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Johan Ysewyn

Johan Ysewyn is widely respected as a highly skilled European competition lawyer, advising on complex competition issues, including on merger control, anti-cartel enforcement, monopolisation cases and other conduct investigations. He acts as Co-Head of the firm's Global Competition group and as Managing Partner of the Brussels office.

Clients turn to Johan when they need cutting-edge competition and regulatory advice. He has been advising some of the world's leading companies for over 30 years on their most complex competition issues. Johan is "an exceptional lawyer who is solution-oriented, has a remarkable ability to rapidly understand our business and has excellent reactivity." (Chambers Global) Johan "attracts considerable praise for his reliable practice, as well as his great energy and insight into cartel proceedings." (Who's Who Legal)

Johan represents clients from around the world in dealings with competition authorities as well as in court litigation. He has in-depth knowledge of regulatory procedures and best practices as well as longstanding relationships with key regulators, in particular at the European Commission. He has also an active advisory practice covering a range of areas of interest to corporates, including the interplay between ESG goals and competition law, the impact of competition law enforcement on digital markets and broad strategic compliance issues.

Johan’s experience spans many industry sectors, with recent experience in telecoms and information technology, media, healthcare, consumer goods, retail, energy and transport. He has advised on several of the most major merger investigations in recent years. In addition, he has represented clients in many conduct investigations.

Johan’s practice also has a strong focus on global and European cartel investigations. He has acted for the immunity applicants in the bitumen and marine hose cartels, and acted for defendants in alleged cartels in financial services, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, consumer electronics and price benchmarking in the oil sector. He has acted for the European Payments Council in the first European Commission investigation into standardisation agreements in the e-payments sector. Johan has written and lectured extensively on international cartel and leniency-related issues. He co-authors the loose-leaf European Cartel Digest and lectures on cartel law and economics at the Brussels School of Competition.

Johan is also one of the leading experts on EU State aid issues, working both for beneficiaries and governments. He has advised a number of leading banks and governments, as well as represented major European airlines. From the cases that can be publicly disclosed, he has been involved in the Fortis, KBC, Dexia, Arco, Citadele, airBaltic and Riga Airport State aid cases.

The EU Foreign Subsidies Regulation (FSR) adopted in December 2022 creates a new instrument to prevent foreign subsidies from distorting the European Union (EU) internal market. It aims to fill a perceived regulatory gap left by EU State aid rules applying to subsidies granted by EU countries but not by foreign states. It started to

The Foreign Subsidies Regulation (“FSR”) enters into force today, 12 July 2023. It creates a new instrument designed to prevent foreign subsidies from distorting the EU internal market (see our blog). The objective is to level the playing field within EU markets between companies subject to scrutiny under the EU State aid rules and companies receiving subsidies from non-EU Member States. Two days ago, on 10 July 2023, the European Commission (the “Commission”) adopted the Implementing Regulation (“IR”), which sets out the procedure and enacts the notifications forms. Continue Reading The EU Foreign Subsidies Regulation starts to apply – what you need to know about the notification obligations

Various national competition authorities (“NCAs”) are continuing to consider sustainability arguments in competition cases. However, NCAs are increasingly diverging in their approach as to whether, and to what extent, they are willing to allow sustainability considerations in the competition law framework. This blogpost highlights a few recent developments in jurisdictions on both sides of the Atlantic.Continue Reading Sustainability Agreements: Potential Divergence between Authorities

The European Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, announced on 20 March 2023 that new State aid investigations into “aggressive tax planning” practices of multinationals can be expected. This follows an in-depth inquiry into tax ruling practices in European Union (“EU”) Member States for the period 2014-2018.

While the European Courts have annulled several European Commission (“Commission”) decisions that ordered companies to repay to the State advantages gained from tax rulings, they have decided that State aid law also applies to tax measures, even if direct taxation is a prerogative of Member States. However, as this article sets out, the European Courts have limited the Commission’s review.

In particular, by its judgment of 8 November 2022 in the Fiat Chrysler case (C-885/19 P), the Court of Justice of the European Union annulled a Commission decision ordering Fiat Chrysler to refund EUR 30 million of tax advantages to Luxembourg. It clarifies when a tax ruling can be considered State aid.

These are the key takeaways of this judgment:

  • Although not harmonized at the EU level, direct taxation must comply with State aid rules. Therefore, the Commission may review tax rulings under State aid law and verify, for instance, that the tax system is applied consistently with the objectives pursued.
  • As long as direct taxation is not harmonized at the EU level, it is up to Member States to determine the tax regime applicable to companies. Therefore, the Commission should consider that the normal tax system, against which discriminations favoring certain companies may be State aid, is determined by national law.
  • When examining whether a tax measure favors certain companies over others, the Commission cannot substitute the normal national applicable law with its own standard of normality.

This judgement will likely impact pending investigations into the tax rulings issued to other companies and in ongoing proceedings. It will also set the approach the Commission may take in potential new investigations.

In short, this judgment says that if a tax ruling is issued in compliance with the national legal framework and not manifestly inconsistent with the objectives pursued by the national tax regime, it is unlikely to be State aid.Continue Reading Will the EU Commission start new State aid investigations into multinationals’ tax rulings after of the Court of Justice’s judgment in the Fiat Chrysler case?

As part of “A Green Deal Industrial Plan for the Net Zero Age” to respond to the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) (see our alert), the European Commission (the “Commission”) adopted on 9 March 2023 its Temporary Crisis and Transition Framework for State Aid measures to support the economy following the aggression against Ukraine by Russia (the “TCTF”). The text amends the Temporary Crisis Framework last amended on 28 October 2022 (see our blog). 

These are the three most important things you need to know about the TCTF:

  • To avoid that an investment would be located outside the European Economic Area (EEA), EU countries may support investments in the manufacturing of relevant equipment for the transition towards a net-zero economy, such as batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, heat pumps, carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS), as well as their key components and critical raw materials necessary for their production. They may even grant aid matching foreign subsidies to support those investments, provided that they are located in the poorer areas of the EU.
  • EU countries’ possibilities to grant aid for accelerating the rollout of renewable energy are extended to any renewable technologies, including hydropower, and no longer require a bidding process to select the aided projects that are considered as less mature.
  • The TCTF is not a subsidy program, and it is up to EU Member States to provide public funding.

Continue Reading The Commission adopts its Temporary Crisis and Transition Framework relaxing State aid rules as a response to the US Inflation Reduction Act

On 12 January 2023, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) published its long-awaited judgment in C‑883/19 P HSBC v Commission.

The ECJ confirmed that HSBC had engaged in anti-competitive conduct but partially overturned the General Court’s (“GC”) judgment on procedural grounds. The judgment provides critical guidance on the nature of anticompetitive information exchanges in the financial services sector and sets out important procedural aspects regarding “hybrid” cartel investigations.

The ECJ, having considered the points of appeal, exercised its discretion to issue a final judgment, in place of the GC’s judgment.Continue Reading ECJ clarifies presumption of innocence in hybrid investigations and scope of restrictions by object in information exchanges (HSBC v Commission)

European Union (“EU”) Foreign Subsidies Regulation (“FSR”), a new state aid instrument adopted at the end of 2022, will have a significant impact on transactions in the EU. The FSR impacts any company that is present in or wants the enter the EU, and has received financial support in any form from non-EU governments. 

The

Sustainability governs all policies and sectors of social and economic life. The goal of sustainable development is to meet the needs of today’s generations without compromising the self-sufficiency of future generations. Companies are called upon to innovate as economic conditions indicate a change in the direction of sustainability. Sustainability considerations and green developments have increasingly caught the attention of competition law’s enforcers. Competition authorities such as the European Commission (“Commission”), the Hellenic Competition Commission (“HCC”), the Dutch Competition Authority (“ACM”) and the German Competition Authority (“Bka”) have taken a positive stance towards accepting sustainability initiatives proposed by the private sector. How can companies balance both sustainability and competition law? In this blog post, we analyze recent developments that further explain the sustainability framework that companies have to navigate.Continue Reading Building a sustainability strategy – what companies can (not) do from a competition law perspective

Regulation (EU) 2022/2560 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 December 2022 on foreign subsidies distorting the internal market (FSR) entered into force on 12 January 2023 and will start to apply as of 12 July 2023.

The FSR creates a brand new instrument to fill a regulatory gap, by preventing foreign subsidies from distorting the European Union (EU) internal market. Whereas companies receiving public support in the EU are subject to strict State aid rules, companies obtaining public support outside the EU are generally not. This was perceived as putting companies in the EU at a disadvantage compared to companies that obtained subsidies outside the EU, but that also engaged in economic activity in the Union.

The FSR’s scope extends far beyond the obvious State support, to cover common types of benefits that are granted all over the world, including in countries driven by a market economy. Its obligations will inevitably place an additional administrative burden on companies engaging in an economic activity in the EU. Acceptance of a foreign subsidy distorting the EU internal market may have far-reaching consequences for the company. The FSR places additional compliance obligations on companies, and for many will entail a thorough assessment to identify and justify foreign subsidies received. For companies considering transactions in the EU, the FSR effectively creates a third layer of deal conditionality, besides merger control and Foreign Direct Investment laws. This is adding a further unique set of thresholds, timings and factual considerations, to be included in companies’ strategies to invest in the EU. This will require expertise in EU antitrust and State aid law, and a good understanding of the details of the FSR.

Key things you need to know:

  • As under EU State aid law, a foreign subsidy includes any form of public support granted by a third country, e.g., direct grants, capital injections, interest-free or low-interest loans, etc., but also support such as tax exemptions or reductions, and exclusive rights without proper remuneration.
  • From 12 October 2023, when acquiring control of a company in the EU or participating in a public tender in the EU, companies will have to notify the European Commission (Commission) of foreign subsidies received, if the relevant thresholds are met, or if the Commission so requests. Notifications have suspensive effect. Failure to notify may lead to severe sanctions.
  • The Commission may launch ex officio investigations into other market situations that are not already caught by other legislation.
  • If the Commission deems that a foreign subsidy distorts the internal market, the beneficiary may need to apply remedies, such as reducing its market presence. If these remedies are not effective, the Commission may prohibit a concentration or the award of a public procurement contract that is not yet closed.

Continue Reading The EU Foreign Subsidies Regulation enters into force

On 19 October 2022, the European Commission (the “Commission”) adopted its new State aid Framework for research, development and innovation (the “2022 RDI aid Framework”). This instrument governs Member States’ investment in RDI activities. It is an important response to the 2020 Commission Communication on a new European Research Area for Research and Innovation (the “ERA Communication”), aiming at strengthening investments and reaching a 3% GDP investment target in the field of RDI. The 2022 RDI aid Framework is a revision of the previous version of 2014.

The three most important things you need to know about the 2022 RDI aid Framework are:

  • The Commission’s approval is subject to a set of criteria to determine whether the aid is justified and can be authorised, and compliance with recent EU objectives such as the EU Green Deal and the EU Industrial and Digital Strategies will have a positive influence on the Commission’s assessment;
  • RDI activities now explicitly include digitalisation and digital technologies; and
  • Member States can grant aid for testing and experimentation infrastructures which predominantly provide services to undertakings for R&D activities closer to the market.

Continue Reading The Commission has revised its framework for State aid for research and development and innovation