Photo of Johan Ysewyn

Johan Ysewyn advises on all aspects of EC, international and Belgian antitrust law, including merger control, compliance, cartel and leniency issues and abuse of dominance cases.  He acts as the head of the firm’s EU Competition group, working from our Brussels and London offices.

Mr. Ysewyn's practice has a strong focus on global and European cartel investigations and he has represented companies from a range of sectors.  He is also one of the leading experts on EU state aid issues, working both for beneficiaries and governments.

He regularly speaks at conferences such as GCR, IBC, IBA, Chatham House and other industry events and has written for numerous legal publications.  He is recognised as a leading competition lawyer by Chambers, Legal 500 and other leading industry guides.  Mr. Ysewyn has acted as a non-governmental advisor to the International Competition Network (ICN).

Introduction

On 23 July 2021, the European Commission (“Commission”) adopted an extension of the scope of the General Block Exemption Regulation (“GBER”). The revised rules concern:

  • Aid for projects funded via certain EU centrally managed programmes under the new Multiannual Financial Framework; and
  • Certain State aid measures that support the green and digital transition and are also relevant for the recovery from the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.


Continue Reading Amended GBER simplifies State aid rules for projects supporting the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic

On 3 June 2021, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) in case C-563/19 P Recylex v Commission dismissed Recylex’ appeal both to adjust its ranking in the leniency process and to receive partial immunity for parts of its participation in the Car Battery Recycling cartel.  The judgment, on appeal against the judgment of the General Court (“GC”) of 23 May 2019, provides guidance to companies considering a leniency application when there is already an ongoing European Commission (“Commission”) investigation.

Applying for leniency enables cartel participants to obtain reduced or annulled fines.  The 2006 Commission Notice on Immunity from fines and reduction of fines in cartel cases  (“Leniency Notice”) sets out the key principles:

  • the first company providing the Commission with sufficient evidence for an investigation will be granted full immunity;
  • subsequent applicants can receive fine reductions of 30-50%, 20-30% or 20% depending on the timing of their submission; and
  • companies can receive partial immunity for providing the Commission with details expanding the scope of the infringement.


Continue Reading ECJ provides guidance on key cartel questions: the partial immunity concept and rankings for leniency applications

Back in 2020, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) had announced, in its annual priorities, its interest in the competition implications of the digital revolution in the financial sector, notably in the context of the growth of FinTech, the introduction of blockchain technology and the emergence of “digital giants” in payment services. Shortly after this announcement, on 13 January 2020, the FCA started an ex officio investigation to assess the competitive situation in the sector of new technologies applied to financial activities and, more specifically, to payment activities.

More than a year later, in a public opinion of over 120 pages, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) provides its initial conclusions (i) noting the emergence of new services, initiation channels and alternative payment methods, (ii) reporting on a new market dynamic with the arrival of new players and the impact on traditional banking groups and (iii) addressing some of the competition issues facing the sector.


Continue Reading The French Competition Authority gives its views on the competition issues arising from Fintech

On 6 May 2021, the European Commission (“Commission”) published the findings of its evaluation of the horizontal block exemption regulations for Research & Development (“R&D BER”) and specialisation agreements (“Specialisation BER”, together “HBERs”), as well as the accompanying Horizontal Guidelines (“Evaluation”).

The Commission launched the Evaluation in 2019 to assess the future relevance of the HBERs and the Horizontal Guidelines, since their adoption in 2011 and 2012.  It gathered a variety of evidence on the functioning of the HBERs, which included:

  • findings of an open public consultation running from November 2019 to February 2020;
  • responses to the call for contributions on Competition Policy and the Green Deal launched in 2020; and
  • an external evaluation support study, which cross checked the public consultation and the responses received with the Commission’s and national competition authorities’ own experiences.

According to the Commission, the results show that, while still relevant and useful to businesses, there is a need for the HBERs and Horizontal Guidelines to better reflect recent socio-economic developments like digitalisation and sustainability.  The Evaluation also identified that businesses perceive some rules as unnecessarily strict and unclear.


Continue Reading The European Commission publishes the results of its evaluation of the horizontal block exemption regulations and guidelines

On 18 March 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) largely dismissed the appeal by Pometon against the General Court’s (“GC”) judgment, which previously partially dismissed Pometon’s appeal against the European Commission (“Commission”) steel abrasives cartel decision.
Continue Reading The CJEU accepts the principle of staggered hybrid cartel settlements in Pometon

Covington represented Riga International Airport and the Latvian State in obtaining State aid approval for the recapitalization of Riga International Airport. On March 8, 2021, the European Commission (EC) approved the state recapitalization of up to €39.7 million, comprising a capital injection and a waived dividend payment for the 2019 financial year.
Continue Reading Covington Helps Riga Airport Secure EC Recapitalization Approval

On 17 February 2021, the General Court of the European Union (“General Court”) in Cases T-259/20 and T-238/20 dismissed Ryanair’s challenges to pandemic aid packages introduced in France and Sweden in order to support the domestic airline sector. The judgments are the first ones where the General Court has decided on the legality of the State aid schemes adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Continue Reading EU General Court dismisses first two challenges to State aid awarded to national airlines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

The Commission’s Temporary Framework for State aid measures supporting the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic (the “Temporary Framework”) is proving to be a success.  More than 200 Member State schemes and individual measures have been cleared under the Temporary Framework since its adoption in March 2020.  It seeks to provide the European economy with a platform to recover from the crisis while limiting distortions of competition in the Internal Market.

On 28 January 2021, the European Commission (“Commission”) adopted a fifth amendment (the “Amendment”) to the Temporary Framework (see our post on the Temporary Framework here, of the first amendment here and of the second amendment here). The third amendment expanded mostly the Framework to further support micro, small and start-up companies and incentivise private investments. The fourth amendment mostly prolonged the validity of the Framework and introduced new possibilities for the State to exit from recapitalised companies while maintaining its previous stake in those companies. The New Amendment extends further the Temporary Framework until 31 December 2021.
Continue Reading The Commission Publishes the Latest Extension of the Temporary Framework for State aid measures to support the economy during the Covid-19 outbreak

On 27 January 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) confirmed in Goldman Sachs Group Inc. v European Commission that financial investors can be liable where they hold 100% voting rights over an indirect entity that participated in a cartel, even though the investor does not own 100% of the share capital during the relevant infringement period. Crucially, the judgment highlights the importance of conducting careful due diligence and ensuring competition law compliance for all investors, including financial investors, during the acquisition process.
Continue Reading Goldman Sachs v Commission: The CJEU further expands the parental liability doctrine — private equity businesses and investors tread carefully

Introduction

In its preliminary ruling of 14 January 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) clarified that the duration of an infringement in the case of bid rigging ends once the essential characteristics of the public tender are determined – which in practice likely means at the signing date of the contract between the winner of the bid (who participated in the bid rigging) and the contracting authority. As such, this decision sets clear time-limits to competition authorities’ enforcement powers when prosecuting bid-rigging cartels. The CJEU provided this guidance in response to a preliminary question from the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland.
Continue Reading The CJEU provides guidance on the end date in case of a bid-rigging cartel