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Competition Law

Analysis - debate - current awareness

07 MAR 2014

Revolving Doors

It was announced recently that Per Hellström, a senior EU Commission official in DG Competition, would be leaving to join Apple, Inc. as senior director for competition and government affairs.  This is the latest (and perhaps most notable) of a number of high profile moves from the European institutions to the companies they regulate or to law firms (e.g. John Temple Lang to Cleary Gottleib, Robert Klotz to Hunton & Williams).

Mr Hellström is a Swedish lawyer who played a significant role in the Commission's antitrust cases against Microsoft Corp. in 2004.  Apple has itself been the subject of Commission investigations, including on e-book pricing:  Apple let publishers set e-book retail prices as long as they gave Apple a 30% cut for selling the books through its iBookstore.  Five publishers signed contracts with Apple and they then imposed a new sales process on Apple competitor Amazon, effectively banning it from discounting.  The case was settled in December 2012.   

There are reports that Mr Hellström has taken a one year unpaid leave of absence from the Commission (rather than having left officially) but is subject to two restrictions: that he will deal with any case he's ever worked on, directly or indirectly, while at DG Competition, and that he cannot lobby the Commission on any matter which could lead to a conflict of interest.

The Commission's position on conflicts is set out in this blog.  In summary, it is as follows:

  • The right to work is a fundamental human right, enshrined in the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights. Restrictions on this right should not be imposed lightly. Former staff, many of whom are employed on time-limited contracts, may have to continue to work for their money, to pay their bills and their mortgages and feed their families. It would be illegal to have a blanket ban on staff working in the one area where they have most knowledge and experience, and where by definition therefore they are most likely to find a job.
  • Disapproving of a new job someone has is not legal grounds for forbidding it. What matters is whether the job would lead to a conflict of interest, or abuse of position. That is something the Commission and all other EU institutions take very seriously indeed, which is why strict rules are in place, focused on preventing such situations.
  • For officials, this means informing the Commission of any occupational activity within two years of leaving. If that activity is related to the work carried out by the official during the last three years of service, and could lead to a conflict with the legitimate interests of the institution, the Commission may either forbid the official from undertaking the activity, or give its approval subject to any conditions it thinks fit.

If you would like to discuss these issues, please do not hesitate to contact John Cassels at john.cassels@ffw.com

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