Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

The Friday Slot (8) – Johan Ysewyn

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For this eighth edition of the Friday Slot, Chillin’Competition has interviewed Johan Ysewyn (Covington). Our readers willing to improve their presentation skills should once attend Johan’s seminar on cartel law at the Brussels School of Competition (BSC). With his partner in crime Ewoud Sakkers, they have managed to craft a real attractive seminar which combines high-level competition law teaching with role-playing. Both instructive and hilarious. And each year, the students’ evaluation reach sky-high levels. All of this to just say that the powerful and humourous Johan denotes within the grey world of the legal community. We are immensely proud to have him on this slot. Enjoy!

PS: In a gesture of solidarity with our fellow Spanish professor who got sued for defamation on his blog, Chillin’Competition will be closed next week. This decision has nothing to do with the fact that Alfonso will be away in Croatia with ‘Ms Lamadrid’ nor with the fact that I will be skiing in France.

Oscar” of the best competition law book?  And of the best non-competition law book?

The Oscar for the best competition law research book still goes to Korah’s yellow book.    I kept my edition from my College of Europe days and although the last edition dates back to 2007, it still is a great – and to the point – introduction to the competition law field.   Judge Bork’s “The Antitrust Paradox“, has been mentioned already by a number of my co-Friday slotters and remains an essential read.   The idea that antitrust laws should be about protecting competition rather than competitors seems to be still a novel concept for a number of competition authorities.

A more fun competition-book is Christopher Mason’s “The Art of the Steal” which gives the background and history to the Christie’s/Sotheby’s cartel and is really a good “thriller”-type read.   Highly recommended.

On the non-competition side, I have started reading some of the French modern literature.  Jonathan Littell’s “Les Bienveillantes” is simply a must-read in dealing with the darkest period of the 20th century.  Am also a big fan of Amélie Nothomb, especially where she describes the cultural clash between East and West.   “Stupeur et tremblements” is an essential read for those of you who have Japanese clients.  A friend recommended me Michel Houellebecq – La Carte et le territoire – but haven’t got beyond the first 20 pages yet.

Oscar” of the best case-law development in the past year? “Oscar” of the worst case-law development?

Oscar of the best case-law development: All of the cartel judgments of the last year where the Commission is being criticised for misreading/misinterpreting the evidence.   Finally.

Oscar for the worst case-law development: Pfleiderer.  Commission now needs to legislate to avoid leniency statements being disclosed, something which strikes me as a no brainer.

Let’s do it like economists => assume that you could change 3 rules, principles, judgments, institutions in the current EU competition system. What would you do?

  • Find a comity-rule for multi-jurisdictional merger filings.  What a waste of time and money.   Good for law firms but the benefit of having 20 countries or more looking at a merger – where some of them only have a tangential interest escapes me;
  • Reinforce internal checks and balances within DG Comp.  They have been slipping on that.   And yes, I know we’d all look to split the decisional and the investigatory layer but I am a realist;
  • More judges in the GC, resulting in speedier appeals.

Average working time/week?

I have realized that hours in the office and efficiency don’t necessarily match up.

Why do you work in competition law? How did you first get into it?

As many people from my generation, I started off doing a lot of general EU-type work as well as commercial work.   There was the Internal market push by Delors – 1992 remember – and there was lots of advisory work on distribution contracts and the like.   But things were changing.  The  Merger Regulation had just entered into force and national authorities were being set up all over Europe.   So there was simply more competition work to do.

And yes, I enjoy it too.   Saying that it combines law, economics and policy is so cliché – but it is true.

Most interesting, intense or funny moment of your career?

Two funny ones: In acting for a toy manufacturer, trying to convince a national competition authority that there was no such thing as a market for fashion dolls – but that the market was much wider.   We brought about 250 dolls to the hearing to show that there was no standard way of defining a doll – and therefore that there was no such thing as a fashion doll.    My daughters would have been proud of me.

And a surreal discussion at a Commission hearing about the substitutability of tampons and sanitary towels – where there wasn’t a single woman in the room.

Your role model (if any) in the competition community? And outside of it?

I am afraid I have no role models as such – though I have many people I respect in the competition community.   My best friend at Linklaters, Christian Ahlborn, for his intellectual brilliance.   Alec Burnside, for making me understand that competition law is also about having the flexibility of getting the best deal – rather than going down in the trenches.   Oliver Bretz, for constantly reminding me of the wider policy angle in competition cases.    Cristina Caffarra, Diana Jackson, Jorge Padilla and Elena Zoido for their time and patience on explaining the more obscure parts of economic theory.   A number of friends in DG Comp – they know who they are – who have given me a better understanding of what makes the place tick.  I am learning from many people – still every day.

What do you like the least about your job?

Admin, and above all timesheets.

What do you like the most about your job?

Clients.   Even – or sometimes especially – the difficult ones.   And the challenge of building a great and successful team.

What you like the most about economics in competition law?

The unexpected outcomes.

What you like the least about economics in competition law?

The unexpected outcomes.

What career/personal achievement are you most proud of?

The rediscovery of fun in my work.

A piece of “counterfactual” analysis: what would you do if you weren’t in your current position?

Baroque singer.   Am sure lots of my competition colleagues would agree I ended up choosing the wrong career.

Besides being a “competition geek” (sorry for this one, but we all are), what are your hobbies?

Actually, three things I am not very good at but I really enjoy: skiing, piano (one of the more humbling things in life) and also taken up sailing.

Favorite movies?

Very eclectic taste.   Everything from Kurosawa.  Everything from the early Woody Allen (last couple of films have been disappointing.  Some Almodovar.   “Le concert“.  Also enjoy lawyer’s movies.  “Philadelphia“, “12 angry men“, “The verdict”   I know, I know.   Very sad.

Favorite music style in general?

Bach, Bach and Bach.   But am trying to diversify.  Listening to some of the 20th music.  Am rediscovering Shostakovitch and recently also discovered Arvo Pärt.   Quite extraordinary stuff.  And anything by Kathleen Ferrier.  In the car, like listening to the Amy’s (Winehouse and MacDonald).

Your favorite motto?

Don’t believe in mottos.   Too simplistic and reductionist.

Websites that you visit the most (besides Chillin’Competition)?

The blog of Prof. Sokol.   MLex – all the time.   BBC.

A piece of advice for junior competition professionals?

Don’t forget to have fun.   Stay close to your clients.  Try and find a balance between life and work.  And above all, enjoy it.  It’s a great job.  Good luck with it.

Written by Nicolas Petit

30 March 2012 at 9:16 pm

Posted in The Friday Slot

2 Responses

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  1. […] Gippini (Legal Service, European Commission), Heike Schweitzer (Freie Universitäit Berlin) and Johan Ysewyn (Covington)                              Chair: Pablo […]

  2. Very good blog post. I certainly love this site.
    Keep writing!


    16 October 2015 at 5:08 am

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