John Ratliff ‘Unilateral conduct in the energy sector: An overview of EU and national case law’ (2019) Concurrences Special Issue Energy & Dominance

This paper, available here, provides an overview of European Commission (“EC”) and European national competition authorities’ (“NCAs”) practice as regards the application of competition rules to unilateral conduct in the energy sector. It covers more than 120 cases, including national court judgments and investigations up to June 2019. While the article divides the various practices into 19 different sections, I will do so as follows: In the introduction, the author summarises European and national approaches, as well as recent developments. The 2007 EU Energy Sector Inquiry prompted much enforcement of Art. 102 TFEU in the energy sector. Most of enforcement concerned traditional foreclosure practices in relation to infrastructure capacity, access to the infrastructure, capacity hoarding and withholding of generation capacity. Other cases have dealt with new types of abuse, such as strategic underinvestment and market manipulation, and there have also been cases on excessive pricing. Energy markets remain a priority for the European Commission. Recent developments include closing investigations against…

Angela Huyue Zhang ‘Strategic Comity’ (2019) Yale Journal of International Law 44(2)

The extent to which US courts should enforce antitrust laws against state-led export cartels has been the subject of intense debate among academics, courts and policymakers for decades. While defendants often invoke the state compulsion defence, which is based on comity and respect for foreign sovereigns, these doctrines have long been criticised for their ambiguity and inconsistent application. The recent Supreme Court decision regarding the Chinese state-led Vitamin C cartel – reviewed here – highlights a number of challenges with the way these doctrines have been applied in the US. The author’s argument in this paper, available here, is that the application of both comity and foreign state compulsion defences are susceptible to political considerations, and that the Supreme Court decision is a good example of this. The author argues that the Supreme Court proactively solicited the opinion of the executive branch before hearing its case, and its final ruling is exactly in line with the opinions and suggestions proposed…

Jonathan T. Fried ‘The place of competition and development in the global trade and economic architecture’ (2017) Concurrences 1 3

The author was the Canadian ambassador to the WTO. In this piece, available here, which is the opening speech to a conference on ‘Competition and globalization in developing economies’, he argues that trade liberalisation must be accompanied by sound economic regulation that enables trade and investment to occur. Robust and effective competition law and regulation is a key element of this enabling environment, and a potential contributor to sustainable development as well. The trade and competition communities have been supporting each other’s goals, and applying similar approaches, for some time. Building on this base, there are actions that will lead to the better integration of trade and competition perspectives, while avoiding being drawn into grand debates about new forms of global governance, as has happened in the past. In a first section, the paper provides an overview of the international trade regime. From its post-war beginnings as an “interim” agreement called the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (‘GATT’) through…

Julien Briguet ‘The State’s Invisible Hand: Chinese SOEs Facing EU Antitrust Law‘ (2018) World Competition Law 52(5) 839

Chinese outbound merger and acquisition (M&A) activity has surged in Europe during the last decade. Chinese companies, particularly state-owned enterprises (SOEs) were the key drivers of this surge, amounting to 70% of these investments in Europe. This paper, available here, argues that the way the European Commission looks at mergers involving Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) suffers from several flaws. These arise primarily from inconsistency in how the single economic entity doctrine has been applied to these companies – sometimes a single Chinese SOE is taken to be the relevant economic unit, sometimes all SOEs active in a specific industry were said to comprise the acquiring undertaking. The author argues that a more systematic application of the single economic entity doctrine is required to restore consistency to the case law, address the realities of China’s State capitalism and protect the principle of competitive neutrality at the core of EU competition law. Section two reviews how the single economic entity doctrine applies…

Dagmar Schiek and Andrea Gideon on ‘Outsmarting the gig-economy through collective bargaining – EU competition law as a barrier?’ (2018) International Review of Law, Computers & Technology 32(2-3) 275

While the use of information technology can enhance personal self-determination, its use in the context of the gig-economy also creates the risk of entrenching casual, precarious and exploitative working conditions. A crucial question that arises is how far gig-workers are able to shape their work conditions. Within the sphere of employment law, the right of workers to organise collectively provides the opportunity to achieve just that. This paper, available here, aims to analyse the barriers posed by EU competition law to collective labour rights of gig-workers. It argues that EU competition law, as currently interpreted by the Court of Justice, would hinder collective organisation of those serving the gig-economy. It also advances an interpretation of the competition provisions which would allow EU competition law to adapt to recent developments in labour markets. It is structured as follows: A first section sketches the basic features of the gig-economy. The gig-economy is mainly characterised by the extensive use of IT for the distribution, allocation,…

The Common Understanding of G7 Competition Authorities on “Competition and the Digital Economy”

While adopted on 5 June, this communique was embargoed until yesterday. It can now be found here. As it says on the tin, this document reflects the common position that the competition authorities in the G7 countries (namely, the Autoritá Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (Italy), the Autorité de la Concurrence (France), the Bundeskartellamt (Germany), the Competition Bureau (Canada), the Competition and Markets Authority (United Kingdom), the Department of Justice (United States of America), the Directorate General for Competition (European Commission), the Federal Trade Commission (United States of America) and the Japan Fair Trade Commission (Japan)) have reached on the digital economy. It may come as no surprise that the level of agreement is relatively thin, and that the document does not go into the most controversial topics addressed in the reports reviewed last week and further below. The common understanding begins with the mandatory section on the benefits of the digital economy. Investment and innovation in the digital…

UK CMA’s Digital Market Strategy

The CMA’s Digital Market Strategy, available here, could be said to be a reaction to the Furman Report reviewed last week,  even if the official reaction took the form of a shorter and earlier letter to Government which can be found here. The paper begins by describing why digital markets are different and how the CMA sees its role in their respect. The underlying features of digital markets include substantial network effects, economies of scale and scope, the role of data and the computing power to use it, scope for personalisation, and market concentration. Most of these are not new individually, but in combination they are novel. Combined with the pace of change, it can be hard for both consumers and public authorities to keep up. Some of these features, or their effects, raise questions, including: firms’ use of people’s data; the market power or ‘gatekeeper’ status of certain platforms; use of increasingly sophisticated technology to target advertising; or the risk of so-called ‘killer acquisitions’. The…

Japan’s Interim Study on Digital Platforms and Fundamental Principles for Improvement of Rules Corresponding to the Rise of Digital Platform Businesses (sic) [Updated with correct link]

Japan published late last year an interim study on digital platforms and a number of Fundamental Principles for Improvement of Rules Corresponding to the Rise of Digital Platform Businesses (sic), both available here. The study, which was produced by a working group, is structured as follows. Section I and II review the characteristics of digital platforms and the legal regime to which they are subject. The study begins by outlining the characteristics of online platforms and the various benefits they bring in terms of innovation, ease of market entry and consumer welfare. The study also notes how digital platforms benefit from direct and indirect network effects and from economies of scale. These features can raise switching costs between different platforms, which would tend to facilitate monopolisation or oligopolisation. Further, once a business model based on using and accumulating data is established data, a virtuous cycle may be created, where the competitive advantage of such business is maintained and strengthened through further…

Italy’s Big Data Report

This is a report published by Italian competition authority, together with the telecommunications regulator and the data protection authority, on how to address big data. It is available here. In my analysis below, I will focus on the elements of the report that touch or focus on competition law. I would also emphasise that this is not the first competition authority in Europe to look at data – the joint Franco-German report in 2016 also looked at the intersection between competition and data. The decision to pursue an interdisciplinary study arose from a recognition that the characteristics of the digital economy are very often such that it touches on the competences of the three authorities. The relationship between competition, privacy and pluralism requires a particularly close coordination between different regulators, not only to ensure effective regulatory action but also to identify and reconcile possible trade-offs between the values protected by different regulatory schemes. Furthermore, joint action will allow a better understanding of…

UK Furman Report – Unlocking digital competition, Report of the Digital Competition Expert Panel,

This Report, which can be found here, follows a review ordered by the UK’s Treasury to make recommendations on changes to competition and pro-competition policy to help unlock the opportunities of the digital economy. The report’s recommendations build on a number of propositions, namely that: the digital economy is creating substantial benefits; that a number of digital markets are prone to tipping and being ‘winner-takes-all’; market concentration in these markets both creates benefits and incurs costs; but government policy and regulation have limitations. In the light of this, the report found that the standard tools of competition policy, evaluating whether mergers can proceed and whether antitrust action is warranted to remedy abuses by companies, could play a role in helping to promote competition and the associated better outcomes for consumers and innovation. To do so, competition policy will need to be updated to address the novel challenges posed by the digital economy. Some of these updates can happen within current powers,…