E.U. chief seen as keen to push Oracle merger through

The European Commission has confirmed that it wants to reach a decision on Oracle Corp.’s hostile bid for PeopleSoft Inc. before the end of October, prompting speculation that it will approve the merger.

“Mr. Monti would like to take a decision on this case before the end of his mandate (on Nov. 1),” a spokeswoman for European Union (E.U.) competition Commissioner Mario Monti said on Friday.

The Commission suspended its investigation into the case in April, saying that it was waiting to receive extra billing information from Oracle.

Oracle believes that it had supplied the Commission with all the information it could, arguing that it has already provided the Commission with the data it needs to take a decision, people close to the case have said.

But Monti’s spokeswoman said on Friday that Commission officials are still in contact with Oracle, with a view to obtaining additional information, which the company promised to send as quickly as possible.

The Commission’s desire to decide the case before Monti’s tenure ends on Oct. 31 is seen as an indication that the E.U.’s executive body does not share the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) view that the merger should be blocked on competitiveness grounds, said a source close to the case. “If (the Commission) was minded to block this, why hasn’t it done so already?” the source said.

Given the time needed to get approval to block mergers it seems unlikely that Monti could veto the merger by the end of October, raising expectations that the Commission will support it.

The Commission appears not to want to wait and see if the DOJ appeals the ruling of a San Francisco court, which said that the DOJ’s attorneys failed to justify blocking the merger. The department has 60 days to decide whether to lodge an appeal.

According to people close to the case, Monti is keen to avoid handing over the decision to his successor, Neelie Kroes. In a previous merger case involving MyTravel Group PLC’s Airtours division and First Choice Holidays PLC, the preparatory work on the case was done by Monti’s predecessor, Karel van Miert, but Monti made the decision to block the merger within weeks of taking office.

The decision was later challenged by the companies and then overturned by Europe’s Court of First Instance. The court’s ruling prompted the Commission to launch a major overhaul of how it took competition decisions and, in particular, requiring it to meet an even higher burden of proof to block mergers.

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