The European Commission's competition division is expected to issue its preliminary ruling on the proposed Sony Music-BMG merger on Feb. 12, Billboard.biz has learned.

The European Commission's competition division is expected to issue its preliminary ruling on the proposed Sony Music-BMG merger on Feb. 12, Billboard.biz has learned.

Third parties have until Wednesday (Jan. 28) to file objections to the Commission, which recently issued to several independent labels a detailed 15-page questionnaire related to the merger.

Sources at the Commission say this is standard procedure in the "phase one" stage of a merger review. If substantial objections are raised by different parties on anti-trust issues, the Commission can then opt for an in-depth "phase two" review. That process could last a minimum of four months.

"We are going to review the entries from competitors and customers [of Sony Music and BMG]," says a source at the Commission. "On the basis of that feedback, we will make assessments and decide whether or not we should get into phase two."

Members of the EC competition department's merger task force were in Cannes at the Midem trade show to meet with industry executives.

Billboard.biz understands that independent labels are poised to raise substantial reservations about the merger. "We are preparing our ammunition and believe me, it is going to be heavily loaded," a leading independent label executive says.

Separately at Midem today (Jan. 26), representatives of leading European Independent labels presented a united front to voice opposition to the planned merger. The session was organized by Brussels-based indie labels trade body Impala, a vocal opponent of industry consolidation.

If the merger is allowed to go through, the industry "will end up in a universe that will clearly be dictated by market power," says Patrick Zelnick, Impala VP and Naïve president. "We feel that the situation is difficult now but will become a nightmare if this [consolidation] goes on."

Michel Lambot, PIAS group co-chairman and Impala president added: "We're protesting for citizenship reasons. Our opposition is a moral one."

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