The concept of an “enterprise” has been at the heart of the UK’s idiosyncratic system of merger control from the passage of the Fair Trading Act in 1973 through to the present regime set out in the Enterprise Act 2002 (“EA02”). A consistent feature of the regime has been that it catches a transaction only if it involves two (or more) “enterprises” ceasing to be distinct. Leaving aside for present purposes the complexities of the notion of “ceasing to be distinct”, when a purchaser buys a collection of assets previously used to carry on a business, has it bought just a collection of assets, or has it bought an “enterprise”? If it has bought only assets, but not an “enterprise”, then the transaction lies outside the scope of UK merger control. So the question of what “enterprise” means is, often, a critical one on which turns the regulation of very major transactions.
Please click to view the full Societe Cooperative de Production SeaFrance S.A v CMA and DFDS case note.