A record number of companies will ask the European Commission for permission to merge this year if current trends hold, exceeding even the peak of the merger wave of 2000, Commission statistics showed yesterday.

The existing record of 345 merger filings was set in 2000, but at current rates there will be a dozen more this year.

In fact, the number of mergers tends to swell in October and November as companies try to get EU approval for their deals by the year-end, so the number could be even greater.

The volume of European mergers has already surpassed the peak seen in the internet boom of 2000 as companies, awash with cash, take advantage of a glut of cheap debt and buoyant markets to expand their businesses.

The number of mergers dipped to 212 in 2003, and only reached 249 the following year, even with the EU's 2004 enlargement when ten new countries joined. New EU countries have added only a trickle to the flow of mergers.

The Commission reviews large cross-border mergers for companies which do business in the European Union. Smaller mergers are considered by national competition agencies.

This year's large mergers include Mittal's acquisition of Arcelor to create the world's largest steel company and the pending French energy merger of Gaz de France and Suez.