Hong Kong’s Hutchison Whampoa has reiterated that it sees little scope for more concessions to gain European Union (EU) approval of its proposed EUR1.4 billion (USD1.87 billion) bid for France Telecom-Orange’s Austrian mobile unit. Last week EU regulators revealed that they intended to carry out a full probe into the transaction, objecting that the deal – which will cut the number of telecoms operators in Austria from four to three – will lead to higher consumer prices. Hutchison, Austria’s smallest mobile operator by subscribers, has already offered to let broadband operators such as UPC Austria and Tele2 Austria access its enlarged network as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), in an effort to allay regulatory concerns.
In an effort to push through the contentious deal, Hutchison has dispatched erstwhile managing director Canning Fok to Europe to tackle the problem head-on. At a press conference in Vienna Fok declared: ‘Instead of opposing the merger of the two smallest operators in Austria, the Commission should allow it to proceed and facilitate the entry of new, competitive mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) players in the Austrian market’. Amid rumours that the next stop on Fok’s agenda is Brussels, he noted: ‘I can have all the patience in the world but our agreement expires at a certain point’. The EU watchdog’s has imposed a 30 November deadline on its decision and Fok has admitted that the merger agreement, which was first signed in late-November 2011, is due to expire not long after.