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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.

On 10 July 2023, the European Commission (the “Commission”) adopted the Implementing Regulation (“IR”) for the European Union (“EU”) Foreign Subsidies Regulation (“FSR”). The FSR, which starts to apply today, 12 July 2023, 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.

To attain this objective, the FSR empowers the Commission to assess foreign subsidies either on its own motion or after the notification of concentrations or public procurement tenders in the EU where certain thresholds are exceeded. Foreign subsidies are financial contributions (i.e. any value transfer) granted by non-EU countries, or entities whose action can be attributed to a non-EU country (i.e. foreign financial contributions or “FFC”) that confer a benefit that is not available on the market, specifically to one or to several companies or industries. Where foreign subsidies are problematic, this assessment may lead to remedies and even to the prohibition of the concentration or of the award of a public contract. Although the FSR starts to apply on 12 July 2023, allowing the Commission to investigate foreign subsidies on its own motion, the notification obligations only kick in on 12 October 2023. That means that notification may be requested for transactions signed after 12 July but not closed by 12 October and for public procurement procedures initiated after 12 July.

The purpose of the IR is to set out the rules applicable to proceedings conducted by the Commission under the FSR, including the submission of notifications.

Key things you need to know about the IR and the notification obligations:

  • The IR enacts the forms that notifying parties will have to complete and submit to the Commission in the context of concentrations and public procurement tenders.
  • The Commission must review foreign subsidies within statutory time limits that start to run as soon as the notification is complete and that may be suspended to obtain further information.
  • Detailed information must be submitted for FFCs that are considered to fall into the most distortive categories of foreign subsidies, whereas aggregate information must be provided for most other FFCs.
  • Information must be provided for FFCs provided to all group entities of the party or parties involved.
  • Companies that are likely to be involved in large concentrations or public procurements would be well advised to prepare sufficiently well in advance to avoid delays in their clearance timeline.

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.

Belgian approval of an initiative in the banana sector

On 30 March 2023, the Belgian Competition Authority (“BCA”) approved a sustainability initiative concerning living wages in the banana industry. This marks the first initiative based on sustainability grounds  approved by the Belgian NCA.

The IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative, a social enterprise working with various entities towards facilitating sustainable trade in global supply chains, and five Belgian supermarkets proposed a collaboration scheme aimed at closing the gap between actual wages and living wages in the banana sector. The collaboration will consist of meetings and discussions where the companies’ internal conduct will be assessed and further developed with the aim to better support living wages for workers in the participants’ banana supply chains.

The collaboration will involve the exchange of certain data and information which the BCA did not consider anticompetitive. The participants have committed to not set mandatory or recommended minimum prices and to not communicate any changes in costs relating to their supply chains. IDH will supervise the collaboration and any data shared will be verified by an independent third party.

Similar initiatives concerning the banana sector  have been proposed in Germanythe Netherlands and the UK. The German NCA has already approved the proposed initiative. Neither the Belgian nor the German NCA considered the initiatives in question to infringe competition law. There is, however, a fine line between such agreements falling in or outside the scope of competition law, and potentially amounting to an infringement. For example, clauses which lead to non-negligible price increases for end-consumers could raise questions and potentially be considered to have anticompetitive effect. It can therefore be expected that that NCAs will periodically monitor the implementation of such initiatives.Continue Reading Sustainability Agreements: Potential Divergence between Authorities

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.

Aid to cover investment costs for the production of relevant equipment for the transition towards a net-zero economyContinue Reading The Commission adopts its Temporary Crisis and Transition Framework relaxing State aid rules as a response to the US Inflation Reduction Act

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 FSR is game-changing — it imposes notification obligations on companies on subsidies received from non-EU countries and, when those subsidies are considered to distort the internal market in the EU, the European Commission (“EC”) can impose remedies.

Companies will now have notification obligations if they have received foreign financial contributions above a certain amount and are:

(1)    acquiring a company that has a turnover of at least EUR 500 million in the EU, or

(2)    participating in a public tender with a value of EUR 250 million.

These notification obligations will start to apply on 12 October 2023.Continue Reading EU Foreign Subsidies Regulation – Key Takeaways

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