Fish eat fish

Ombudsman investigates the outsourcing of EU's merger tool evaluation to Google's consultants

The EU Ombudsman has opened an investigation into a contract awarded by the European Commission to the economic consultancy firm RBB Economics to evaluate one of its merger control tools. This case is a clear conflict of interest: RBB Economics advises corporations on mergers and acquisitions and has a long-standing relationship with Google and several other tech companies.

In 2021 the European Commission hired the economic consultancy firm RBB Economics to evaluate one of its merger control tools. The European Commission’s evaluation of its merger rules comes at a crucial moment. Decades of lax merger enforcement policies have led to increasing market concentration, especially in the tech sector.

Research by Corporate Europe Observatory and LobbyControl shows that the European Commission has barely explored whether such an appointment would be a conflict of interest.

RBB Economics has been involved in many of the most controversial high profile mergers in recent history. The firm has also been lobbying for years in favour of weak enforcement of the EU’s merger rules, and against key provisions of the Digital Markets Act.

This is not a new phenomenon. For many years the European Commission has hired consultancy firms to undertake investigations and analysis in policy areas that they have a direct or indirect financial stake in. For example in 2020 the Commission hired BlackRock, the biggest asset manager in the world with major investments in fossil fuel companies, to advise on policies on sustainable investments.

The BlackRock case prompted the European Ombudsman to demand a revision of the Commission’s conflict of interest rules when issuing tenders. But recent research from CEO and LobbyControl shows the European Commission has not amended its internal procedures. We call on the Commission to end the hiring of consultants with strong vested interests in the issue they’re consulting on, and to chart a different path in its approach to mergers.

Bram Vranken, researcher and campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory said:

“In a context where Big Tech’s monopoly power is finally being questioned by regulators, it is especially alarming that a crucial aspect of that agenda is now being outsourced to a consultancy company which has a long track record of defending companies with monopoly interests.

The Ombudsman investigation once again puts the spotlight on the Commission’s problematic tradition of hiring consultants with a strong vested interest.”

Felix Duffy, campaigner at LobbyControl said:

“The fact that the EU Ombudsman has again opened an investigation into a conflict of interest is embarrassing for the Commission. It should anticipate the Ombudsman's decision and ensure that there are no conflicts of interest in public tenders. The conflict of interest rules need to be improved quickly and the contract with RBB Economics should therefore be terminated immediately.”


For more information:

Bram Vranken,, tel: +32 - 497 13 14 64

Kenneth Haar,, tel: +45 - 23 60 06 31

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