Damien Geradin, Director of the Global Competition Law Centre

This article was written in February 2007.  Despite its age, Brussels Legal still finds its content relevant to Brussels' international legal community.

The Global Competition Law Centre (GCLC) started on 1 January 2004. Over the past three years the GCLC has grown rapidly in terms of its research, events, sponsors and participants.

Brussels Legal spoke with Professor Damien Geradin, Director of the GCLC, about why the GCLC was started, how it has developed and its future plans.

BL: What is the Global Competition Law Centre?

DG: The GCLC is a think tank based at the College of Europe in Bruges that is conducting legal and economic research concerning global and EU competition law issues. The GCLC also organises related conferences and seminars where practitioners, academics and agency officials can debate those competition law issues.

BL: Where did the idea come from?

DG: I had the idea for this think-tank while teaching at Harvard Law School in 2003. I wanted to move away from the notion of having to rely on public sector resources to organise such a project. I had a hunch that as in the United States private sector organisations would also like to get involved.

BL: And the College of Europe supported the project?

DG: Yes. From the start the College was receptive to the concept of the GCLC. The College Rector Professor Paul Demaret recognised the GCLC was an opportunity for the College and it has been a win/win for both organisations. The GCLC is an autonomous organisation within the College and the College has never tried to micro-manage the GCLC. We have been working together very effectively.

Plus a number of College of Europe graduates felt frustrated that they could no longer get involved with College activities after graduation. Through the GCLC they can remain involved in College activities though, of course, the GCLC is open to everyone not just College of Europe graduates.

BL: So what makes the GCLC unique?

DG: Our think-tank is different in a number of ways.

I was involved in organising 15 to 20 conferences prior to setting up the GCLC. Based on that experience I knew it was critical for our project to focus on activities and issues that were not already being done by others. It was about conceiving particular projects and doing a particular type of research. As many university law centres already undertake research and organise events, such differentiation was key for the GCLC to be a success.

The "traditional" university research model consists of a group of younger professors and postgraduates doing the actual research, led by an older professor. The GCLC is different as it is mainly private practitioners dedicating their time and energy to the research.

At its core the GCLC has a dozen members of a so-called "Scientific Committee". These members come from private practice, the Commission and academia (such as Denis Waelbroek, Jacques Derenne, Bernard van de Walle, Massimo Merola, Carles Esteva Mosso, Richard Whish to name just a few) and they are all very generous with their time. Ideas and proposals are tested and we meet once every other month.

An illustration of the strength of this research aspect is the Article 82 project we undertook for most of 2004-5. The GCLC basically created eight working groups comprising 5-6 people composed of lawyers and economists. Over six months meetings took place, often via conference call, and each group put together a report. Ultimately, this produced a 250 page document comprising very sophisticated papers covering all aspects of abuse of dominance law. The findings were discussed more widely at the GCLC conference and then developed further. Overall we thought the research of that topic at that time would help the Commission engage in its own Article 82 review.

The events organised by the GCLC are also different to what is done elsewhere. Our initial objective was to be an alternative to events, such as IBC, IBA, Fordham, etc. They tend to have a "latest developments" focus which means they essentially look back at what has happened. GCLC has a more prospective, research-focused perspective.

Moreover, the lunch talks and conferences tend not to be "clubby". We invite a broad range of speakers (approximately 150 people over the past three years). We also tend to involve younger lawyers. There are indeed some extremely good lawyers below the top level in private practice. They are in the 30-40 year age group and are not yet in the spotlight. Often they do the bulk of work. Whilst they do not yet have established reputations, they have very interesting insights and thoughts on antitrust developments.

We organise a number of lunch talks in Brussels each year. These events follow a very efficient format as they last one and half hours and are the opportunity for discussing interesting issues and raising related questions.

The GCLC conferences are relatively cheap in price as the GCLC is not trying to make a profit, just to break even. The conferences always involve top specialists and are the opportunity to develop our research and reports further. Our annual conference always concerns something new and exciting.

Another unique feature about the GCLC is that it is really a network of people. There is no infrastructure, no administration, no office or building. The GCLC has avoided hiring people as that raises management and cost issues. The GCLC has one coordinator (me) and relies upon the goodwill of its members and participants. I always wanted to create a very lean and easy-to-manage organisation - so much is done just from my laptop!

BL: How is the GCLC funded?

DG: The GCLC is funded by law firm sponsorship. Each pays €10,000 for a three year sponsorship. In return they can attend our events free of charge.

Law firms have proven to be very interested. I remember at the first meeting of our "Scientific Committee" thinking we needed seven sponsors to start the project. Within a week we had the seven sponsors and a year later we had over thirty sponsors.

The GCLC funds are managed very carefully and so funding is no longer issue a major issue at this stage although we may call again on sponsors if need be.

BL: What have been the main learning experiences over the first 3 years?

DG: These first few years have gone very smoothly; we have organised a number of events, undertaken a variety of research and had a variety of people participate (from private practice, companies, universities, international institutions).

I have been pleasantly surprised by the level of cooperation between members of our network and have also been impressed by the level of scholarly interest in antitrust law. Antitrust specialists publish, speak and are really motivated by their topic. My experience is that others, such as corporate and banking lawyers, tend not have the same fascination with their area of practice.

It has been an interesting discovery to get people to contribute; people have been thoughtful and it has enabled an interesting interaction. There was an original concern that no one would attend but now our lunch talks have 120-150 attendees and our conferences have around 200 attendees. These are large numbers given the specialised nature of competition law.

One key factor has been to focus on the objectives of the event and so to select the right speakers. The non-core activities, such as events organisation, are organised by the host venue. That focus has kept everything manageable.

The success of the GCLC is largely due to the power of the Internet. We are a "paperless" organisation. Thus, for instance, invitations are made electronically. Perhaps that has been the most difficult part of the GCLC's development: dealing with enquiries requesting hard-copy invitations and invoices. Sometimes it has been exhausting answering those emails!

BL: What are the future developments of the GCLC?

DG: The GCLC will carry on much as it is as we have a good "formula". It is sufficiently well-resourced, the users are happy and speakers like to participate at our events. We will continually look to involve more people.

The GCLC is making a report this year on State Aid which will be finalised in a few month's time. Our objective is to advise the Commission on future policy developments.

We want to increase our inclusivity by having more activities outside Brussels as the GCLC has a good reputation in the EU. For example, we will organise this year a conference in Warsaw (where the College of Europe has its other campus). The GCLC is also looking at how it can involve students more.

BL: Finally looking more at your own role in the GCLC. How dependent is the GCLC upon you for its future development?

DG: My role is more like that of an orchestra conductor, someone who facilitates the overall direction of the organisation. But the GCLC is not a "one-person" show. I am replaceable and if for some reason I was not involved then I am sure the GCLC will continue to be a success. The think-tank's success rests on the network of people who are members and supporters. They make the GCLC what it is.

BL: Good luck and thank you for your time.

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