The Office of Fair Trading has asked the European Commission to refer the retail merger between Thomas Cook, The Cooperative Travel and Midlands Cooperative to it for review.
The OFT said the deal threatens “significantly to affect competition in the supply of travel services via retail travel agency outlets in the UK”.
The move threatens to delay the merger and could eventually result in a ruling against or request that the companies divest some outlets. The OFT said it wished to examine the deal with a view to deciding whether this should be referred to the Competition Commission for investigation.
The OFT suggested it was “the more appropriate authority to review the joint venture given that any adverse effects will be exclusively felt by consumers in the UK and in light of the OFT’s experience in assessing retail markets”.
The EC will decide how to proceed by January 6. If it passes the review to the OFT the latter will have 45 days to determine whether to call in the Competition Commission.
In a statement, Thomas Cook group chief executive Manny Fontenla-Novoa said: “The joint venture is a clear demonstration of our commitment to the high street. We knew this request was a possibility and will continue to work closely with the relevant authorities. We remain confident the transaction will be cleared in due course.”