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 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)

On 25 November 2021, the Commission adopted its revised Communication on the Criteria for the analysis of the compatibility with the internal market of State aid to promote the execution of important projects of common European interest (“IPCEI”). This is particularly relevant for companies who have breakthrough innovative projects and need to seek public support for their projects. For example, under the current Communication, the Commission approved public support to two major research and innovation projects of European interest along the battery value chain for electric vehicles (“summer” and “autumn” projects) and a project in microelectronics. Various other projects are being assessed, for instance on Next Generation Cloud Infrastructure and Services and on green hydrogen.

The revised communication sets out the criteria following which the Commission will approve IPCEI with the State aid rules as of 1 January 2022.

Continue Reading The Commission has revised its communication on the Criteria for the analysis of the compatibility with the internal market of State aid to promote the execution of important projects of common European interest (“IPCEI”)

The UK’s new National Security & Investment Act (NSIA) will come into force on January 4, 2022. The Act introduces mandatory notification and pre-clearance requirements applicable to certain acquisitions within 17 key sectors including energy, life sciences and technology.

In order to administer the Act, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has

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