Vivendi Says EU Court Should Uphold Its France Telecom Complaint

Vivendi SA said its complaint alleging antitrust violations by former French telephone monopoly France Telecom SA was unlawfully rejected by European Union regulators.

The European Commission’s July 2010 rejection of the complaint that France Telecom abused its dominant position should be overturned, Olivier Freget, a lawyer representing Paris-based Vivendi said in a hearing at the EU General Court today.

“This is a complete denial of justice,” Freget, who works at law firm Allen & Overy LLP in Paris, told a three-judge panel of the Luxembourg-based court, the second-highest in the EU. “As long as this decision exists, we are blocked or won’t be able anymore -- without major difficulties -- to raise the points in it, even by re-filing a complaint at national level in Paris.”

French telecommunications operators are trying to protect revenue in one of Europe’s most competitive markets for fixed-line services. Vivendi had 5 million fixed-line subscribers as of Sept. 30 and its SFR unit had 20.9 million mobile customers while France Telecom had 17.8 million fixed-line subscribers and 26.6 million mobile clients.

The commission in its decision said the March 2009 complaint had to be rejected because “there wasn’t a sufficient EU interest in pursuing the investigation of the alleged violations.”

Discriminatory Practices

Vivendi had argued among other points that France Telecom followed a strategy of artificially increasing its competitors’ costs through discriminatory practices.

The company’s complaint at the time “was extremely ambitious,” Bernard Mongin, a lawyer for the Brussels-based commission told the court today.

The EU antitrust regulator rejected the complaint for two reasons, said Mongin. One, was that it had a “very limited effect on the functioning of the market” and two, there was a “limited probability that any violation could have been established.”

Any ruling by the EU court can be appealed one last time.

The case is: T-432/10, Vivendi v. Commission.