up to 65% of French publishing sales into the hands of Lagardere as part of a 1.25 billion euros ($1.44 billion) acquisition first announced nearly a year ago, has significant implications for European publishing.

Accord in purgatory

Deal with Lagardere, which like Viv U controls around 30% of the French publishing market, has been in regulatory purgatory since Viv U announced the terms last October. Sources, in fact, say Vivendi Universal’s current caution regarding the sale of Viv U Entertainment is partly designed to avoid confusion or delays in the process that might ultimately undermine price.

French competition authorities in May requested that they be allowed to handle the case, citing domestic cartel concerns in the book industry in particular.

Commission said in a statement that a single authority needed to vet the deal rather than having two simultaneous investigations.

The French Culture Ministry said it would await the future decision, now expected Dec. 3.

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