Chillin'Competition

Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

Archive for the ‘Jokes’ Category

Chillin’Competition faces a legal challenge

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Chillin’Competition has encountered its first serious legal problem after a third party requested us to remove some content.

As usual readers will remember, we took particular interest in the French endives cartel case. A number of posts were devoted to endives (the best troublesome ones are here and here). Oddly enough those posts still rank among our most read, to the extent that when you type “Chilling competition” in Google’s search box the word “endives” quickly appears next to it. This is a testimony to how bad the rest of our posts must be as well as to the bizarre taste of our audience (and I thought no one liked endives…). In our defense, the endives cartel also earned some air time at the French Presidential debate. (I don’t know what’s with this vegetable, but Belgian endives were also a major feature of the U.S. 1989 Presidential campaign -see here-).

Since then we hadn’t paid any more attention to endives, even though every time there’s an infringement concerning food some readers sent press clips to us with all sort of weird post suggestions (a message to them: we are grateful, but there’s no need to do that anymore, really).

But two recent legal developments occurring within the lapse of two days have changed the landscape, and have exposed Chillin’Competition to legal risks.

-          On 13 May the ECJ delivered its ruling in the Google Spain case, holding (I will oversimplify) that there exists a certain right to be forgotten under the Directive on the processing of personal data even in relation to information which is true and was legally published.

-          And on 15 May (hold tight) the Paris Court of Appeal annulled the decision of the Autorité de la Concurrence sanctioning the endive cartel. No kidding; see here.

Following these developments, an organisation called “Les amis des endives” (French for Endive’s Friends) has requested us to withdraw all our posts regarding the endive cartel. They allege that the informations are inadequate and no longer relevant. For the record, this association has nothing to do –that we know- with the EndiveLover Twitter account).

I initially thought it was a joke. Then I thought that the Judgment doesn’t support their claim. First because, (I may get in trouble for saying this) endives aren’t natural or legal persons (arguably endive producers are, even if tasteless and heartless). Second, because -contrary to what many people seem to think- the Judgment only refers to “results displayed following a search made on the basis of a person’s name”, and people that get to our posts don’t do searching specifically for endives. Third, because –reading particularly para 80 of the Judgment- I get the impression that its establishing a lex specialis for search engines only, and perhaps only for Google (which once again gets treated as the SGEI of the new century). Lastly, I thought the information shouldn’t be withdrawn because of “historical statistical, scientific purposes” (para 92 of the Judgment).

In order to be on the safe side, I asked a team of eminent avocats about their view: Do endives have the right to be forgotten? Should our posts on endives be consigned to oblivion?

Grace Aylward (our endive expert; she’s the one who informed us about both the decision and its annulment) says: “I thought that when I grew up and became a Lawyer I could dislike whichever vegetables I wanted. Obviously I was wrong. I just hope I don’t start receiving endive hearts in the post.

Orla Lynskey (privacy and competition expert at LSE) “the ruling does not apply to publishers. It applies to search engines (and most probably could be limited to Google). Even if they do fall within the scope of the DP rules (which is very unlikely to be the case if the piece only mentions legal persons), this does not automatically entitle them to have the original link removed. You need to pass the buck to Google to determine whether the processing is incompatible with the DP rules and the public interest test for removal is met”.

I think they’re just bitter” says Mark English (a.k.a the guy who started wrapping his iPod in ham) (mate: you should think about your own right to have this forgotten; just sayin’…).

Other lawyers consulted coincide on the view that the Judgment doesn’t give mushroom to such requests and that this one in particular is nuts; if you see it differently, please lettuce know.

 

P.S . For the avoidance of doubt: this was a joke. Sadly, other absurd/ridiculous scenarios such as UKIP and the Front National winning the EU elections in England are France are not.

 

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Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

26 May 2014 at 6:09 pm

A competition law anecdote in the FT

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Last Wednesday’s Financial Times featured a competition law related anecdote that might have gone unnoticed to many of you.  It’s told in a letter to the editor written by Craig Pouncey (managing partner of Herbert Smith Freehills’ Brussels office) reproduced below:

“From Mr Craig Pouncey,

Sir, Lucy Kellaway’s article “We need new excuses for not replying to emails” (April 28) reminds me of by far the most effective excuse I have encountered during my professional life. Many years ago a colleague of mine, after a night of vigorous carousing, missed his flight to London to attend a hugely important client meeting. He took the next flight, arriving hungover and several hours late, to find himself confronted by a roomful of extremely irritated clients. “Just don’t ask”, he said with conviction. They didn’t, and indeed the irritation was immediately replaced by considerable sympathy.

Not one for the faint-hearted, and perhaps to be tried only once, but I have always felt that the approach should be part of everyone’s in extremis armoury of excuses”.

Brilliant. And I’m quite confident I know who that was  ;)

 

 

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

5 May 2014 at 7:26 pm

Obama’s secret antitrust dealings in Brussels today

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Many EU officials and some of the fauna making a living around them as well as many -like me- working in the EU area in Brussels are (once again) experiencing security checks, traffic disruptions and blockades today due to the visit of US President Barack Obama to conmemorate the 10th anniversary of the Microsoft decision, and to lobby Vice-President Almunia with respect to the Gazprom and Google antitrust investigations  (Chillin’Competition has obtaiend a pic of the President discreetly entering the Madou tower this morning).

Chillin’Competition has also learnt that Obama’s travel arrangements haven’t gone according to plan:

First, Obama’s staff sent to Europe in advance to verify in person the recent developments on the antitrust damages front experienced some trouble as they were initiating the mission trying to consume a typical and typically cartelized product (beer).

Second, President Obama is reported not to have landed at Zaventem airport, as planned, but at the secret runway at Charleroi airport discovered by DG Comp (if you didn’t know about this one, click on the link; it’s too good to be true). Apparently, the managers at Zaventem told AirForceOne that it couldn’t land because the flight had not been scheduled with enough antitipation (“on sait pas faire ça, ici c’est la Belgique, monsieur“) were the exact controllers words.

Third, the President chose to spend the night at The Hotel (the usual venue for GCLC conferences) with the hope that he could perhaps attend a lunch talk. He couldn’t.

Finally, it seems that, at the end of the day, road blockages served no purposes:

TrafficDisturbance

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

26 March 2014 at 12:56 pm

A high-level football (soccer) quarrel

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On December 17 Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly stated that there could be an appearance of “conflict of interest” on the fact that the European Commission had taken too long to open a State aid investigation affecting, among others, Athletic de Bilbao, the team apparently supported by Vice-President Almunia.

No kidding, look:

The Commission has failed to act on this complaint for more than four years. Not only is this bad administration, but to the European public it can look like a conflict of interest given the Commissioner’s strong links to one of the football clubs in question. In my inquiry, I have not looked into the merits of the allegations concerning the breach of State Aid rules. I trust, however, that the Commission will decide to open an investigation tomorrow in order to investigate the facts and dispel any suspicions.” (see here)

The day following this a bit absurd unusual reproach, the Commission did open an investigation which, by the way, had the effect of suddenly and exponentially multiplying the number of State aid experts in my home-country.

And last week we learnt –thanks to Lewis Crofts and MLex- that the Commissioner –who by now must be, understandably, fed up of being spied upon and even of having Spanish press report on personal matters- immediately responded to Ms. O’Reilly, explaining that:

I am also a Spanish citizen, a member of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, a keen opera-goer, I enjoy cinema and I use the Internet every day (…). These elements are however irrelevant when it comes to the commission adopting decisions on State aid regarding Spanish cases, or granted by center-left governments, or benefiting cinema or culture in general, or to tackling antitrust issues with Microsoft and Google”.

It is certainly quite unusual in the EU context to point out at “apparent biases” in the way Ms. O’Reilly did, and it makes it more striking that the bias in this case consisted in supporting a given football club.

For instance, we’d absolutely never dare to suggest or imply that it may be relevant to the investigation that Ms. O’Relly is Irish and that Irish football teams haven’t fared well against Spanish teams  (with the last Irish defeat occurring in the course of the procedure before the Ombudswoman’s office!)   :)

By the way, an “interesting” fact for competition geeks: Ms. O Reilly previously worked at Magill and RTE, two of the parties to the well-known Magill case.

P.S.  For the record, we predicted this State aid to football clubs mess almost 4 years ago (see here).

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

19 February 2014 at 1:55 pm

Pomposity v Social Value in Legal (and Antitrust) Scholarship

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I just saw this graph on Prof. Einer Elhauge’s LinkedIn account; the original source is Eric Posner’s blog (yes, the son of Richard Posner and a big name in his own right too).

I’d be curious to know about the underlying methodology (economic analysis seems to favor economy-related disciplines). It would seem as if an antitrust legal scholar had asked an economist to come up with a seemingly scientific study corroborating a given thesis. Not that this would ever happen in private practice…  :)

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

9 January 2014 at 1:12 pm

A true Belgian story

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When did the new Belgian competition Act enter into force?

If you run a Google search most results (notably a few dozen law firm’s newsletters saying exactly the same things) will tell you that it did on September 1st, 2013.

Wrong answer.

You can’t blame them, though. On August 30th The Belgian official journal (Moniteur Belge) published a Royal decree providing that the new Act would enter into force on the first working day following the said publication (that is, on September 1st).

However, it seems that the Royal decree wasn’t really Royal, because no one realized that the King had not yet signed it (apparently he was on holidays, elephant hunting, or doing whatever it is that Belgian Kings do), and that therefore it was devoid of legal effects.

That’s why on September 4th a new Royal decree was published on the official journal stating that the publication of the previous Royal decree (actually there were two of them) shall be considered null and void (“il y a lieu de considérer la publication des deux arrêtés royaux susmentionnés comme nulle et non avenue. Ces arrêtés ont été retirés avant leur signature”).

And then, on September 6th, yet another Royal decree was published providing that the Act would enter into force on that very same day.

So, between September 1st and September 4th people thought that the Act had entered into force, when in reality that wasn’t the case.

We hear there were hearings held in those days in which lawyers were pleading on the basis of the new Act, but were told that they were misinformed.

True story.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

12 September 2013 at 11:58 am

Posted in Hotch Potch, Jokes

A competition authority closed for business

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A friend kindly pointed us to this “We’re-at-the-beach-so-dont-bother-looking-for-us-sign” with a comment:  “Transparency and vacation should be the unrenounceable principles of any public authority“.

Capture

 

 

 

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

2 September 2013 at 11:10 am

A press campaign against EU institutions?

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There appears to be a summer campaign orchestrated by European media against EU officials.

First it was the Belgian press reporting that DG Comp had been tricked by an Aprils Fools Day hoax (see our Monday post on this story).

Today we have received a a shocking piece of investigative journalism published in The Telegraph (actually, we have realized that it was published more than 2 years ago, but hey, don’t let facts ruin a good story!) informing that EU officials crowd “love hotels” in their lunch breaks. According to the article, 80% of the clients of at least one of such establishments were “Eurocrats” committing adultery.

One cannot but wonder, how on earth do they distinguish adulterous EU officials from other clients?? 

P.S. You might legitimately observe that this is not very much related to competition law. In my defense: it’s summer time, it’s unusually sunny in Brussels and I want to leave the office soon, so rather than writing a brainy post I’ve opted for a “quicky” (just like EU officials usually do, according to The Telegraph’s piece….)  ;)

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

21 August 2013 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Jokes

April Fools Day hoax triggers a DG Comp request for information (no kidding)

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On April 1st 2013 a Belgian website (Pagtour.net) published the news that there was a project to expand Charleroi’s airport with a second runway (see here).

The piece explained that secret plans to expand the airport had been found in a secret chest, and that they had been drawn up by a secret Commission whose members only drank Spa water and met at restaurants specialized in fish and zinc. It was -some would say obviously- an April’s fools day hoax (or, as they’re called here, a “poisson d’avril” (April’s fish).

However, as reported in a bunch of Belgian news outlets (see l’Echole Soir, la RTBFmsn actualité 7sur7, la DH, le Morgen, RTL, La libre,) DG COMP apparently swallowed the fish whole (!!)

Belgian authotities are reported to have received a request for information dated on 31 July (just like April’s fools hoaxes are done on April 1, the EC’s jokes information requests in the EU are sent out on 31 July to spoil some poor lawyers’ and company employees’ vacations..) asking about the reported plans , and referring to the hoax piece at issue as a source  :)

The Commission is reported to have stated today that information requests are supposed to be of a confidential nature.

Many of you may not know that there’s actually (or, rather, there was until 2011; pity) an established tradition of antitrust-related April Fools Day jokes published by the American Antitrust Institute. They’re all available here, my favorite ones being:

- Antitrust Controlled by Jerks, Says New Evolutionary Biology Report  (I bought that one; thought it made a lot of sense..)

and

- As US Attorney General Gonzales Confidentially Reports, There’s Nothing Funny About Antitrust

By the way, what has happened with the joke on Charlerois is not a first; some journalists in the States also picked up the AAI hoax on President Bush’s proposal to merge antitrust agencies with the Department for Homeland Security..

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

19 August 2013 at 7:36 pm

Light summer reading

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It’s July; the weather is good even in Brussels; you should be either on holidays, enjoying outdoors, or finishing off work in order to be able to go out and to do some photosynthesis; but nevertheless you’re reading a competition law blog… (yes, writing it is even worse, but we aren’t talking about us now…).

So, there is cogent, consistent and sufficient evidence to indicate that you’re a bit of a geek. If that’s the case, these are 3 recommendations of short reads, all of which deal with issues on which we’ve touched in the past:

- Wouter Wils, Ten Years of Regulation 1/2003, A retrospective- A very good and concise overview of the history and results of the procedural modernization of EU competition law (my only negative comment is that, for some unknown reason, it doesn’t cite my masterpiece, excellent, quite good, good, decent? more or less tolerable paper on the issue…)

- Thomas Graf – who together with Maurits Dolmans (click here for his Friday Slot interview) is the main lawyer for Google in the framework of the Commission’s investigation-  has written a blog post about Google’s proposed commitments., available here. It’s always interesting to know the impressions of those with first hand knowledge of cases. My own post on this subject is referred to as a one among three “thoughtful comments”; not sure if that is because my post was any good or because we actually have similar views on the main issues…

- Also on Google, last week I received a piece published in the Financial Times positing that “true progressivists” would seek Google’s break up.

Actually, this was of quite some interest to me, since (as frequent skimmers may remember)  I’ve devoted a few posts to what “true progressivism’ or “radical centrism”should mean to the antitrust world: see here (for the original post), here (for the short article developing the post), and here (for an interview in which I’m quoted saying that both the post and the article are superficial exercises of wishful thinking -I’ve original marketing techniques, you see..-).

Not being a fan of labels, I would have more or less defined myself as a radical centrist, and nevertheless I fail to see the reasons for Google’s breakup; query: does that make me a bad centrist?! The author of this interesting piece is Prof. Richard Sennet, a LSE professor. Since I didn’t recognize the name I “Googled” it and saw that he’s professor and expert in urban sociology.

Now, this is a worrying development for most competition lawyers. First it was economists who (quite successfully) started to eat “our cake” become antitrust experts, and now it’s urban sociologists!!  I guess it’s time to retaliate and send the FT my expert piece on the effects or rural migration in postmodern Spain..  ;)

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

8 July 2013 at 9:23 pm

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