Back from the conference tour: presentations and thoughts
I arrived yesterday from a pretty long conference tour (probably my longest one to date): in the course of a week I have been in Athens, Amsterdam and Bruges. This is the definitely the last time I do this… until next time I do this. The conferences were all very interesting and, more importantly, very varied in their context and approach.
IMEDIPA Conference (Athens)
In Athens, I attended the 9th IMEDIPA Conference, organised by the London-based Ioannides (Kokkoris, from Queen Mary; and Lianos, from UCL). Those who have attended their events know well they are amazing hosts. I was invited to take part in a panel discussing the rise (and demise?) of the effects-based approach in EU competition law.
Victoria Mertikopoulou and Lia Vitzilaiou gave an overview of recent Article 102 TFEU case law from different perspectives. See here for Victoria’s presentation and here for Lia’s. After the presentations I took part in a panel, chaired by Ioannis Lianos (the other speakers were Damien Gerard, Yannis Katsoulacos, Giorgio Monti and Renato Nazzini).
The fundamental idea I sought to emphasise is that the purpose of the effects-based approach is to preserve values that are dear to lawyers. This approach is indeed first and foremost about ensuring legal certainty and consistency (treat like practices alike). Economic analysis is only an instrument that serves these aims. In the same vein, I reminded the audience that the form-based approach came under attack primarily because it failed to provide a set of stable and predictable legal principles.
European Competition and Consumer Day (Amsterdam)
In Amsterdam, I took part in the European Consumer and Competition Day, organised in the context of the Dutch EU Presidency. A different city and a wholly different event, albeit not necessarily because of the speakers. President Bruno Lasserre and President Jacques Steenbergen, who were also in Athens, took part in the panel in which I shared my thoughts (see here) on the application of EU competition law to online platforms. The other participants were Thomas Kramler (aka Mr Digital Single Market) and Guido Lobrano (Business Europe).
The point of my presentation is quite simple. I tried to show how relying on fairly simple and well-established principles of EU competition law can take us a long way in the analysis of restrictions in the online world. One of this basic principles is the counterfactual (does the practice restrict competition that would have existed in its absence?), which is particularly relevant to scrutinise concerns with geo-blocking. I also explained that, following Cartes Bancaires, it is clear that, as a rule, restraints that are a plausible means to address free-riding are not restrictive by object. This principle is key to understand the approach of the French authority in Booking.com.
To be sure, our panel was not the high point of the European Consumer and Competition Day. That was instead Commissioner Vestager’s speech in the morning. The Commissioner hinted at what was going to happen on Wednesday (and which Alfonso reported, as usual, on the very day) and gave a good sense of future reforms in the field of merger control.
The Division of Competences in the EU Legal Order: a Post-Lisbon Assessment (Bruges)
The tour ended at my second academic home, the College of Europe in Bruges. Sacha Garben and Inge Govaere managed to attract a truly impressive line-up of senior academics, judges and officials. It is pointless to mention any of them because I would have to mention them all, but you can take a look at the programme here. The conference was the most academic of the three, and the one that was emphatically not devoted to competition law. Still, the organisers were able to find two competition lawyers interested in institutional and constitutional matters. Damien Gerard, another member of the ‘flying circus’ (to use Jacques Steenbergen’s expression), was invited to take part in a panel discussion. The presentation I gave can be found here.
Have a great weekend!