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Thursday, September 19, 2013

I decided to take a break. It is a matter of principles.

This is not a post – it is an announcement, a message and a brief report regarding my activity as Vice-President of the Romanian Competition Council.  At the end of September 2013, I shall take a break from the Competition Council, after 4 and half years period, started in May 2009. 

The reasons for this decision are of personal nature.   On one hand I want to dedicate from now on to studies and researches in the competition area, mainly at the Center for Studies in Competition Law at the Bucharest University and to follow post-doctoral studies at a European university. 
My list of project is extended and it includes, on the medium term, an ambitious project for a treaty on competition law.
On the other hand, I have a certain discontent with respect to the current realities in the Romanian Competition Council and with respect to several approaches of the institution, which do not match with its mission, the applicable procedures and to my personal principles.  I shall not provide details on my discontents but I can say that it is about events which took place recently, where the competition authority either did not act properly (at least in my opinion), or acted without solid arguments.  Although I am aware of the fact that misjudgments do happen – and these could be equally mines  - I also believe that there are limits and that persons in public positions must act always in accordance with their ”job description”, firmly but also in full respect of the norms, insulated from their subjective views or any additional element which has no direct connection to the respective case.   

I believe in principles and in the fact that these must be observed even when they seem to be rather burdensome.  The principles and the rules issued for their application do have this feature of rigidity but we also should be aware that in the absence of this rigidity the principles would lack the necessary strenght and they would transform in a soft material, easy to be modeled and shaped according to the wishes and the interests of everyone.  This is not an option for a state where the rule-of-law prevails.
With regard to the Romanian Competition Council I believe that its activities and results have the same importance as the activities and the results of institutions such as the National Bank of Romania, the Constitutional Court or the Prosecutor’s Office.  The Competition Council is an institution which is essential to the market economy and the market performance may be influenced to a significant degree by the activities and the performance of the Competition Council. 

Because the position I held is a public position, it is normal to present to everybody a brief report of the activities performed in this position for the duration of my mandate.  From a personal standpoint I had plenty of professional achievements in this period and the best results in my career so far.  I shall remain with the satisfaction that I contributed to the rebirth of the Romanian Competition Council and to its transformation in an institution which is both feared and respected, as it should be, to the benefit of the respect of the competition rules.  In 2009 I accepted to join the Competition Council because I was both aware of its strong points and the role it was meant to play and to the reality that the effective performance of this institution was below the expectations.  The Romanian Competition Council was either the “sleeping beauty” or the “sleeping beast”, depending on the part of the barricade from which the Council was considered. 

When I got to RCC I found both good and bad things. I discovered that there are some very professional and dedicated people in the staff but I also noticed quickly that a large part of the staff lacked motivation and impetus for delivering better results and achieving the results required from an efficient competition authority.  The speed of the investigations was slow, the procedures were more bureaucratic than they should have been and the communication both inside RCC and with the outside stakeholders was poor and most often lacked consistency.
So, together with the colleagues from the Board I embarked in an ambitious, although necessary, endeavor in order to make RCC a reputable and efficient institution.  Among the first things to be done was to upgrade the competition legislation, which was lagging behind the EU legislation and lacked some instruments and provisions which were already widely used across the European Union.  The amendments to the Romania Competition Law took considerable efforts and time (almost the entire years 2010 and 2011) but the effort was worth and, besides, it was shared by a large number of people from the RCC staff and also from outside - the amendments were prepared in a close collaboration with the stakeholders, especially with AmCham, which was always open to us and provided quick and useful feed-back. I must say that we were not always in agreement with the private stakeholders but even when their proposals were not accepted, we took the effort to explain why a specific provision was introduced or not.  Besides the competition law, which incurred amendments for some 90% of its provisions, we had to revisit and to amend the huge volume of secondary norms issued by RCC in application of the law.  I had the honor of coordinating all this delicate and complex reform process but I have to say that the merit for the good things in the new regulations belongs to my colleagues in the drafting team, whilst I had just the role of a coach (sometimes, a player too but in short this was a team effort!). Like any coach, I assume responsibility for the bad or unclear provisions in the new legislation!
A second line of action was to enhance the enforcement of the competition rules and to apply them in a strict, although proportionate way.  In order to achieve this, we provided more specific and detailed fining guidelines, so that each infringement receives the sanction it deserves, nothing more or less. The staff was encouraged to investigate in an objective manner and outside any interference from the management.  As a result, the number of finalised cases increased and so did the amount of the total fines (although we never set this as a goal or even indicator of the RCC activity).   New investigations were opened, in markets not touched before and involving companies with a large impact on the economy and the consumers.  In the same time, based on the new provisions introduced in the Competition Law, in line with the legislation and practice in the European Union, RCC started to use alternative instruments, such as the commitments in order to finalize investigation in a faster manner and to re-establish the competition process in the respective markets.  

A third line of action was represented by advocacy and communication.  RCC opened its windows to the private and public stakeholders and allowed the free flow of ideas and arguments in both directions.  I have to disclose that this openness has been greeted with reserve and even opposition from some of the staff, as they thought that a public authority should live behind the thick walls of its fortress and fire, from time, to time, from there, without shaking hands with people outside the walls.  The Board had a different approach and considered that a correct and transparent flow of ideas would be beneficial for both sides and would help achieving our goals as a competition authority.
RCC not only stepped outside the walls but it also increased its impact and activities across the borders of Romania and I can give as examples the activities in which I was involved in the International Competition Network, the European Competition Network, OECD and the assistance provided to the Republic of Moldova for the drafting of its first state aid law and of a new competition law, aligned with the regulations of the European Union.  
All these activities were accompanied by a tedious internal reform of RCC, aimed at preparing the authority for the important mission it has in the market economy. RCC has been, in 2010 and 2011 in a functional review, made by a team of experts from the World Bank.  There were 6 public authorities and ministries from Romania involved in similar reviews at that time but I have to say that RCC was the only which volunteered for this review. RCC also received one of the highest evaluations from the public authorities subject to the audit of the World Bank. As a follow-up, the World Bank was called in in 2012 to assist with the implementation of the action plan which incorporates the conclusion of the review, based on a financing from the European Union (PODCA). 
On the side of the efforts of RCC as an institution, I made some efforts to stimulate the higher education in respect of the competition law and economics in the Romanian universities. I initiated and I was able to start the activity of a Center for Studies in Competition Law at the Law Faculty of the Bucharest University, the first of this kind in a Romanian university.  The merit for this belongs to the dean of the Law School, Professor Flavius Baias, to Professor Sorin David and to Professor Adriana Almasan.  
As I noticed the need for a better competition culture, I wrote several articles and even a book, in this period, on the sense and the application of the competition rules and I had speeches at various conferences, on competition-related issues.
These are, briefly, the activities I had during my mandate at the Romanian Competition Council.  I do not praise them, I only mention them.  It is up to everyone to consider whether they meant something and if there are result which would justify the position I held and the public money from which I have been paid.  I personally consider that I did nothing more than to start building, alongside my colleagues from the Romanian Competition Council, the road towards a stronger, more powerful and fairer institution.  But roads are of no use if they do not lead to any destination or too much time is required to reach that destination.  Thus, it is the duty of the colleagues which remain at RCC and of those who will later join the team to continue advancing on this road and to reinforce it. 
I shall return always with an open heart and I am convinced that the high level of activity from the previous years shall continue, due to the remarkable qualities of the staff, above many other public authorities (no offence to the colleagues in other public authorities!) I heard opinions from colleagues in RCC, saying that they regret my decision to leave the Council.  Equally, there might be persons, within or outside the Competition Council which receive this with joy.  To both categories I have to tell that the real strength of an institution does not reside in a person or another but in the force of the assembly and in the human and professional skills of those who are part of the staff.  And the conditions in the case of the Romanian Competition Council are very good, which justifies my trust that the activity to enforce the competition rules shall be as vigorous as today and even more intense than it used to be. 
At the moment of this break, I would like to thank mainly to my colleagues in the Romanian Competition Council but also to those with whom I came across during my mandate at RCC – persons from other public authorities or from private undertakings, people from academia and from the media.  I say to all of them: all the best!