Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

The Friday Slot (11) – Bernard van de Walle de Ghelcke

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It’s been a while since we last had someone on the Friday Slot. For this new start, Bernard van de Walle de Ghelcke (Linklaters) has accepted to answer our questions. I met Bernard when I started as the bag-carrier at the GCLC, and we then worked together when he latter served as President. Bernard is a “gentleman” competition lawyer, a thorough expert of Regulation 1/2003 and on top of this someone who has relentlessly worked to foster debate on competition issues. Think of his role at the GCLC or at the head of the main Belgian competition gazette. He also has a strong track record of being able to communicate his passions to other. In addition to the many students he introduced to EU law at the College of Europe, his son is a young, enthusiastic antitrust lawyer at a Brussels law-firm.

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

I have always “Bellamy and Child” close to hand (and “the” Kerse for Antitrust procedure). However it is striking how increasingly textbooks seem to lose importance. One looks “life” at the case law as well as to recent specialized publications. As a practitioner our workload does not allow much academic reading unfortunately and we have to focus on the literature needed for a specific case. As regards competition law theory I often go back to the masterpiece “Politique de la Concurrence de la CEE” by the late Jacques A. Vandamme. It was early days of EC competition law but all the founding principles are there.

Outside competition law there are so many … I still consult De Page, Droit civil belge, Van Ryn & Heenen, Principes de droit commercial belge and W. Van Gerven’s “Algemeen deel” in Beginselen van Belgisch privaatrecht. As I am very interested in EU institutional law, K. Lenaerts’ “Constitutional Law of the European Union” is a must as well as the Wyatt and Dashwood “European Union law”.

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

Best : the Court of Justice case law applying fundamental rights (Kadi) …. Worst : the same case law where it is timid or dismissive and fails to take all consequences.

The case law on parental liability is very troubling.

3. 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?

  • I know it is not realistic and maybe against a trend but separate investigation, prosecution and decision for antitrust enforcement. This is the only decent system in an “état de droit”. Or why did we have Montesquieu for ?
  • Force the Commission to also adopt positive decisions.
  • Revisit the whole system and test it as to what competition law enforcement does for competitivity, industrial policy, employment and welfare.

4. Average working time/week?

Business secret.

Now seriously, I never was a working hours addict and in my current status I enjoy “civilized” working times. G. van Hecke learned us that working evenings and week-end was “slavery”. Unfortunately you cannot do without and no-work week-ends were few…

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

Since University I had a keen interest in European integration and law. I soon realized that as a practitioner competition law (then emerging) was the only aspect of European law to make a living of. However in the first part of my career I worked as an all-round commercial lawyer and only became gradually involved in competition law matters. As from the end of the 80’s there was no alternative but to specialize; I never regretted the more general background and legal practice.

6. Most interesting, intense or funny moment of your career?

Curiously some cases that have nothing to do with competition law, that I cannot disclose here. Wait for my mémoires 50 years from now ! Otherwise, my first pleadings before the Court of Justice (a free movement case that I won ), the exciting experiences of filing the first ever merger control case and of applying in “avant la lettre” leniency cases, the experiment of one of the first appeals before the new CFI, the unforgettable hearing in PVC I when the CFI discovered a ground of “inexistence”of the Commission decision, and a case where the president of the chamber came to congratulate me after the hearing for my exposé, in front of a delighted client (no I did not increase my fees, but , more importantly we won the case).

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

Role model as such, maybe not. But I can mention Walter van Gerven, Pierre Van Ommeslaghe (probably one of the greatest lawyers of his time), Michel Waelbroeck and so many others whom I admired or from whom I learned a lot. And I do not forget my younger partners who work in very difficult circumstances.

8. What do you like the least about your job?

Disruptions from office management as well as difficult relationships with clients. Bad faith opponents and arrogant case handlers. And merger control is no longer fun…

9. What do you like the most about your job?

Friendship and collegiality within the firm and in the competition law community. Working with young talent.

10. What you like the most about economics in competition law?

Shaping intuition into evidence. And when the outcome is what we wanted it to be …

11. What you like the least about economics in competition law?

Formula’s and models and as from the point I cannot explain them myself.

12. What career/personal achievement are you most proud of?

Having managed on some occasions to create progress in the case law.

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

Possibly teaching history or literature… or learning Chinese.

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

I do not see myself as a competition geek although that must be the perception : I was offered a book in honour describing me as “consacré à la concurrence” as if it was a religion ! To answer your questions, I am an opera fan, read a lot, in particular history, more seldom novels, but also often on average a detective story or a thriller a month (the perfect brain washer) … I am interested in family history and follow bible courses. I cannot survive without a regular walk on the (North)seaside or enjoying life in the Flemish countryside.

15. Favorite movies?

I hardly go to the cinema although I read the film reviews and are aware of what is being performed. One of the last ones was “Des hommes et de Dieu ” that moved me deeply.

16. Favorite music style in general?

Classic music of all kinds, but I mostly listen to vocal baroque.

17. Your favorite motto?

I do not have any.

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

The European Union website but I navigate according to my needs.

19. A piece of advice for junior competition professionals?

Do not lose sight of the larger picture. Think out of the box. Be close to your clients and take interest in the economic sectors you work for. Come up with solutions and not only with problems. Think twice if you no longer enjoy your work. Be ambitious but never sacrifice your personal and family life to work pressure.

Written by Nicolas Petit

14 September 2012 at 5:05 pm

Posted in The Friday Slot

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