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Archive for September 2014

A light post for a Friday

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– The Berlaymonster has a great post on one of the most transcendental EU Court Judgments in recent years; see here (the pic above is taken from the actual Judgment). The post includes the following “transcript” of a recent conversation among General Court judges, allegedly overheard in the Court’s canteen:

J1: So, what do you have this morning?

J2: A couple of Ukrainian oligarchs’ frozen assets and the legality of bankers’ bonus caps. You?

J1: Me? I have a billion-euro cartel fine on a handful of Fortune 500 blue-chip companies and a spot of precedent-setting in immigrant-workers’ rights. What about you?

J3: OH, not much…

J2: No, go on, what you got?

J3: …….not saying

J1: Tell us.

J3: N…

J1: You know we can find out, yeah?

J3: ……….. biscuits.

J1: What?

J3: …. [*mutters*] I have to decide whether a chocolate-chip biscuit with a chocolate layer on the inside is a unique design.

J2: Well that’s… that’s…

J1: Good for you.

J2: Yeah ….. good for you.

J1&J2: [*exit left, sniggering*]

[scene]

–  A few days ago NewsCorp published an open letter to the European Commission asking it to intervene against Google.  Google has now responded to the arguments in the letter on a post published in its blog. Click here to read Dear Rupert.  It  does make for quite a good read.

– Following the nomination of Commissioner-to-be Vestager  many people have started to develop an interest in the Nordic approach to competition law. Should that be your case, you should check out the Nordic Competition Blog.  This is a new and very welcome addition to the competition la blogosphere. Good luck to Simen Klevstrand (Wikborg Rein, Norway), Grant McKelvey (Vinge, Sweden), Matti Huhtamäki (Peltonen LMR Attorneys, Finland) and Michael Klöcker (Gorrissen Federspiel, Denmark).

– The call for papers for San Pablo CEU University’s International Conference on Cartels has been extended until next Tuesday, 30 September (for more info, click here: Call for PapersThe Fight Against Hard Core Cartelsv2). My colleague Ana Balcells will present there our recent paper on evidential issues.

– The new issue of Competition Law Review is out; all its articles can be downloaded for free here.

Enjoy the weekend!

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

26 September 2014 at 12:17 pm

Posted in Jokes

ERA’s workshop- Exclusionary Pricing under Art. 102 TFEU: Impact of Recent Case Law

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ERA (the Academy of European Law), with which we’ve collaborated a few times in the past, will be holding a competition workshop titled “Exclusionary Pricing under Art. 102 TFEU: Impact of Recent Case Law”.

It will feature our friend Damien Gerard (who, by the way, has succeeded Nicolas as Director of the Global Competition Law Centre), our first Friday Slotee Ian Forrester (he’s actually the one who proposed the Friday Slot name), and Manuel Kellerbauer, from the Commission’s Legal Service.

Judging by the absurdly high number of click-troughs to Wouter Wils’ now famous piece on Intel and the effects based approach that we’ve seen on this blog in the past couple of days, we guess that this event might be of interest to many of you…

For more info, click here.

 

P.S. The fact that this posts gets me a free pass for one of our most recent hires (Sam Villiers, you’re welcome)  is merely incidental 😉

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

24 September 2014 at 5:51 pm

Intel and the fight for the soul of EU competition law

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Wouter Wils (one the finest legal minds at the Commission, currently Hearing Officer and one of our Friday Slot interviewees –see here-) has today released an article that will certainly have a significant impact in the discussions on the convenience of following a “more economic approach” to abuse of dominance (and that is likely to be highly controversial, particularly among competition law economists).

We’ve recommended many other articles before, but this really is a must-read.

By the way, Wouter was inspired to write the article by Pablo Ibañez Colomo’s comment on the Intel Judgment in this blog and by the ensuing discussion (see here).

The piece (soon to be published in World Competition) is now available here:

The judgment of the EU General Court in Intel and the so-called ‘more economic approach’ to abuse of dominance

We very much look forward to the debate that this piece will spur.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

19 September 2014 at 2:45 pm

10 Comments on the ECJ’s Judgment in Case C-67/13 P, Groupement des Cartes Bancaires

with 13 comments

September 11 2014 was a big day for antitrust at the European Court of Justice. The Court delivered two important Judgments in the Mastercard and Cartes Bancaires cases, and heard oral arguments in Huawei/ZTE. We’ll comment on the latter in due course, and will be devoting our next posts to discussing the content and implications of the two Judgments. Let’s start with Cartes Bancaires, which is the one with greater potential future implications (as already noted by Pablo in the post below).

This can be an analytically complex subject and there’s much to discuss, so allow me to skip the basics and the summary of the Judgment that you can find here (a copy-pasted version will also appear in some newsletters…) Here are my 10 initial reactions to the Judgment. These are not at all definitive positions but rather preliminary thoughts that I’m hastily posting now with the hope that I’ll be able to polish them in the course of follow-up discussions. For the lazy ones, and given that the full text may be lengthy and dense (for a change), all the main messages appear in bold.

1) The Judgment is to be welcomed mainly as a statement, or cautionary message, from the Court in reaction to an often discussed trend on the excessive use and abuse of the “object shortcut” (how many recent EU and national 101 “effects” cases do you know of?)

In the ECJ’s words (para 58) “[t]he concept of restriction of competition `by object’ can be applied only to certain types of coordination between undertakings which reveal a sufficient degree of harm to competition that it may be found that there is no need to examine their effects otherwise the Commission would be exempted from the obligation to prove the actual effects on the market of agreements which are in no way established to be, by their very nature, harmful to the proper functioning of normal competition”.

It seems almost as if the GC had asked to be quashed when writing in its Judgment in this case (para. 124) that “the concept of infringement by object should not be given a strict interpretation”. The ECJ sensibly lambasts this statement in para. 58 (admittedly, though, this may have been a problem of bad drafting on the part of the GC; read in context, the statement seems to have intended to refer to the fact that “object restrictions” are not limited to a closed list of “suspect” hardcore restrictions, which –had it been stated that way- would’ve made perfect sense; AG Wahl also seems to have observed this as evident from para. 67 of his Opinion).

This is not without importance, for the “object” category has arguably been expanded beyond the limits of its logic (remember Areeda’s quote?) not only by the European Commission, but arguably also by the ECJ itself in T-Mobile (see below) and, less visibly, but more excessively and perhaps more importantly, by national competition authorities (as AG Wahl also observed in para. 59 of his Opinion: “caution is all the more necessary because the analytical framework that the Court is led to identify will be imposed both on the Commission and on the national competition authorities, whose awareness and level of expertise vary”). For my previous comments in this regard –in relation to info exchanges- click here.

2) Until now, the ECJ had endorsed an arguably wide interpretation of the notion of restriction by object, placing however the emphasis on the need to conduct a proper 101(3) analysis in any event. This is what the Court has done since Matra, did recently in Pierre Fabre and, most obviously, in Glaxo Spain, although to no avail because –as you may not yet know- the Commission recently decided to drop this case because it allegedly lacks EU interest; this is after 14 years of proceedings, two Court Judgments, a declaration from the ECJ that dual pricing constitutes a restriction by object and also despite the ECJ’s mandate for the Institution to conduct a 101(3) assessment. No wonder they have tried to keep it under the radar… We’ll comment on this case in the future (Disclaimer: my firm represents the European Association of Euro-Pharmaceutical Companies, which has recently appealed the Commission’s decision to drop the case under a quite innovative legal reasoning]. Given the little practical impact of its previous stance and the slow death of Article 101(3), it seems reasonable for the Court to have decided to move beyond it.

3) AG Wahl had rightly observed in his Opinion, “the present case gives the Court another opportunity to refine its much debated case-law on the concept of restriction by object. Query: has the Judgment finally shed light on how to resolve the object/effect conundrum? As developed below, I’m afraid not much.

Click here to continue reading:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

17 September 2014 at 6:02 pm

Groupement des Cartes Bancaires and the resilience of the case law on restrictions by object

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[Note by Alfonso: I devoted part of the weekend to drafting a comment on the recent Court Judgment in GCB, but Pablo Ibañez Colomo has proved quicker. Here’s his reaction to the Judgment; mine will follow].

The ECJ judgment in Groupement des Cartes Bancaires will be discussed at length in the coming months (maybe more so than MasterCard). The outcome is unsurprising (at least in my view). The Court, as AG Wahl, applies the principles stemming from a well-established line of case law, which has proved to be remarkably resilient. It should now be clear beyond doubt that relying on pigeon holes or formal categories to identify object restrictions can often be misleading. What matters is the rationale behind the agreement (as inferred from its wording and the economic context), and not so much whether it includes a particular restraint. Thus even an agreement providing for price-fixing may not be restrictive by object (in para 51 of the judgment the Court is careful not to refer to any form of price-fixing between competitors, but to naked price-fixing cartels and their functional equivalents). Conversely, an agreement that does not fit within the ‘suspect’ categories may also be restrictive by its nature – this is how I understand Allianz Hungaria, and the reason why it makes sense to me.

It should also be clear after Groupement des Cartes Bancaires that identifying the object of an agreement and establishing its restrictive effects are two separate steps. The first one may at times require a careful and lengthy analysis of the relevant legal and economic factors that explain the logic and purpose of a restraint. However, this fact does not mean, as has sometimes been claimed (in light of what now seems to be a misinterpretation of T-Mobile), that it is tantamount to establishing the restrictive effects of the agreement. The ECJ finds that the GC did not distinguish between the two steps. Claiming that an agreement is capable of having restrictive effects is not the same thing as saying that it is, ‘by its nature’, contrary to Article 101(1) TFEU (see para 69). Additional questions around this point will soon be addressed in academic articles and discussed at conferences. I am ready to guess that the formula chosen by the Court (‘sufficient degree of harm to competition’) will give rise to speculation about its exact scope and meaning (I have my answer, but it would be the nth time I write about it in the blog). It is also necessary to read some paragraphs (49-51, for instance) together with the judgment in Expedia, where it was clarified that ‘by object’ agreements that have an effect on trade between Member States appreciably restrict competition.

There is another aspect that is not strictly related to the substantive analysis but that will have piqued the interest of some people. The ruling could be used in textbooks to illustrate the principles of judicial review in EU competition law. The Court is very explicit and structured in this regard. First, it sets out the legal criteria for the assessment of the object of an agreement and comes to the conclusion that the GC had erred in law by applying a different set of principles. Secondly, it examines the legal characterisation of the agreement as restrictive ‘by nature’ and finds an additional error in law. It would seem from the judgment itself that the analytical clarity with which judicial review is conducted is a ramification of KME and Chalkor. In fact, the ECJ holds that the GC had not complied with the standard of review set out in the case law (para 91).

Groupement des Cartes Bancaires is likely to have consequences for some cases pending before the Commission and the GC. I thought ‘pay for delay’ when I read the bits about the relevance of ‘experience’ and about BIDS. I thought ‘pay TV investigation’ when I read that, in order to determine whether an agreement is restrictive by object, ‘it is […] necessary to take into consideration the nature of the goods or services affected, as well as the real conditions of the functioning and structure of the market or markets in question’. In spite of its relevance for the case, this issue was never considered by the ECJ in Murphy. It had not been raised by the parties. In the context of formal proceedings before the Commission, it would inevitably have to be addressed. I have recently published a paper discussing how this factor could influence the outcome of the investigation.

Interesting times ahead!

Pablo

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

15 September 2014 at 3:53 pm

A new Commissioner for Competition

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Putting an end to all rumors and speculations the European Commission confirmed yesterday the names of the members of the upcoming Juncker Commission (European Parliament confirmation is still pending and may be tricky for some). It’s now public that once Vice President Almunia leaves office on 31 October the competition portfolio will go to Danish Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

As widely reported, Ms. Vestager is a 46 year old politician, mother of three, until recently Deputy Prime Minister in charge of economic affairs in Denmark (previously she was also Minister for Education and for Ecclesiastical issues) who has built a very solid reputation both in Denmark and in European circles.

As you may have read, President Juncker has introduced structural innovations in the Commission’s work, creating project groups under a hierarchical system under which Commissioners will report to a Vice President. The Commissioner for Competition will not hold a Vice Presidency this time but will liaise with other Commission Vice Presidents and contribute to their projects. The Mission Letter given by President elect Juncker to Ms. Vestager (available here) insists on the fact that Commissioner Vestager “will, in particular, contribute to projects steered and coordinated by the Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, the Vice-President for the Digital Single Market and the Vice-President for Energy Union. As a rule, you will liaise closely with the Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness in defining the general lines of our competition and state aid policies and the instruments of general scope related to them”.

Juncker’s Mission Letter to Vestager also asks the new Commissioner to focus on “[m]obilising competition policy tools and market expertise so that they contribute, as appropriate, to our jobs and growth agenda, including in areas such as the digital single market, energy policy, financial services, industrial policy and the fight against tax evasion. In this context, it will be important to keep developing an economic as well as a legal approach to the assessment of competition issues and to further develop market monitoring in support of the broader activities of the Commission”.

Query: does all this suggest that competition law will be playing more of an instrumental role and would be more permeable to influences from other policy areas? Not that the instrumental role of competition policy is new,  particularly in the wake of the Lisbon Treaty, but this is a move that may satisfy the various politicians who have expressed concerns in the course of the present mandate, and that could fit within a “politicization” trend that we’ve discussed here before. I was also surprised to read in the letter that competition law will be mobilized to fight tax evasion (see here for our preliminary –soon to be developed- take on this).

Another most important point. I’ve also skimmed through the new Commissioner’s twitter account (here) only to find out –despite my poor Danish- that she’s got a good taste for pizza (see here for a tweet from last week displaying a picture of easily identifiable Mamma Roma’s great material eaten in between talks with Juncker).

Ms. Vestager will take office in November 2014 and will also have to face a number of pending issues. Most attention in this regard has focused on the Google investigation (by the way, the Wall Street Journal quoted some of my views on this matter a couple of days ago- full text available here). Commissioner Almunia now seems to have accepted that he won’t be able to finish the case during the rest of his time in office, which is something that many –including myself- would have thought impossible only a few weeks ago.

But despite the media focus, not everything done by Almunia has had to do with Google. This is now the time for observers to review what has been done under his mandate, and the Commissioner himself has started to do just that. Speaking yesterday at Georgetown he did a first balance of his time in office (the speech “Looking back on 5 years of competition enforcement in the EU” is available here).  And tomorrow he’ll be participating at a roundtable at Fordham’s annual antitrust conference that will also take stock of what has been done in the course of his mandate; the roundtable will be chaired by my partner Marcos Araujo and will also feature U.S. Assistant Attorney General Baer, Christine Varney and Ian Forrester.

We’ll report on that discussion asap. For now, I’m going to take advantage of the fact that my 10 days old baby is asleep to read and comment on the important MasterCard and Cartes Bancaires Judgments rendered by the ECJ only minutes ago…

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

11 September 2014 at 12:44 pm

Upcoming events

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Platforms like this blog are supposed to be 2-sided markets where the service is provided to users for free and paid-for by revenues obtained in the other side of the market, notably via advertising. We may be among the few economic illiterates that haven’t devised a way to monetize at all our advertising and, instead, have traditionally advertised anything that friends do (plus the books and journals of which Nicolas gets a copy; e.g. see the post below this one). In that spirit:

On 26 September the Competition Law Scholars Forum (CLASF) will be holding its 23rd workshop in Madrid under the title  Competition Law in Leisure Markets. The program, which includes discussions on Google, ebooks, football and even bullfighting, is available here.

By the way, one of the organizers of this event –Prof. Barry Rodger- has just released a competition law textbook (co-written with Angus MacCulloch) titled “Competition Law and Policy in the EU and UK”. The book will be supported by the Who’s Competing blog. Here’s the flyer: Competition Law & Policy Flyer

On 30 September AntitrustItalia will be hosting a discussion on the Intel Judgment in Brussels featuring Manuel Kellerbauer and Luigi Malferrari, both from the Commission’s Legal Service. Click here for more info.

The university where I studied (which thanks to Prof. Jerónimo Maillo has always paid a great and uncommon attention to competition issues) will be holding an International Conference, also in Madrid, under the title “The Fight against Hard Core Cartels: Trends, Challenges and Best International Practices” on 27-28 November. The call for papers is available here: Call for PapersThe Fight Against Hard Core Cartels

Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend it because on 28 November I’ll be enjoying the warmness of Stockholm at the Swedish Competition Authority’s Pros and Cons Conference, which this time will be centered on Two-sided markets. The title of my presentation will be “The double duality of two-sided markets (on competition law and complexity)”. Now I only have to figure out what the heck to say.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

11 September 2014 at 12:14 pm