Vodafone Says Liberty Deal on Track as EU Focuses on Germany

(Bloomberg) -- Vodafone Group Plc is sticking to its timeline for completing a $20.6 billion takeover of Liberty Global Plc’s cable assets in eastern Europe and Germany even as European regulators issued a so-called statement of objections cataloging concerns about the deal.

“We still expect to receive final approval in the middle of this year,” Vodafone said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. The U.K. mobile-phone company will review the submissions “and continue our constructive dialog” with the European Commission, it said.

The EU statement lays out potential antitrust concerns with the deal that the company can challenge in writing or at a hearing. Problems can be tackled by making an offer, usually the sale of a unit or changes to business behavior. The EU currently has a June 3 deadline to rule on the deal, which can be extended.

The acquisition would help Vodafone bundle internet, phone and TV services in Germany, its biggest market, in a challenge to former monopoly Deutsche Telekom AG. Regulators said last year they were concerned that merging Vodafone with Liberty’s Unitymedia cable internet business would reduce the number of providers and eliminate competition.

The European Commission is now focused on three issues exclusively in Germany, according to people familiar with the contents of the statement. Foremost is the overlap in cable-broadband services within the combined company, as well as the increased bargaining power Vodafone would have in talks with broadcasters over media rights and wholesaling broadcast signals to local operators.

Officials have shelved concerns about Eastern European overlaps previously outlined by the commission in December, according to the people, who did not want to be identified as the discussions are private. They are also relaxed about how Vodafone’s multi-play offers -- broadband, TV and phone services -- might edge out rivals, one of the people said. The statement’s contents were first reported by the MLex news service on Tuesday.

Liberty Global Plc declined to comment.

Vodafone shares closed 0.2 percent higher in London at 142.2 pence, while the U.K.’s benchmark FTSE 100 Index advanced 1 percent. Liberty Global shares traded up 1.3 percent to $25.22 at 12.34 p.m. in New York.

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