BRUSSELS - Individuals will now be able to alert EU competition regulators about merger breaches or illegal state aid, via an anonymous antitrust whistleblower tool previously reserved for cartels, the European Commission said on Monday.

The tool, introduced in 2017, results in some 100 messages received yearly, helping the EU competition watchdog detect unlawful practices more quickly and contributing to the success of competition investigations.

"Citizens can now also blow the whistle and help the Commission uncover merger-related infringements such as gun-jumping as well as instances of unlawful state aid," the EU executive said in a statement.

"Gun-jumping" in mergers takes place when companies take steps to join up, begin coordinating their activities or complete mergers before having permission to do so from competition regulators.

It said whistleblowers can alert regulators to anti-competitive conduct, its circumstances and the individuals involved, and that the information may concern past, ongoing or planned anti-competitive conduct.

The EU competition enforcer has allowed countries across the 27-country bloc to pump billions of euros into companies in recent years to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, raising new concerns about how state aid is given out.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee)