Pushed out, president of French competition body feels ‘surprised and disappointed’

Isabelle de Silva expressed her "surprise"  because, as she explained on Saturday 9 October in the columns of the Financial Times, "until a few days ago, [she] was quite confident" about her renewal. [Autorité de la Concurrence]

The president of the French competition authority, Isabelle de Silva, who has slapped a record-high fine on Google during her tenure, has revealed that she will not be reappointed and will no longer work on some “difficult projects”, including the merger of TV channels TF1 and M6.

“I was hoping to continue, it’s true, because we have carried out difficult and important projects,” the outgoing president of the Competition Authority (AdlC) said on Monday (11 October) on BFM Business.

“At the time, I was a little surprised but I respect the freedom of choice of the authority that decides [the President of the Republic, editor’s note],” she said, not hiding her disappointment.

De Silva expressed her surprise because, as she explained on Saturday in the columns of the Financial Times, “until a few days ago, [she] was quite confident” about her renewal.

De Silva was appointed to her post on 14 October 2016 by decree. During her five years at the helm, she has not hesitated to confront the digital giants, and her tenure has recently been marked by the record €500 million fine imposed on Google for failing to negotiate “in good faith” with press publishers as part of an agreement on neighbouring rights.

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Rapprochement between TF1 and M6

The announcement of her departure, or non-renewal, comes six months before the first round of the French presidential elections, at a time when the antitrust authority should take a position on the merger between the channels TF1 and M6, in order to create a French media champion.

On the government side, this project is seen in a positive light.

“This merger does not worry me. There are two things that I am watching with interest: respect for pluralism in the media and respect for the rules of competition,” Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot told France Info in late August.

The Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel, which is due to give its opinion on this merger at the start of 2022, said through its president, Roch-Olivier Maistre, that it found it natural and understandable that the players in the French audiovisual landscape should “get their act together” in order to “develop their capacity for investment and a kind of cultural sovereignty”.

De Silva said, however, she saw the merger as “a difficult issue”. “It was one of the reasons why I thought it was the right thing to continue the work we have started in the last few months,” she said on BFM Business.

The AdlC could indeed have some concerns, as this new “champion” would inherit the vast majority of the audiovisual advertising market.

“I felt that it was not necessarily a good thing to change the captain in the midst of such an important and difficult case,” de Silva told the Financial Times.

She will now return to the Council of State and will be replaced by Emmanuel Combe, vice-president of the authority since 2012, before a new appointment by decree of the president of the republic, following the opinion of the committees of the National Assembly and the Senate.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Luca Bertuzzi]

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