Chillin'Competition

Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

Archive for the ‘Jokes’ Category

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:

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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

Commission bashing (part II)

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A few days ago Nico wrote a post about “Commission bashing” in which he acknowledged that, in reality, he’s not a Commission basher but rather appreciates the good things that Comp does [the fact that one of the three examples given -next to the Guidance Paper and the effects-based approach..-  was Post Danmark -a Court Judgment- reveals that Nico struggled to find good deeds on the Commission's part :)]

Until now, the most vocal Commission basher I knew of was Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s CEO (check out his CV and the accompanying Commission disclaimer here.) We’ve previously referred to his comparison of Comp officials with Kim Il-Jung (sic) and with North Korean economists, but you may not have watched his equally… outspoken intervention at the EU Innovation Convention in 2011 (worth checking it out here)

But Mr. O’Leary now faces fierce competition. A blog called Venitism appears to overpass Ryanair’s chief’s tone; it has just published a post mildly titled: The stupid European Commission harassess the chip industry. Actually, the title is much softer than its content and than its pics. It’s so overdone that it’s worth taking a cursory look if you’ve a minute.

Aside from insulting the Commission, the post states that its authors have conducted a survey that reveals that 80% of economists would favor the abolition of antitrust rules. I’m told by my economist friends that this cannot be true, for, they say “the literature makes it clear that antitrust law promotes our welfare;)

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

23 April 2013 at 8:19 pm

Is associate lawyer the unhappiest job?

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Looking at my Facebook newsfeed last night I saw that a friend (well, a Facebook friend, you know) had posted a story on how, according to a Forbes’ story, associate attorney is the No. 1 in a list of unhappiest jobs. Legal assistant ranks 7th.

This is quite troublesome, for it means that a great chunk of our readers are unhappy. I could have figured it out; who else would want to read half-serious competition law blogs??  [a suggestion to GoogleAds; it would be smart to place ads for anti-depressant pills on Chillin'Competition]

The list of happiest and unhappiest jobs has been compiled by a jobs website called CareerBliss, which has based it on reviews completed by more than 65,000 employees, accounting for factors such as life-work balance, work environment, compensation, growth opportunities, company culture and control over daily work. According to this site, a great deal of associates’s unhappiness is due to billable hour pressure, as well as to prevalent up or out policies.

Those who attribute this reported unhappiness to billable-hour pressure may find their ideas vindicated in a most interesting and provocative New York Times’ op-ed on The Tyranny of the Billable Hour published last week. At one point it refers to lawyers who ended up in jail for billing fictictous hours, which reminded me of a joke you might’ve heard:

- A prominent lawyer suddenly dies and arrives at the Gates of Heaven. When St. Peter greets him the lawyer protests that his untimely death had to be some sort of mistake: “I’m much too young to die! I’m only 35!”. St. Peter agrees that 35 seems to be a bit young to be entering the pearly gates, and agrees to check on his case. When St. Peter returned, he tells the attorney, “I’m afraid that the mistake must be yours, my son. We verified your age on the basis of the number of hours you’ve billed to your clients, and you’re at least 108.! “.   :)

I believe I might have gone a bit off topic… Coming back to the issue of unhappiness, you may remember that in the past we’ve devoted some attention to this issue. See, e.g. my random thoughts on life at law firms, Nico’s I love my job and my reply in Re: I love my job, or the more recent Where to work in Brussels?

You know my take. We’re privileged. If I compare what we do with what other people outside our circle do, well, we don’t have much reason to complain. One of my best friends in the competition law world used to work, among many others, at suspect identification parades in England (Mark, you don’t mind me writing this, right?) and I bet that he likes it better now (do you?) ;)

But the fact remains that there’s a problem, that many associates are unhappy doing what is and should be a most interesting job, and that many things could be done better,  so we’d like to pose you a question: what do you think is the problem, and how do you think it could be fixed?

 

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

3 April 2013 at 12:35 am

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