Mario Monti, the European Commission's chief antitrust enforcer, spoke last week in his Brussels office with TIME bureau chief James Graff.
Q: Earlier this week U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said the European Commission, "not elected by anyone," was meddling "outside their jurisdiction" in the GE-Honeywell case. How do you explain this ruling to him and the millions of Americans who seem just as baffled?
A: Like other antitrust agencies, we make our assessment of a merger or antitrust case based on its impact on our jurisdiction and not on the nationality of the companies. This is exactly what the U.S. antitrust agencies do. There was a case last year where the merger between two E.U. companies [France's Air Liquide and Britain's BOC Group] was approved here and blocked in the U.S.
Q: When President Bush said he was "concerned" about Europeans rejecting the deal, why did you interpret that as political intervention?
A: My statement was not addressed to the authors of political statements. I said that I deplore attempts to misinform the public and to trigger political intervention. And there were such attempts.
Q: Does this case mark a fundamental divergence between European and U.S. regulators over what dominant companies like GE may do in the global marketplace?
A: We have seen a partial divergence on this case. That doesn't mean there was a right decision and a wrong decision. But take a merger that was larger than this one, AOL Time Warner [parent company of TIME]. There the European Commission authorized the merger well before the FTC did, and I would say with less heavy remedies.