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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.

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:

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.

Background

Similarly to its previous version, the 2022 RDI aid Framework recalls the instances where RDI aid does not qualify as a State aid and is therefore not caught by the State aid rules. This would be the case where the aid is granted to non-economic activities conducted by universities or where universities, although publicly funded, engage in RDI activities with companies pursuing commercial goals.

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

On 28 October 2022, the European Commission (the “Commission”) adopted the  second amendment to its Temporary Crisis Framework for State Aid measures to support the economy following the aggression against Ukraine by Russia (the “Framework”). The second amendment to the Framework extends its duration by one year until 31 December 2023.

The four most important things you need to know about this amendment are:

  • Maximum aid amounts have been increased;
  • Guarantees or subsidised interests can now cover larger amounts of loans when taken by large energy utilities companies that provide financial collateral for trading activities on energy markets. Exceptionally, guarantees can also be provided as unfunded financial collateral directly to central counterparts or clearing members to cover the liquidity needs of energy companies, to clear their trading activities on energy markets;
  • To achieve the EU targets of reducing electricity consumption in response to high energy prices, Member States may provide compensation for genuine reductions in electricity consumption; and
  • State recapitalisations are not subject to detailed rules as under the COVID-19 Temporary Framework, however the Commission highlights the general principles it will use to assess them on a case-by-case basis. 


Continue Reading The Commission prolongs and amends its Temporary Crisis Framework relaxing State aid rules to support the economy following the aggression against Ukraine by Russia

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:

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.

Background

In Bpost, the ECJ  examined whether the Belgian NCA could impose a fine on Bpost for an abuse of a dominant position (through the application of a rebate system) even though Bpost had already been fined for the same rebate system by the Belgian postal regulator.

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 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

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,