Blockchain and Anti-trust Policy Forum

The European Commission and antitrust regulators worldwide are focusing their policy and enforcement priorities on key aspects of the digital economy including e-commerce, big data and algorithms. Blockchain appears to be now next in line for scrutiny.  On 16 January 2019, the IES assembled a unique expert panel to explore and debate the “promises and perils” of this emerging and transformative technology in the antitrust context.  The panel was led by Dave Anderson, IES Associate Researcher (and Head of the Brussels office of the law firm BCLP LLP), and it included a diverse spectrum of expertise on blockchain and antitrust: Fabio Falconi from the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, Pontus Lindblom who has been commissioned by the Swedish Competition Authority to advise them on blockchain, Thibault Schrepel from Utrecht University who is a leading commentator on the antitrust risks involved in blockchain and Falk Schöning from the law firm Hogan Lovells who participated e.g. in the OECD Blockchain roundtable last year as a private sector expert.

The panel kicked off with a discussion of the wide range of government inquiries worldwide into the antitrust aspects of blockchain, including jurisdictions represented on the panel, Sweden and the UK.  The panel engaged in a lively debate around the key risk areas for participants in public and private blockchains, including facilitating collusion (e.g., through illegal exchanges of information) and abuses of dominant positions (e.g., through exclusion of certain participants).  Other important topics that were also covered included how companies involved in blockchain can avoid competition law infringements, whether government agencies have a sufficient legislative “toolbox” to address violations related to the use of such a new and complex technology, and ultimately, if there is a breach of the law, how agencies can identify the liable parties, considering that a blockchain is by design usually not “owned” or controlled by any particular member or participant.

While blockchain technology is still emerging and to date no competition agency has taken enforcement action in this area, the panel agreed that it is important to start talking about the issues that may arise in the antitrust sphere and how to address them. Blockchain is predicted by some commentators to become “bigger than the internet”. 

This seminar was the second organized by the IES on antitrust issues in the digital economy, and a part of the rECOncile Jean Monnet Chair of Prof Kalimo, who had organised the event with Dave and Michael Ristaniemi (visitor to the IES). Details of the first seminar on Algorithms and Antitrust can be found here.

 

“This Policy Forum is (co-)organized under the auspices of the EACEA Jean Monnet Chair of Professor Kalimo (rECOncile, Grant nr. 575718-EPP- 1- 2016- 1-BE-EPPJMO-CHAIR)”.