The European Commission's competition department will hold an oral hearing to investigate the proposed Sony-BMG merger June 7-8 in Brussels, Billboard.biz has learned.

The European Commission's competition department will hold an oral hearing to investigate the proposed Sony-BMG merger June 7-8 in Brussels, Billboard.biz has learned.

This new stage in the investigation process follows the release of the EC's "Statement of Objections," which was sent to both parties on Monday (May 24).

The hearing will be a chance for Sony and BMG to respond to the charges in the Statement of Objections and, if necessary, offer concessions to alleviate the EC's concerns.

The hearing will be open not only to Sony and BMG representatives, but to other parties that have objected to the merger, such as competitors, consumer associations, music publishing companies, retailers and trade bodies like European independent labels organization Impala.

The two-day event will be chaired by the EC's hearing officer, Serge Durande.

A non-confidential version of the Statement of Objections will be sent to interested parties, with sensitive commercial data deleted.

"We can't formally comment until we see the Statement of Objections ourselves," says Impala deputy secretary general Helen Smith. "But from what we understand, it confirms that the Commission is taking a tough, wide-ranging investigation. As far as we are concerned, the merger would further seriously undermine competition in the music market."

Sources at BMG and Sony say they believe the companies have presented a compelling case to the EC that the proposed merger is a healthy response to the current market situation and should not hinder competition.

The final deadline for the EC probe is July 22. All the major issues -- including the final negotiations between the Commission and Sony and BMG -- must be resolved a month before that date.

The merger is expected to be formally cleared or blocked at a European Commission meeting held July 14.