Zut! Ze Europeans Hate U.S.'s Hi-Tech Mergers!

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Mario Monti doesn't necessarily hate America. The European Union's Competition Commissioner, the Joel Klein of the Continent, is Italian, after all, not French. But this week his commission moved to block the WorldCom-Sprint deal and launched an investigation into AOL-Time Warner (parent of this site), and in the past year it has started similar probes into deals by Boeing and Microsoft. Could Monti's evident distaste for American corporate marriages be less about antitrust law than geopolitics?

Certainly, Europe's politicians and business leaders aren't complaining about Monti's moves against the high-tech mergers. To a continent still following America's lead on all things connected (except for cell phones), the threat of WorldCom or AOL owning too much of Europe's Internet plumbing is practically a matter of national security, or at least of national pride. It's worse than McDonald's, Coke and Nike all rolled into one, because even the Europeans know that high-tech telecom is the future of the world economy, and they're determined that globalization not mean — sacre bleu! — Americanization. (Maybe when Vivendi finishes Seagram's and gets into Hollywood, the French, at least, will feel better.)

So are the Europeans really trying to keep America down? Monti's staff is telling him that a short list of U.S. Internet companies are poised to own Europe's Internet backbone, and WorldCom and Sprint are high on it. Would it help if WorldCom were a French outfit? Maybe. European business does think nationally first, and officials there may be underestimating U.S. companies' determination to compete with each other. But Monti has a record of being plenty tough on Eurodeals, too, and he has as many detractors among Europe's pols and CEOs as Klein does in Redmond (well, maybe not that many). There's little sign of ulterior motives in Monti's vigilance — Klein would be complaining if there were, and the two are fast friends — but it won't hurt his popularity at home either.