Thursday, 4 September 2008

2008 TILEC retreat coming up

Next Friday TILEC-ers will retreat again to exchange views on their research projects and on the organisation of the Center. This year the topics covered will include legal and economic aspects of health care regulation, services of general economic interest, compensation for victims of crimes, renewable energy certificates and the GATS.

This year, the retreat will take place in Goirle, at the Cultureel Centrum Jan van Besouw and most TILEC members will be present. If conditions are favourable (i.e. wireless Internet is available), we will blog live from there, to capture immediately the highlights of the meeting.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Hot summer

Summer is going to be hot for Google and Yahoo, after the American DoJ has begun issuing "civil subpoenas" to gather additional information about their announced co-operation.

Co-operating with a competitor, especially if you are a dominant company, may certainly get you in trouble if you do not have a good story.

I wonder whether the two companies are in talks with the European Commission too. Not showing due awareness and respect for the European impact (and for the European authorities) may end up generating a second Microsoft-like monster.

Will Autumn bring answers?

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Price fixing in basic industries

Just read that the Belgian Competition Authority has raided a number of companies in the chocolate industry. As you can easly imagine, my first reaction has been to ask a member of the Authority if I could join the raid next time.

In a different market. A (female) lawyer practicing in Brussels recently pointed out that most likely there is a cartel in the stokings market: prices for tights are more than double the price you find in other countries in Europe (I can directly testify for Italy and the Netherlands). A quick survey among colleagues seems to confirm the observation. A new dawn raid for the Belgian Authority in basic industries?

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Opening hours

In Belgium, a year and half ago, a governmental urgent decree was necessary to allow hair dressers to be open on possibly their most profitable day, i.e. 31 December (which happened to be a Sunday).

In Italy, cleverer hair dresser regulation (and tradition) has chosen Monday as day off. However there may be something of a "cultural revolution" going on, as the Italian press called it. The Italian Competition Authority has stated (sorry, Italian only) that legislation limiting shop opening hours is restraining competition by reducing the possibilities of shop owners to diversify their marketing strategies.

The statement came as a reaction to the Rome city regulation liberalising opening hours during holidays, but only on 1 November and 8 December, thus excluding Easter Monday (and Ferragosto, for that matter). The Competition Authority has now called for complete liberalisation.

While someone may be already dreaming of American-style 24/7 shopping (very unlikely, I would venture) and fierce competition in services for consumers, it must be said that a number of other obstacles remain, such as, in particular, very high labour cost for over-time work.

Yet, maybe this kind of liberalisation will contribute to a shift from the "imported" practice of spending Sundays in the new big shopping malls, back to the good old Italian habit of strolling along shopping streets.

Monday, 31 March 2008


An interesting seminar last Friday at TILEC with two speakers on the topic of Intellectual Property and Competition Law (Dean Williamson and Ioannis Lianos). Dean's focus (pdf) was on uncertain boundaries of IPRs as source of problems, while Ioannis questioned (pdf again) altogether the parallel between Intellectual Property and Property.

We got a lot of food for thought and the discussion continued also after the seminar, a sign that the debate is "hot" despite hundreds of people (quoting Dean) have been discussing the subject already.

An unexpected twist: a remark to Ioannis' presentation sparked a spin-off discussion on the relationship between competition and sector specific regulation. Ioannis argued in favour of a comprehensive regulatory scheme for IPRs that includes also competition/access concerns. In turn, that would imply a more limited room for ex-post intervention by competition authorities, since this could end up jeopardising the objectives of regulation. (More in the paper)

This is an interesting view, especially when put in the broader competition/regulation debate, beyond IPRs, for example for the revision of electronic communication regulation or the net neutrality debate.

Discussion to be continued.

A final note: TILEC anniversary conference coming up on 14 April!

Monday, 3 March 2008

Short and Sweet

I am not sure for how long this will be accessible online, but there is a very nice editorial on The Economist concerning criminal enforcement of competition law. Not groundbreaking but quite a nice summary from a law and economics perspective. Maybe for next year's Business Law and Economics course.

"Well-dressed thieves. Why the threat of prison is necessary to deter cartels"

Thursday, 31 January 2008

The sin but not the sinner

End of exam session, time to report a few "pearls of wisdom" found in student papers.

Answer: A breach is efficient when one of the parties is inefficient.

Research sponsored by Microsoft?
Statement: Contrary to competition, economics thinks that the best market structure is monopoly.

Think out of the (X)-box
Strategies: a good strategy for videogame makers is one-way compatibility: the videogame is compatible with the console. Alternatively, they can use two-way compatibility: also the console is compatible with the videogame.

Friday, 11 January 2008

News from the US

A couple of interesting articles in the New York Times.

After years of an (arguably ideological) do-nothing approach, something is moving in US antitrust enforcement, albeit only at State level. The New York State attorney general is running an investigation in the Intel case. He is reported stating:
“Protecting fair and open competition in the microprocessor market is critical to New York, the United States and the world.”
Let's wait and see where this will lead.

At the same time, Paul Krugman is praising Europe and its approach to competition:
"What’s behind Europe’s comeback? It’s a complicated story, probably involving a combination of deregulation (which has expanded job opportunities) and smart regulation. One of the keys to Europe’s broadband success is that unlike U.S. regulators, many European governments have promoted competition, preventing phone and cable companies from monopolizing broadband access."

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Christmas cartel

Danish competition authorities have accused the country's Christmas tree growers' association of attempting to fix prices.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

End of the year

At the end, the idea of blogging from the network conference venue in Bonn did not work. Anyway, the meeting was very interesting, well attended and with a lot of debate.

Lawyers and economists did discuss together competition and regulatory issues and, after the unavoidable skirmishes and an invitation to economists to "take responsibility for decisions", the dialogue was fruitful for all.

The topics discussed varied a lot, from mergers between not-for-profit firms (to be treated more leniently by regulators?) to private enforcement of competition law (impossible to find an agreement) to the long lost soul of article 82 (found in the Archives of the 1950s negotiations around the text of the Treaty of Rome, by a researcher from the University of East Anglia).
Of course, our work on Net Neutrality was presented too.

It is not possible to report here on all papers presented there. Maybe in future posts, the authors will like to give some details.

In the meantime, another TILEC event has taken place, i.e. the second roundtable of the "Economic Impact Group" of the CoPECL network. The aim of the group is the economic analysis of the forthcoming "European Contract Law", currently in the making. The meeting was held in Barcelona and scholars from a number of Universities in Europe were present to discuss whether the rules chosen by comparative lawyers to constitute "European" contract law are sound according to economic analysis.

A website with more info will see the light very soon.

To all: Happy Christmas and a great 2008!