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See original article in english The International Competition Network – Get involved

The International Competition Network – Get involved

Le RIC est le réseau mondial des agences de la concurrence, des plus jeunes aux plus matures, diverses en termes de traditions juridiques, de tailles et d’aspects géographiques, de structures, de cultures et de langues. Les membres du RIC font preuve d’un intérêt constant, d’une participation et d’une volonté d’investir des ressources et d’assumer des responsabilités. Le RIC attire les agences de la concurrence et réussit parce qu’il est dirigé par ses membres dans tous les sens du terme, qu’il est ambitieux, transparent et inclusif, qu’il fournit des contacts et un soutien, et qu’il offre un accès et une participation non filtrée à tous les projets, ce qui donne lieu à l’encyclopédie la plus complète du droit de la concurrence, ainsi qu’à la familiarité et à la confiance. Le RIC a obtenu des résultats impressionnants, et il est encore nécessaire aujourd’hui en tant que fondation solide et bienvenue, bien adaptée pour relever les défis de notre époque.

Last year, we celebrated the ICN’s anniversary, looking back at twenty years of the network—virtually, due to the pandemic. In May 2022, we returned to an in-person annual conference and the competition community gathered in Berlin, where the 21st ICN Annual Conference and the 21st International Conference on Competition brought together over 450 representatives from more than 80 jurisdictions.

The most comprehensive encyclopaedia of competition law

The success of the ICN is often illustrated by referencing its encyclopaedia of best practices, practical recommendations and other tools—all publicly available via the ICN’s website—the international events organised by member agencies around the world and its vast membership of 140 agencies. This is impressive ; however, there is more to it : the members’ continued interest, participation and willingness to invest resources and take on responsibility demonstrate that they feel the ICN is worth the effort.

The welcoming network

Roughly half of all ICN members are younger than the network. The ICN’s broad and diverse membership in terms of the legal traditions, sizes and geographical aspects of the countries involved and the set-up of the member authorities, their cultures and languages is one of the ICN’s greatest assets.

The ICN is attractive to agencies because it is member-driven in every sense—no other relevant organisation is so closely geared to the wishes and needs of its members or offers the same level of direct access to and participation in all projects. The ICN is welcoming and open to all competition agencies, only very basic criteria have to be met, and there are no peer reviews. The ICN encourages all members to participate : the annual work plan process seeks input on upcoming projects from all members, and all working groups are open to all members. All ICN members have the opportunity, and are encouraged, to get involved in the work process. Input is welcome in any form, including drafting papers, replying to surveys, joining discussions to inform written work products, and speaking at events. Any member can reach out to the Working Group Co-chairs, the Secretariat, the Steering Group or the Chair to get involved. Non-governmental adivisors (NGAs) who are nominated by an ICN member agency for their knowledge, independence and integrity—there are no “ICN NGAs”—are welcome to contribute their practical experience.

Unfiltered participation

The ICN’s super-light structure is the driver for unfiltered participation. The ICN works without a formal secretariat or permanent employees. The lack of hierarchical structures permits, facilitates and encourages participation. Authorities have not delegated the responsibility for the ICN to an external organisation ; they themselves have to keep the system up and running. This task is taken on by many enthusiastic members around the world. Since the introduction of working group rotation ten years ago, more members have served as Working Group Co-chairs, including Chile, Finland, Botswana, the Philippines, India, Singapore and Hong Kong. Members that have joined the ICN Steering Group in the last ten years include the competition agencies of Kenya, Colombia, Morocco, Poland, Portugal, Hungary and Singapore. A glimpse at events that have taken place in the last ten years shows events in 25 host countries, including Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Colombia, India, Israel, South Korea, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Panama, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey and Ukraine. The next workshops will take place in Japan, Kenya, New Zealand and Norway.

Fostering engagement of younger agencies

Inclusiveness and the involvement of all members are key topics for the ICN. This is illustrated by initiatives such as the regular Younger Agencies Sessions at annual conferences, specific responsibilities like the ICN Vice Chair for Outreach and the ICN Vice Chair for Younger Agencies and Regional Diversity, events such as the 2021 Younger Agencies Town Hall Meeting, special sessions in different languages at annual conferences, and funding for younger agencies to facilitate participation in ICN events. Not all agencies are able to contribute equally for obvious reasons : a lack of resources, time, funds or experience can make agencies reluctant to volunteer to take on a lead role in the ICN’s work. Creative approaches are needed to build bridges, which is what COFECE’s Bridging Project is doing as it connects more experienced and younger agencies and encourages more active participation. The ICN inspires regional cooperation and works, inter alia, with the African Competition Forum, ASEAN agencies that are not ICN members, or the Cooperation Lusophone Competition Network.

Inclusion and participation were founding principles of the ICN, are integral to how it works, and remain important objectives to this day. Together, we continue to work on achieving these goals. The latest network-wide survey on tools and topics recommends promoting greater inclusion and participation across the network, with even more opportunities for project leadership and speaking roles, facilitated by improved network communication through updates on ongoing work and upcoming events, and greater reach of virtual events.

Transparency and bidirectional flow of information

Transparency is the basis for participation. The ICN has introduced several tools to keep members and NGAs informed. Work plans and new projects are published on the ICN website and presented at the beginning of each ICN year to the membership in a kick-off call. The ICN Newsletter from the Chair informs members and NGAs, a new calendar has been introduced on the searchable website and events are accompanied by social media activities. The flow of information is bidirectional as all ICN members and NGAs are asked to provide input at regular intervals on topics and the structure in line with the tradition of self-assessment. One of these exercises, the Second Decade Project, led to the expansion of the number of working group leadership positions and rotation.

Connecting people, facilitating cooperation, and setting standards

The network’s dedication to putting members’ needs and participation first has allowed the ICN to bypass the limits of existing organisations. The ICN was never meant to establish global antitrust governance, but in a fruitful exchange, it connects people, facilitates cooperation and sets standards. The results of the current Third Decade Project survey show that members overwhelmingly consider the network and its inclusive working process to be valuable, with more than 9 out of 10 responding agencies affirming their use of ICN work and materials and their participation in ICN events, and 4 out of 5 citing ICN work as an inspiration for changes and improvements pursued in their agencies and jurisdictions. As Eleanor Fox put it, the ICN "provides guidance and moral support to newer and more vulnerable agencies pursuing the lonely and often resisted task within their nation of creating a competition culture." "It appears that as a result of the ICN, merger process in the world has improved ; cartel enforcement in the world has improved ; and the mutual understanding of laws, policies, and cultures among the myriad participants has reached a new level" (E. M. Fox : Antitrust and the Virtues of a Virtual Network - Looking Back and Forward, The International Competition Network at Twent, Lugard and Anderson (Editors), 2022, pp. 91–109, at 103 and 104).

Expanding into new topics

This may sound like a résumé, but it is not. The story of the ICN is one of evolution. It is about the network growing with its members, exploring new topics and creating new working groups. While work on enforcement fundamentals dominated in the early years, it expanded into more advanced issues, including “cross-cutting” topics such as enforcement cooperation and procedural fairness, as well as the changes brought about by the digital economy. Today’s members have called for exploring interdisciplinary topics such as the interaction between competition and consumer law, privacy, procurement, environmental and social sustainability, economic recovery, and most recently, inflation. The challenges of enforcement in the digital economy, of dealing with sustainability issues, as well as the disruptions caused by the pandemic and multiple crises, are omnipresent, affecting the first and oldest ICN members as well as the most recent and newest. We all have to face today’s challenges irrespective of whether or not we already enforced competition laws fifty years ago. Driven by its members’ needs, the ICN developed into an international network covering all areas of competition law enforcement and policy, always with a focus on hands-on practical advice.

Support in times of crisis

Is the ICN still needed today ? Of course. As the world is undergoing profound changes, competition agencies have to react, and they value the support provided by their network, the ICN. The ICN’s work during the pandemic has strengthened agency bonds, network participation, and commitment to sharing experiences. The virtual nature of the network meant that we could naturally transition to video calls and focus on more easily accessible events. As a result, the reach of the ICN’s work has extended to even more participants. The ICN’s informal structure allowed the network to be responsive to members’ needs. During the early days of the pandemic, the network came together to share timely information on practical safety measures for the protection of their staff, internal digitalisation, investigative and policy considerations, and other changes to address the unique circumstances. This was the ICN and its experience sharing potential at its best. As an advocate for competition principles worldwide, the ICN issued a statement on enforcement during the pandemic and is currently exploring ways in which agencies and competition can help promote economic recovery. The ICN has achieved impressive results : the many practical work products consulted by agencies around the world and the well-established relationships among member agencies that serve as a foundation for cooperation. Nevertheless, the ICN is still needed today. We are well advised to keep our eyes open, to look ahead and to use what we have achieved as a firm and welcome foundation because things are not getting easier.

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Author

  • German Competition Authority (Bonn)

Quotation

Andreas Mundt, The International Competition Network – Get involved, November 2022, Concurrences N° 4-2022, Art. N° 109077, pp. 2-4

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