This weekend the Centre for Competition Law and Policy hosted its sixth Antitrust Enforcement Symposium, in collaboration with the Journal of Antitrust Enforcement. Leading competition officials, academics and practitioners, from around the world, took part in the intensive two-day discussion on recent enforcement trends.The Symposium was organized around three different themes: (1) Data, Technology and Competition, (2) the Scope and Limits of Competition Law, and (3) Enforcement and the International Dimension. A session on each theme consisted of presentations of four papers, followed by comments from additional experts, and concluded with an opportunity for all participants to ask questions and comment on the papers. In addition, three key note speeches were provided by enforcers from the UK, the US, and the EU; Alex Chisholm, Chief Executive of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), reflected on the first years of the CMA and the challenges ahead. FTC Commissioner, Terrell McSweeny, provided illuminating remarks on the protection of consumers and privacy in competition in the Digital Age. Director Paul Csiszar, of the European Commission, reviewed recent developments in EU merger control and provided insights on the EU appraisal process.
The Symposium was held the day after the results of the UK Referendum on EU membership were released, and began with a vivid discussion on Brexit and its implications on competition law and policy. Participants discussed the possible changes to enforcement priorities, merger control and private litigation, which are likely to affect both the EU and the UK. Focusing on competition law enforcement, one of the participants commented that it was ironic that Brexit was an attempt to gain greater control, but that it could lead to less control and loss of influence for the UK in the field of competition law. Another shared observation, was that with the UK’s withdraw from the EU - the push toward an ‘effect based analysis’ may weaken, as it may have less support within leading authorities in continental Europe.
The interaction between underlying policy objectives, and effective enforcement, was an overarching theme throughout this year’s conference. In the data and technology panel, for example, a major topic was how the enforcement of privacy and data protection laws - also had competition law dimensions. There was disagreement on the extent to which current legal tools could effectively address these new challenges. Extensive discussion was also dedicated to the scope and limits of competition law and its “sponge-like” characteristics. The speakers explored issues like the cultural limits of competition law, the susceptibility of competition law to industrial policy and political pressure, and how the “imperialist” tendencies of antitrust law could aid and disrupt other areas of law.
Naturally, questions of enforcement took centre stage in the discussion. The JAE Agency Effectiveness Study was presented by Professor Bill Kovacic, who reviewed its core finding. Other presentations focused on competition enforcement within the international dimension, private litigation, the treatment of small and medium-sized enterprises, global supply chains, and the interrelationship between national and EU wide enforcement on large multinationals.
As in previous years, the 2016 Symposium emphasized a free flow of ideas and collaboration. Papers presented at the event will be featured in forthcoming editions of the Journal of Antitrust Enforcement.