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).

On 22 June 2022, the EU’s General Court (“GC”) fully dismissed thyssenkrupp’s appeal against the European Commission’s (“Commission”) decision to block its proposed joint venture (“JV”) with Tata Steel in 2019.

This is the first time that the GC has considered the prohibition of a “gap” case under the EU Merger Regulation (“EUMR”) since it annulled the Commission’s prohibition of CK Hutchison’s proposed acquisition of Telefónica UK (O2) in 2020 (“CK Hutchison”) (see our previous blog post here). A “gap” case is a merger in an oligopolistic market that does not result in the creation or strengthening of an individual or collective dominant position. Rather, it risks causing a “significant impediment to effective competition”.

This result may indicate a return to a more traditional approach by the GC as regards “gap” cases than that demonstrated in the CK Hutchison judgment. The judgment also provides helpful guidance on the interpretation of the EUMR and other legal instruments (such as the Market Definition Notice and the Notice on Remedies). The key findings are:

  • Standard of proof: In order to block a “gap” merger, the Commission must show with a sufficient degree of probability that the transaction significantly impedes effective competition in the internal market or in a substantial part of it.
  • SSNIP test: The Commission is not required to apply the SSNIP (small but significant and non-transitory increase in price) test when assessing substitutability between products — it is only one of the methods available to the Commission when defining the market.
  • Remedies: When assessing remedies, it is not necessary to demonstrate that the remedies remove the entire overlap between the merging parties or re-create fully the pre-merger structure in affected markets.
  • Requests for Information (“RFI”): There is no procedural error where the Commission fails to take additional steps (beyond sending systematic reminders) to ensure that recipients respond to an RFI.


Continue Reading EU General Court Upholds Tata Steel/thyssenkrupp JV Prohibition

On 30 June 2022, the Council of the EU (the “Council”) and the European Parliament (the “Parliament”) reached a much awaited agreement on the proposal of the European Commission (the “Commission”) for the Regulation on foreign subsidies distorting the internal market (the “FSR”) (see our alert on the proposal). This political agreement swiftly concludes the trilogue discussions initiated in the beginning of May this year, after the Council (see our blog post) and the Parliament (see our blog post) each adopted their own positions. The agreement has been approved by the Permanent Representatives Committee (“COREPER”) of the Council on 13 July and the Committee on International Trade of the European Parliament on 14 July.

The FSR grants substantial new powers to the Commission and “will help close the regulatory gap whereby subsidies granted by non-EU governments currently go largely unchecked”, according to remarks from Executive Vice-President of the Commission, Margrethe Vestager. It will be deeply transformative for M&A and public procurement in the EU.

The agreement on the FSR did not lead to any major changes in the proposal made by the Commission. The most notable points of discussion between the Parliament and Council and the outcome of this agreement are:

  • The thresholds above which companies are obliged to inform the Commission about their foreign subsidies remain unchanged compared to the Commission’s proposal;
  • The time period in which the Commission has to investigate foreign subsidies in large public procurement has been reduced. In the same way, the retroactive application of the FSR has been limited to foreign subsidies granted in the five years prior to the application of the regulation;
  • The Commission will issue guidelines on the existence of a distortion, the balancing test and its power to request notification of non-notifiable transactions, at the latest three years after the entry into force of the FSR; and
  • A commitment to a multilateral approach to foreign subsidies above the FSR and the possibility for the Commission to engage in a dialogue with third countries has been included.


Continue Reading The Council of the EU and the European Parliament agree on the Foreign Subsidies Regulation

On 30 May 2022, the European Union (“EU”) adopted the revised Regulation on guidelines for trans-European energy infrastructure (No. 2022/869) (the “TEN-E Regulation 2022”), which replaces the previous rules laid down in Regulation No. 347/2013 (the “TEN-E Regulation 2013”) that aimed to improve security of supply, market integration, competition and sustainability in the energy sector. The TEN-E Regulation 2022 seeks to better support the modernisation of Europe’s cross-border energy infrastructures and the EU Green Deal objectives.

The three most important things you need to know about the TEN-E Regulation 2022:

  • Projects may qualify as Projects of Common Interest (“PCI”) and be selected on an EU list if (i) they fall within the identified priority corridors and (ii) help achieve EU’s overall energy and climate policy objectives in terms of security of supply and decarbonisation. The TEN-E Regulation 2022 updates its priority corridors to address the EU Green Deal objectives, while extending their scope to include projects connecting the EU with third countries, namely Projects of Mutual Interest (“PMI”).
  • PCIs and PMIs on the EU list must be given priority status to ensure rapid administrative and judicial treatment.
  • PCIs and PMIs will be eligible for EU financial assistance. Member States will also be able to grant financial support subject to State aid rules.


Continue Reading The European Union adopted new rules for the Trans-European Networks for Energy

On 22 March 2022, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) issued two separate preliminary rulings – Bpost and Nordzucker – which clarify how the protection against double jeopardy (“non bis in idem principle”) should be applied in instances where an identical competition law infringement is sanctioned in parallel investigations, either by different regulatory authorities of the same EU Member State or by multiple national competition authorities (“NCAs”) from different EU Member States.

The key takeaways from the two judgments are as follows:

  • the non bis in idem principle applies to competition law due to the criminal aspect embedded in the relevant administrative penalties;
  • the non bis in idem principle only applies if the facts are identical – a mere reference to a fact in a decision is not sufficient to demonstrate that an authority has ruled on that element;
  • different national authorities can impose fines for an identical infringement if the legislation on which they rely pursues complementary objectives;
  • the non bis in idem principle also applies to situations where an NCA has granted leniency to a company such that only a declaratory finding infringement (without fine) can be made.


Continue Reading European Court of Justice clarifies scope of protection against double jeopardy in successive antitrust investigations

In Enel, a judgment of 12 May 2022 (C-377/20), the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) complemented the framework for analysing exclusionary abuses developed in earlier case-law, notably where it applies to a context of market liberalisation:

  • Abuse: The concept of “abuse” relates to conduct that departs from “competition on the merits”. Conduct that an equally efficient competitor can replicate is generally not abusive (“equally efficient competitor test”).
  • Anti-competitive effects: While it is not necessary to demonstrate actual anti-competitive effects or the company’s intention to carry out an exclusionary strategy, such factors are relevant in assessing whether the conduct is abusive or not.
  • Harm: Conduct that harms consumers indirectly as a result of its effect on the structure of the market is per se abusive; it is not required to demonstrate an actual or potential direct harm to consumers.
  • Objective justification: The prohibition set out in Article 102 TFEU does not prohibit   conduct that is objectively justified and proportionate, or where the behaviour is counterbalanced or outweighed by pro-consumer efficiency-benefits.

The judgment largely endorses the opinion of Advocate General Rantos (see our blog post), but adds some important nuance.

Continue Reading The CJEU sets out an analytic framework on exclusionary abuses in the context of market liberalisation

On 4 May 2022, the General Court of the European Union (the “General Court”) upheld the decision of the European Commission (the “Commission”) approving the rescue aid granted by Romania to the Romanian airline TAROM (T-718/20). With this judgment, the General Court clarifies the concepts used by the Commission when assessing whether aid can be authorised under the Guidelines on State aid for rescuing and restructuring non-financial undertakings in difficulty (“R&R Guidelines”).

The judgment is noteworthy as it interprets for the first time the starting point of the 10-year period during which it is forbidden to provide anew rescue or restructuring aid to an ailing company (the so-called “one time, last time” principle).

Continue Reading The General Court offers useful guidance to interpret the “one time, last time” principle when granting restructuring aid

On 1 March 2022, the European Commission (“Commission”) published drafts of the revised Research & Development Block Exemption Regulation (“R&D BER”) and Specialization Block Exemption Regulation (“Specialisation BER”, together the “Horizontal Block Exemption Regulations” or “HBERs”) as well as the accompanying Horizontal Guidelines for stakeholder comments.  The current HBERs are due to expire on 31 December 2022.

The HBERs set out how competitors can work together on projects and enter into horizontal agreements without breaching collusion-related prohibitions.  During the Commission’s evaluation of the current HBER rules and horizontal guidelines, the Commission identified a number of areas for improvement, including the need to update the rules in line with the Commission’s policies on digitalization and sustainability (see our previous blog post here).

Three things for you to know about the recent amendments to the HBERs:

  1. There is a strong focus on sustainability, and how sustainability agreements may comply with EU competition law, which provides greater scope for companies to enter into sustainability agreements (which is detailed in this blog post).
  2. Data sharing and information exchange is at the forefront of the HBER update, with additional guidance on identifying and sharing commercially sensitive information and the use of algorithms.
  3. The competition rules for research and development agreements and specialisation agreements have been explained and clarified, including new definitions of key competition terms (e.g., active and passive sales, unilateral specialisation agreements).


Continue Reading Sustainability in the European Commission’s revised horizontal block exemption regulations and guidelines

On 24 March 2022, the European Parliament and the Council reached an agreement on the Digital Markets Act (“DMA”), a pioneering initiative to regulate digital markets and endorse the European digital strategy. The DMA would include a set of obligations for “designated gatekeepers”, namely companies whose digital services would be determined as an important gateway for businesses to reach consumers.

The DMA has been negotiated for more than a year, with discussions centering around: (i) the criteria for determining “designed gatekeepers”, (ii) content of specific obligations, and (iii) enforcement mechanisms. The final agreed text has not yet been released, but we share our understanding of the developments in these three areas.

Continue Reading European Parliament and Council strike the deal on the Digital Markets Act

On 23 March 2022, the European Commission (the “Commission”) adopted a Temporary Crisis Framework for State Aid measures to support the economy following the aggression against Ukraine by Russia (the “Framework”). In a similar fashion to the temporary framework that the Commission has adopted to address the COVID-19 outbreak (the “COVID-19 Temporary Framework”), and earlier, to deal with the 2008 financial crisis (the “Banking Framework”), the Framework is based on Article 107(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (the “TFEU”), which allows State aid to be granted in order to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy, in this case caused by the Russian aggression against Ukraine and/or by the sanctions imposed or by the retaliatory counter measures taken in response. It sets out the conditions under which the Commission will assess such State aid. Measures that meet all the conditions set out in the Framework must be notified to the Commission and will be considered compatible with the Internal Market if all conditions are indeed met.

Continue Reading The Commission’s Temporary Crisis Framework for State Aid measures to support the economy following the aggression against Ukraine by Russia

The European Commission (the “Commission”) formally adopted on 27 January 2022 its new Guidelines on State aid for climate, environmental protection and energy (CEEAG). The CEEAG replace the guidelines which were in force since 2014 (EEAG) and integrate the new objectives of the EU Green Deal of a reduction of 55% net greenhouse gas emissions compared to the 1990 levels by 2030 and of carbon neutrality by 2050. The Commission has estimated that achieving the new 2030 target would require EUR 390 billion of additional annual investment compared to the levels in 2011-2020, an investment that cannot be borne by the private sector alone, and would therefore require public investments.

Continue Reading The Commission adopts its new Climate, Energy and Environmental Aid Guidelines (CEEAG)