Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

Archive for June 2010


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The Court of Justice was in a facetious mood yesterday. It’s latest joke is plain excellent.

Here’s the background: In Commission / Alrosa, the Court was asked to rule on Article 7 (Finding and termination of infringement) and 9 (Commitments) of Regulation 1/2003.

Now,  the Court’s joke goes as follows:

Those two provisions of Regulation No 1/2003, as noted in paragraph 38 above, pursue different objectives, one of them aiming to put an end to the infringement that has been found to exist and the other aiming to address the Commission’s concerns following its preliminary assessment”.

[… Laughter …]

And the upshot of this:

“47. There is therefore no reason why the measure which could possibly be imposed in the context of Article 7 of Regulation No 1/2003 should have to serve as a reference for the purpose of assessing the extent of the commitments accepted under Article 9 of the regulation, or why anything going beyond that measure should automatically be regarded as disproportionate. Even though decisions adopted under each of those provisions are in either case subject to the principle of proportionality, the application of that principle none the less differs according to which of those provisions is concerned.

48. Undertakings which offer commitments on the basis of Article 9 of Regulation No 1/2003 consciously accept that the concessions they make may go beyond what the Commission could itself impose on them in a decision adopted under Article 7 of the regulation after a thorough examination. On the other hand, the closure of the infringement proceedings brought against those undertakings allows them to avoid a finding of an infringement of competition law and a possible fine”.

On this later §, read again recital 13 of Regulation 1, which says that “Commitment decisions are not appropriate in cases where the Commission intends to impose a fine“.

(Image possibly subject to copyrights: source here)

Written by Nicolas Petit

30 June 2010 at 7:03 pm

Competition Quote of the Day

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A few years ago, whilst a young undergrad. student, the following quote opened my eyes:

“Antitrust litigation is not a process for deciding who can be rich or poor, nor can it decide how much wealth should be expended to reduce pollution” (R. Bork, The Antitrust Paradox – A policy at war with itself, Basic Books, New York, 1978, p.91).

Now a young under experimented scholar, I still find that it rocks. Thanks to Anne-Sophie Maes for the pointer.

Written by Nicolas Petit

29 June 2010 at 8:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized


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In a decision adopted last Weds, the Commission has put a dent into its conservative position that firms participating to cartels ought not to benefit fines reductions on grounds of  financial difficulties. The decision relates to a cartel in the bathroom equipment sector. Hereafter, a quote from the press release:

More exceptionally, the fines of three companies were reduced by 50% and those of another two by 25% given their difficult financial situation. A total of ten companies claimed they would be unable to pay a fine: to assess their claims, the Commission looked at recent financial statements, provisional current year statements and future projections, several financial ratios that measure a company’s solidity, profitability, solvency and liquidity, and relations with banks and shareholders. The Commission also looked at the social and economic context of each company. Finally, the Commission assessed whether the companies’ assets would be likely to lose significant value if the companies were to be forced into liquidation as a result of the fine. The analysis is company-specific and aims to be as objective and quantifiable as possible to ensure equal treatment and preserve the deterrence aspect of EU competition rules.

Obviously, this will not come as a surprise to those familiar with the 2006 Guidelines on fines, which expressly provide for such reductions:

F. Ability to pay

35. In exceptional cases, the Commission may, upon request, take account of the undertaking’s inability to pay in a specific social and economic context. It will not base any reduction granted for this reason in the fine on the mere finding of an adverse or loss-making financial situation. A reduction could be granted solely on the basis of objective evidence that imposition of the fine as provided for in these Guidelines would irretrievably jeopardise the economic viability of the undertaking concerned and cause its assets to lose all their value.

Yet, this decision contrasts with (i) the tough stance on fines that prevailed until recently at DG COMP; and (ii) the Commission’s commitment to keep competition enforcement unaltered in times of crisis.

On top of this, the Commission’s decision will surely add to the debate that is currently raging in France. In CA Paris, 19 janvier 2010 AMD Sud Ouest, Arcelor Profils et autres c Conseil de la concurrence, the Court of Appeals of Paris has reduced the fines imposed by the NCA by €500,000,000 on the ground – inter alia – that the NCA had not sufficiently considered the effects of the ongoing crisis on the infringing firms.

(Image possibly subject to copyrights: source here)

Written by Nicolas Petit

28 June 2010 at 7:00 am

Karel Van Miert

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The European Commission held an inauguration ceremony of memorial plinth for Karel VAN MIERT, former European Competition Commissioner. A video of the ceremony is available here.  I met him once, at a conference organized by the revue Concurrences three years ago. My impression: his reputation as  someone who spoke his mind was not a myth. During the conference, VAN MIERT delivered a tough, vibrant speech against the State-sponsored industrial policy ethos.

As most readers know VAN MIERT was a flemish Belgian (read dutch-speaking). Yet, it seems that most of the ceremony took place in French (see the speeches of Barroso and Almunia).  Quite funny, at a time where the country hosting the Commission is on the verge of linguistic explosion.

Written by Nicolas Petit

25 June 2010 at 12:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized


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A welcome initiative: under the impetus of its creative chairman, Dr. Theodor Thanner, the Austrian Competition Authority has started to communicate on twitter. The  account is BWB_WETTBEWERB. Some of you will have noticed that we have drawn inspiration from this. A twitter box appears in the right column of this blog. Unfortunately, GSM service is not yet available in Belgium. I will try to get fully familiar with the interface in the coming weeks. Amongst other things, the plan is to tweet during competition law events.

Written by Nicolas Petit

24 June 2010 at 12:05 am

A Must Read for the Summer

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In his last paper, Dan Sokol (Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog) finds evidence that there was no significant reduction in merger enforcement under Bush. 

In addition to this, Dan provides citations to a relevant Simpsons episode, post-modernist philosopher Michel Foucault, and 80s’ rock band Wang-Chung along with the usual antitrust suspects in law and economics.

Below the abstract, and a link here to the paper.

ABSTRACT: This article provides a descriptive, analytical overview of the various institutions to better frame the larger institutional interrelations for a comparative institutional analysis. In the next Part it examines mergers as a case study of how one might apply antitrust institutional analysis across these different kinds and levels of antitrust institutions. The Article utilizes both quantitative and qualitative methods based on survey data of antitrust practitioners on merger issues to better understand institutional choice and the decision-making process. The surveys reveal results that run counter to the popular antitrust discourse about the level of merger enforcement under Bush. Slightly more than half of all practitioners surveyed found no change in merger enforcement under Bush in their own practice and the vast majority of the rest found a change in enforcement to be merely at the margins. The Article concludes with observations from the case study and appeals for more theoretical and empirical works in antitrust institutional analysis.

(Image possibly subject to copyrights: source here)

Written by Nicolas Petit

23 June 2010 at 3:14 pm

A Big Win

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Last Monday, a group of  LL.M. students from the University of Liege (ULg) won the concours Lamy de la concurrence held at the French NCA in Paris. The team was composed of Anne-Sophie Come, Mathieu Coquelet, Pierre Sabbadini, Willem de Vos and Norman Neyrinck (coach). This is obviously a source of great satisfaction and pride. Hat tip to the students and their coach.

Below, the new LL.M. brochure for 2010.

LLM in Competition and IP Law – 2010

Written by Nicolas Petit

22 June 2010 at 12:06 am

Breaking News – Brussels based LL.M. in Competition Law and Economics

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I am delighted to announce the setting up of the Brussels School of Competition (“BSC”). The BSC is organised under the aegis of the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium (“FEB”). Its primary purpose is to provide a high-profile, specialised course leading to an advanced Master (LL.M.) in Competition Law and Economics. This course has been especially designed so as to be fully compatible with the requirements of professional practice.
Over the past decades, the European Union (“EU”) competition rules have become a critical legal issue for companies in all sectors of the economy. With rules covering  a variety of practices including cooperation and distribution agreements, abuse of dominance, unfair trade practices and State aid, firms in the EU and elsewhere face increased antitrust exposure and, in turn, a significant challenge in terms of compliance. In addition to this, the introduction of industrial economics into the various areas of EU competition policy has considerably increased the degree of analytical sophistication of antitrust proceedings.
To meet the growing demand for training in this discipline, I have – together with my FEB colleagues Charles Gheur and Philippe Lambrecht – established a full-fledged LL.M. programme which provides – unlike most Brussels-based seminars and conferences – (i) a comprehensive and structured teaching programme, with periodic assessments, and (ii) multidisciplinary courses in both competition law and economics.
You can find below a flyer presenting the LL.M. programme. As you will see, the LL.M. boasts an impressive faculty, comprising lawyers and economists, officials and private practitioners, who are all acknowledged experts in their fields.
For more information on the programme, please visit or send us an e-mail:


Written by Nicolas Petit

21 June 2010 at 2:33 am

The Massacre of the innocents

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In “Fine Arts in Brussels“, an article written by Luis Ortiz, Angel Givaja and myself last year, we used Bruegel´s “Massacre of the innocents” to illustrate the idea that the progressive increase of the amount of fines could eventually undermine the financial situation of many companies, thereby damaging the innocent (workers and shareholders), while leaving those responsible for the infringement (the managers) unscathed. 

I just came accross a very recent study by Oxford Economics  on the “follow-on effects of cartel fines on investment and employment” which seems to confirm our fears about the inadequacy of disproprotionately high fines.  The study concludes that “a large fine on a cartel member will have a knock-out effect accross the economy as a whole, impacting on firms and workers who were not involved in the original cartel“.

Thanks to J.M Panero for the pointer!

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

18 June 2010 at 4:23 pm

Posted in Guest bloggers

HLS Seminar discussion on refusals to licence.

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Continuing with the series of posts written by Harvard Law students for the seminar on Antitrust, Technology and Innovation, you can find part of the discussion on refusals to licence in the comments to this post.

As explained earlier, some of these comments refer to the readings available in the syllabus.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

16 June 2010 at 11:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized