Professor Anu Bradford Organizes Major Antitrust Conference in Paris

A law passed to spur growth has shifted the emphasis in France to much-needed structural reforms, according to Bruno Lasserre, the former president of the French Competition Authority, who addressed dozens of government officials, policymakers, practitioners, and academics who gathered in Paris earlier this month for a major conference on antitrust law organized by Columbia University Professors Anu Bradford and Sharyn O’Halloran.

Lasserre, who now serves as a French conseiller d’Etat (councilor of state), was the keynote speaker at the conference, “Law, Competition, and Markets: Do Antitrust Laws Enhance Competition and Lead to More Efficient Markets?” held at Columbia’s Reid Hall. The June 1–2 event was sponsored by the Columbia Global Policy Initiative, a University-wide initiative that brings together eminent Columbia faculty members from the widest range of relevant disciplines.

In his address, “Measuring the outcome of competition enforcement and policy: A high-level look at the implications of agencies’ action on the market and beyond,” Lasserre described the so-called Macron Law, named for Emmanuel Macron, who is now France’s president. Among other things, the law liberalized the country’s bus system to allow for more competition, a measure recommended by Lasserre’s office.

“These provisions have drastically changed the landscape of interregional coach transport in France, which was almost nonexistent,” Lasserre said, “with nearly 7 million passengers between August 2015 and December 2016, 180 cities covered, and a total of 985 commercial lines.”

Lasserre held up the law’s reforms as examples of what could happen in other countries if the parties involved—enforcement agencies, government officials, companies, and the public—had a more open dialogue geared toward improving competition and economic performance. These successes are all the more remarkable in France, he said, as the country has historically not embraced a competitive economy.

“This may, however, be changing,” he said, “as a study the French authority commissioned shows, 81 percent of respondents viewed competition positively, not only as regards its impact on prices or the quality of goods and services, but also in relation to its positive contribution to the competitiveness of French firms.”

Bradford, who has met Lasserre several times, called him a “visionary” who is “the biggest name in competition law” in France.

“His thought-provoking address was a terrific contribution to the conference,” she said. “I also appreciated his call for the enforcement community to engage in systematic and transparent ex-post assessment of the enforcement outcomes as a critical step towards better public policy.”

The event also featured presentations from Bradford’s research team, including from three of her former students (see related story); and from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs Lecturer Thomas Groll and University of Chicago Law Professor Adam Chilton on their related study about antitrust, innovation, and trade liberalization. An official from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development later offered feedback on the project. 

Other sessions featured speakers from the academia, private practice, government, and international organizations, including the former chief competition economists from both the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the European Commission.

Bradford, who is the Henry L. Moses Professor of Law and International Organization and serves as a director of the European Legal Studies Center, said receiving constructive feedback was one of the goals of the conference and will help her team determine next steps for their work. Her team is in the final stages of building datasets on antitrust laws and enforcement across time and jurisdictions and has begun preliminary analysis of the data collected so far.

“The conversations in Paris will significantly enhance the quality of our research. Importantly, our research will now better serve policymaking and the society because we understand what are the real issues that the stakeholders deal with every day,” she said, adding that the diversity among the professional backgrounds of attendees contributed to several lively discussions during the conference.

“I found the conversations to be high level,” Bradford said shortly after the final session. “It had the Columbia spirit but also had the benefit of engaging with the European stakeholders that we couldn’t easily bring on campus.”

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Posted on June 22, 2017