International Vienna Competition Conference of the Federal Competition Authority (FCA) on the 9th of June - a great success

On 9 June 2010 the Federal Competition Authority held the first international "Vienna Competition Conference" on "Industry vs. Competition?" Over 150 participants came to Vienna to discuss private damages as a consequence of competition law infringements, leniency programs and behavioural economics. Many high level speakers including Director General Alexander Italianer from the European Commission and US Commissioner Tom Rosch of the Federal Trade Commission followed the invitation of Director General Thanner.

Theodor Thanner, Director general of the FCA and host of the conference: "The conference aims at facilitating a dialogue between representatives of national competition authorities, the European Commission and the industry. I am extremely happy to have been able to organize such a high level event here in Vienna."

Dr. Alexander Italianer, Director General Competition, European Commission pushes new developments in the area of private enforcement

Following a short introduction by the host, Dr. Thanner, Dr. Italianer opened the conference "Competition policy has been instrumental in reforming the financial sector in the wake of the financial crisis" and "industry and competition policy are mutually reinforcing". Especially the conditions for giving out state aid have to be guarded. State aids should not create monopolies but should lead to innovation and product development to enhance consumer welfare. To achieve this presents a challenge for European politics. First steps have already been taken to achieve this. In autumn a consultation will start on the issue of private enforcement.

High Level Competition Experts in Vienna

Each panel featured high level experts. Leniency was discussed by Ewoud Sakkers, Head of unit Cartels, DG Competition, Konrad Ost, Head of Unit General Policy Division, Bundeskartellamt and from the private sector Christina Hummer, Attorney-at-law at Saxinger Chalupsky & Partner Rechtsanwälte GmbH and David Hull, Partner in Brussels at Covington & Burling LLP Brussels. Inter alia the dos and dont's of leniency application were discussed, access to file and due process. "Leniency programs are investigative tools and companies do not benefit because they deserve it, it is not a moral question" so Mr. Sakkers.

The panel on behavioural economics was chaired by Prof. Karl Jurka from Berlin and featured high level speakers such as Tom Rosch, Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission, Matthew Bennett, Director of Economics, Office of Fair Trading, London, Steffen Huck, Professor of Economics at the University College London, Phile Evans, Senior consultant at FIPRA and Professor Nicolas Petit from the University of Liege. At a very high academic level theories on behavioural econometrics were discussed and their implications for competition law. The panellists entered into controversial discussions but there was common consensus that aspects could be used in handling competition cases.

The last panel was possibly the most controversial one, on private enforcement. Michael Losch, Director of the Austrian Ministry of Economics, Family and Youth, chaired the panel. Alexander Italianer, Director-General for Competition, Bruno Lasserre, president of the French Competition Authority, Andreas Möhlenkamp, CEO of the Wirtschaftsverband für Stahl- und Metallverarbeitung and Anders Stenlund, Director of Legal Affairs of Business Europe had very different points of view on the issue of private damages. Whereas the concept of private enforcement was strongly criticized from the private sector because small companies would be forced into insolvency and the calculation of damages would represent difficulties, DG Italianer and President Lasserre opted for modifications. However it was clear that the criticisms had to be discussed and solutions found.

Director General Thanner: A great success!

 "A great success!" Mr. Thanner said at the end of the one day conference. "Opinions were exchanged and fruitful discussion took place. Networks could be established, complex issue were analysed and industry and competition authorities were brought closer via information exchange. It is important to maintain a dialogue. The conference has fulfilled the expectations!" Thanner closed the conference.