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Staples-Office Depot merger approved in Europe, with concessions

People walked into a Staples office supply store in Miami.Lynne Sladky/AP/file 2011

LONDON — The European Commission said Wednesday that it had signed off on a $6.3 billion merger of Staples and Office Depot after the companies agreed to sell some of Office Depot’s operations in Europe to ease competition concerns.

The approval comes just over two months after the US Federal Trade Commission sued to block the transaction over similar competition issues.

European regulators and the FTC both raised concerns that the combination of the office supply companies would significantly reduce competition for office supply contracts sold to large companies. In 1997, the FTC blocked plans by the two to merge.

On Wednesday, antitrust officials at the European Commission said that the companies had agreed to sell Office Depot’s contract distribution business in the European Union and in Switzerland to address competition concerns. Office Depot will also sell its entire business in Sweden, the commission said.


“The substantial remedies package offered will ensure that effective competition is maintained, in particular on the European Union’s international office supplies market,” Margrethe Vestager, the commissioner in charge of European competition policy, said in a news release. “This will allow European companies to continue to benefit from the single market by procuring their office supplies internationally and to reduce costs.”

In its review, the commission found that Staples and Office Depot are two of only three suppliers of items like pens and paper capable of entering into the international supply contract market for large business customers in Europe.

The commission said it was satisfied that the divestitures of Office Depot would “remove the entire overlap between the merging companies in all markets where concerns were raised.”

“This is a significant step, and we’re very pleased that the European Commission has approved this transaction,” Ronald L. Sargent, the Staples chairman and chief executive, said in a news release.


In an administrative complaint filed in December, the FTC said that Staples, based in Framingham, Mass., and Office Depot, based in Boca Raton, Fla., are each other’s closest competition for office supplies and are often the top two bidders for the business of large companies.

At the time, the companies said the FTC’s decision was based on a “flawed analysis” and a misunderstanding of the market.

The two companies announced plans in February 2015 to merge in a deal worth more than $6 billion.