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A press campaign against EU institutions?

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There appears to be a summer campaign orchestrated by European media against EU officials.

First it was the Belgian press reporting that DG Comp had been tricked by an Aprils Fools Day hoax (see our Monday post on this story).

Today we have received a a shocking piece of investigative journalism published in The Telegraph (actually, we have realized that it was published more than 2 years ago, but hey, don’t let facts ruin a good story!) informing that EU officials crowd “love hotels” in their lunch breaks. According to the article, 80% of the clients of at least one of such establishments were “Eurocrats” committing adultery.

One cannot but wonder, how on earth do they distinguish adulterous EU officials from other clients?? 

P.S. You might legitimately observe that this is not very much related to competition law. In my defense: it’s summer time, it’s unusually sunny in Brussels and I want to leave the office soon, so rather than writing a brainy post I’ve opted for a “quicky” (just like EU officials usually do, according to The Telegraph’s piece….)  😉

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

21 August 2013 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Jokes

April Fools Day hoax triggers a DG Comp request for information (no kidding)

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On April 1st 2013 a Belgian website (Pagtour.net) published the news that there was a project to expand Charleroi’s airport with a second runway (see here).

The piece explained that secret plans to expand the airport had been found in a secret chest, and that they had been drawn up by a secret Commission whose members only drank Spa water and met at restaurants specialized in fish and zinc. It was -some would say obviously- an April’s fools day hoax (or, as they’re called here, a “poisson d’avril” (April’s fish).

However, as reported in a bunch of Belgian news outlets (see l’Echole Soir, la RTBFmsn actualité 7sur7, la DH, le Morgen, RTL, La libre,) DG COMP apparently swallowed the fish whole (!!)

Belgian authotities are reported to have received a request for information dated on 31 July (just like April’s fools hoaxes are done on April 1, the EC’s jokes information requests in the EU are sent out on 31 July to spoil some poor lawyers’ and company employees’ vacations..) asking about the reported plans , and referring to the hoax piece at issue as a source  🙂

The Commission is reported to have stated today that information requests are supposed to be of a confidential nature.

Many of you may not know that there’s actually (or, rather, there was until 2011; pity) an established tradition of antitrust-related April Fools Day jokes published by the American Antitrust Institute. They’re all available here, my favorite ones being:

Antitrust Controlled by Jerks, Says New Evolutionary Biology Report  (I bought that one; thought it made a lot of sense..)

and

As US Attorney General Gonzales Confidentially Reports, There’s Nothing Funny About Antitrust

By the way, what has happened with the joke on Charlerois is not a first; some journalists in the States also picked up the AAI hoax on President Bush’s proposal to merge antitrust agencies with the Department for Homeland Security..

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

19 August 2013 at 7:36 pm

Light summer reading

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It’s July; the weather is good even in Brussels; you should be either on holidays, enjoying outdoors, or finishing off work in order to be able to go out and to do some photosynthesis; but nevertheless you’re reading a competition law blog… (yes, writing it is even worse, but we aren’t talking about us now…).

So, there is cogent, consistent and sufficient evidence to indicate that you’re a bit of a geek. If that’s the case, these are 3 recommendations of short reads, all of which deal with issues on which we’ve touched in the past:

Wouter Wils, Ten Years of Regulation 1/2003, A retrospective– A very good and concise overview of the history and results of the procedural modernization of EU competition law (my only negative comment is that, for some unknown reason, it doesn’t cite my masterpiece, excellent, quite good, good, decent? more or less tolerable paper on the issue…)

– Thomas Graf – who together with Maurits Dolmans (click here for his Friday Slot interview) is the main lawyer for Google in the framework of the Commission’s investigation-  has written a blog post about Google’s proposed commitments., available here. It’s always interesting to know the impressions of those with first hand knowledge of cases. My own post on this subject is referred to as a one among three “thoughtful comments”; not sure if that is because my post was any good or because we actually have similar views on the main issues…

– Also on Google, last week I received a piece published in the Financial Times positing that “true progressivists” would seek Google’s break up.

Actually, this was of quite some interest to me, since (as frequent skimmers may remember)  I’ve devoted a few posts to what “true progressivism’ or “radical centrism”should mean to the antitrust world: see here (for the original post), here (for the short article developing the post), and here (for an interview in which I’m quoted saying that both the post and the article are superficial exercises of wishful thinking -I’ve original marketing techniques, you see..-).

Not being a fan of labels, I would have more or less defined myself as a radical centrist, and nevertheless I fail to see the reasons for Google’s breakup; query: does that make me a bad centrist?! The author of this interesting piece is Prof. Richard Sennet, a LSE professor. Since I didn’t recognize the name I “Googled” it and saw that he’s professor and expert in urban sociology.

Now, this is a worrying development for most competition lawyers. First it was economists who (quite successfully) started to eat “our cake” become antitrust experts, and now it’s urban sociologists!!  I guess it’s time to retaliate and send the FT my expert piece on the effects or rural migration in postmodern Spain..  😉

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

8 July 2013 at 9:23 pm

Commission bashing (part II)

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A few days ago Nico wrote a post about “Commission bashing” in which he acknowledged that, in reality, he’s not a Commission basher but rather appreciates the good things that Comp does [the fact that one of the three examples given -next to the Guidance Paper and the effects-based approach..-  was Post Danmark -a Court Judgment- reveals that Nico struggled to find good deeds on the Commission’s part :)]

Until now, the most vocal Commission basher I knew of was Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s CEO (check out his CV and the accompanying Commission disclaimer here.) We’ve previously referred to his comparison of Comp officials with Kim Il-Jung (sic) and with North Korean economists, but you may not have watched his equally… outspoken intervention at the EU Innovation Convention in 2011 (worth checking it out here)

But Mr. O’Leary now faces fierce competition. A blog called Venitism appears to overpass Ryanair’s chief’s tone; it has just published a post mildly titled: The stupid European Commission harassess the chip industry. Actually, the title is much softer than its content and than its pics. It’s so overdone that it’s worth taking a cursory look if you’ve a minute.

Aside from insulting the Commission, the post states that its authors have conducted a survey that reveals that 80% of economists would favor the abolition of antitrust rules. I’m told by my economist friends that this cannot be true, for, they say “the literature makes it clear that antitrust law promotes our welfare” 😉

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

23 April 2013 at 8:19 pm

Is associate lawyer the unhappiest job?

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Looking at my Facebook newsfeed last night I saw that a friend (well, a Facebook friend, you know) had posted a story on how, according to a Forbes’ story, associate attorney is the No. 1 in a list of unhappiest jobs. Legal assistant ranks 7th.

This is quite troublesome, for it means that a great chunk of our readers are unhappy. I could have figured it out; who else would want to read half-serious competition law blogs??  [a suggestion to GoogleAds; it would be smart to place ads for anti-depressant pills on Chillin’Competition]

The list of happiest and unhappiest jobs has been compiled by a jobs website called CareerBliss, which has based it on reviews completed by more than 65,000 employees, accounting for factors such as life-work balance, work environment, compensation, growth opportunities, company culture and control over daily work. According to this site, a great deal of associates’s unhappiness is due to billable hour pressure, as well as to prevalent up or out policies.

Those who attribute this reported unhappiness to billable-hour pressure may find their ideas vindicated in a most interesting and provocative New York Times’ op-ed on The Tyranny of the Billable Hour published last week. At one point it refers to lawyers who ended up in jail for billing fictictous hours, which reminded me of a joke you might’ve heard:

– A prominent lawyer suddenly dies and arrives at the Gates of Heaven. When St. Peter greets him the lawyer protests that his untimely death had to be some sort of mistake: “I’m much too young to die! I’m only 35!”. St. Peter agrees that 35 seems to be a bit young to be entering the pearly gates, and agrees to check on his case. When St. Peter returned, he tells the attorney, “I’m afraid that the mistake must be yours, my son. We verified your age on the basis of the number of hours you’ve billed to your clients, and you’re at least 108.! “.   🙂

I believe I might have gone a bit off topic… Coming back to the issue of unhappiness, you may remember that in the past we’ve devoted some attention to this issue. See, e.g. my random thoughts on life at law firms, Nico’s I love my job and my reply in Re: I love my job, or the more recent Where to work in Brussels?

You know my take. We’re privileged. If I compare what we do with what other people outside our circle do, well, we don’t have much reason to complain. One of my best friends in the competition law world used to work, among many others, at suspect identification parades in England (Mark, you don’t mind me writing this, right?) and I bet that he likes it better now (do you?) 😉

But the fact remains that there’s a problem, that many associates are unhappy doing what is and should be a most interesting job, and that many things could be done better,  so we’d like to pose you a question: what do you think is the problem, and how do you think it could be fixed?

 

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

3 April 2013 at 12:35 am

Microsoft’s contribution to the EU budget

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Today the European Commission imposed a 561 million euros fine on Microsoft (roughly 37 euros per each of the 15 million copies of Windows that were sold in the EU in breach of the 2009 commitment).

As I said in a previous post, I don’t think anyone believes that Microsoft did this on purpose, so the amount of the fine might have come as a surprise to quite a few people (although not to those who participated in Nico’s poll yesterday).

In any case, this is the third time that Microsoft contributes to the EU Budget because of competition related matters. In total, it has paid approximately 2 billion euros.

[Btw, I couldn’t help remembering Neelie Kroes statement after fining Intel 1 billion euros: “Intel´s latest advertising campaign proposes Intel as the sponsors of tomorrow; well, now they are  the sponsors of the European tax payer” (two years ago we nominated the video of this speech to an Antitrust Oscar)].

When one hears about these figures it’s easy not to realize what numbers mean. So we’ve decided to help you become aware of what 2 billion represent:

According to the World Bank there are 41 countries in the world whose GDP is lower than 2.1 billion euros (approx 2.7 billion dollars).

With 2 billion euros the European Union could:

Bail out banks in Cyprus (estimates say that it will cost up to 2 billion);

Pay  for a couple of ambitious science projects (like studying graphene and fighting brain disease);

Buy the full squads of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona or Manchester United to represent DG Comp in the internal football championship;

Buy half of an aircraft carrier (don’t know why they would want an aircraft carrier, or why they would only want half, but I’ve seen more absurd public spending…);

Pay DG Comp’s budget (93,5 million euros) for 21 years;

Develop the atomic bomb (not in today’s money, though; it cost 2 billion back in 1945).

Buy a few Greek islands for its officials to go on holidays (the most expensive one I’ve seen here costs 150 million..). Odd thing, I saw an ad for Bahamas islands on sale, and there is a private islands magazine with a Fall/Winter catalog for islands (!)

Produce all of the 10 most expensive films in history (Pirate’s of the Caribbean, Tangled, Spider-Man 3, John Carter, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Avatar, The Dark Knight Rises, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and The Avengers).

Build the tallest building in the world to host DG Comp (it would be more impressive than the Madou Tower to which it is moving…the Burj Khalifa costed 1.5 billion). For my suggestion on how it could look like, see here  🙂

Anymore ideas??

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

6 March 2013 at 8:31 pm

Posted in Hotch Potch, Jokes

A nickname for Commissioner Almunia

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People like giving nicknames to our Competition Commissioners. 

The trend probably started with Super Mario (Monti) (see image above); it continued with Steely Neely (Kroes); now, the US Federal Trade Commission itself refers to Joaquín Almunia as Lucky Nahmoodia.

As noted by Simon on a comment to this post, the transcript of Chairman Leibowitz’s press conference in relation to the end of investigations on Google (p.3) reads as follows:

[W]e talk to the Europeans fairly often, I actually spoke to Lucky Nahmoodia, who runs …, this morning. We have great respect for the work they’re doing and I think they are making progress in their negotiations with Google.

Lucky Namoohdia sounds like a Star Wars name to me, but we could get used to it…

[I feel simpathy for whoever is responsible for these transcripts; I myself am currently having interesting issues with a voice recognition software…]

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

14 January 2013 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Jokes

Marketing domination

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In a previous post we explained why, in our view, the criticism that DG Comp only targets U.S. companies does not make much sense (see here) .

But now we have discovered -with the help of the above pic (thanks to Gil Ohana for sending it to us!)- that antitrust enforcement concerning U.S. corporations may be based on a big misunderstanding rooted on different terminology.  Whereas in Europe we’re suspicious of any reference to dominance , in the States this term does not have the same connotations. By bragging about their dominance on the market (like S&M does in the photo), some firms might be unvoluntarily attracting antitrust scrutiny. The bottomline: there are no U.S. dominant firms, only marketing tricks.

[Yes, I know, this “theory” doesn’t pass the laugh test, but the pic is good anyway].

A piece of important advice: don’t make the same mistake I made, and don’t google SM domination (at least while at the office…). Really, don’t!

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

20 November 2012 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Jokes

On how to find the perfect couple (2012 Nobel Prize in Economics)

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As announced yesterday by the Swedish academy, the recipients of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics are Angela Merkel and the German Government Al Roth and Lloyd Shapley.

Their research has mainly focused on the stable allocation of resources in markets where prices are inexistent. They focused on two-sided markets where monetary exchanges would be inappropriate (i.e. patients-kidney donors or the two individuals in a marriage) and figured out the way to strike non improvable (stable) matches.

As we wait for Nico to come up with a Chuck Norris joke on this, we can point you to Al Roth’s blog . In yesterday’s entry he said that his daily post could be delayed, and on Sunday Roth had written a post on the correlation between national chocolate consumption and per-capita Nobel prizes (Belgium is the exception that confirms the rule) 😉    (there is, however, a correlation which seems even stronger than the chocolate one: if you’re a US citizen, a Harvard Professor, and your research is on game theory then it’s pretty clear that you’ll get a Nobel sooner or later!).

We could also recommend you to read Shapley’s seminal paper on Long term competition (a game theoretic approach) (if you do, please tell us what it says, because we can’t really read equations!).

Now, since you probably won’t read neither Roth’s blog nor Shapley’s 1992 paper, and since the only think in this post that caught your attention was that they figured out the best way to find the perfect match in marriage, that’s where we will focus on:

In a 1962 paper Shapley and Gale assumed a market in which men propose to women (a debatable assumption as it is a bit male-chauvinist and also leaves out people who wish to stay single, gay and bisexual people and a bunch of other “real life stuff”), in which each individual has views about what their ideal couple should be like, but in which those views do not lead to perfect matching [otherwise a bunch of us would be matched to Monica Bellucci or Bar Refaeli, and that can’t work; or could it?? (note to my girlfriend: this is only a joke mandated by our editorial line; don’t worry)]. Shapley and Gale stood up for the proposition that an stable result could only be attained if women applied a “deferred acceptance” strategy. This would work as follows:

First, men would propose to their favorite woman. This means that Monica and Bar (which is how Nico and I call them in private) would have multiple choices but that other women would have less or zero choice, which (even if certainly acceptable by some of us) is unfortunately not stable. Instead of accepting their favorite “candidate”, they argue that women should “pocket” the strongest offer without accepting it and reject all others. Rejected men would then make a second proposal, which would allow women to stick to their previous pick or to replace it by one of the new candidates. Shapley and Gale proved that, if repeated enough times [1st round Monica Bellucci, 2nd round Bar Refaeli… 1456th million round Snowwhite’s evil stepmother –with two notable exceptions-] the algorithm will lead to stable non-improvable matches.

Sure this doesn’t seem to “match” the real world and, although intellectually interesting, its practical application seemed doubtful (and discouraging!).  But Roth figured out that Shapley’s algorithm could have enormous practical applications on students-schools, patient-donors, and doctors-hospitals. A great example where the intelectual beauty of economics results in very practical solutions to real problems that truly affect peoples lives. In sum, a very deserved prize.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

16 October 2012 at 12:29 pm

Nobel Prize to the EU?

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The Nobel jury got it wrong last week.

France and Germany never waged war at each other again for fear of Chuck Norris intervention.  That’s as simple as that.

Correlation is not causation.

Written by Nicolas Petit

15 October 2012 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Jokes