Aurélie-Anne Gilly and Elsa Schropp, Former Stagiaires in DG Competition

What benefit and insight do young international lawyers gain from training at the European Commission? Brussels Legal spoke with two lawyers, Aurélie-Anne Gilly and Elsa Schropp, who have been working as stagiaires in different parts of DG Competition.

We spoke about their respective stage experiences and what advice they would give to antitrust lawyers undertaking a stage in DG Competition. Our interview starts with talking to Ms. Gilly and is then followed by our interview with Ms. Schropp.

BL: Ms. Gilly what is your professional background and in which part of DG Competition have you been working?

AAG: I am a 30 year-old UK barrister of French-Australian nationality. I have been working for five months as a stagiaire. My stage arose through a European law scholarship organised by the UK bar (specifically Lincoln's Inn).

I have been working as a stagiaire for the Hearing Officers in DG Competition.

BL: Before asking about your stage, can you say a bit more about the Hearing Officers function in DG Competition?

AAG: The Hearing Officers occupy an independent, horizontal position within the Commission and are physically located in a different building to DG COMP. The team is small compared to the other DG Directorates and Units, composed of just the two Hearing Officers (Karen Williams and Serge Durande), four assistant officials (who are lawyers) and generally two stagiaires.

The Hearing Officers' work revolves around the rights of defence, which is fairly wide in scope as it concerns: ensuring respect of the right to be heard, right to access to file, the fairness of proceedings, ensuring the undertakings' legitimate interest in confidentiality is respected and also dealing with other questions of a more general nature.

BL: So what sort of work have you been doing there?

AAG: My stage has involved a lot of legal research, consultation and advice on matters raised internally across the DG's Directorates and also by external parties. The advantage of a stage at the Hearing Office is that you are involved with most competition investigations, cartels, anti-trust and mergers. I have, of course, attended a few Oral Hearings during my time here too!

BL: And what have you learned during your stage experience?

AAG: I have gained an overview of many aspects of antitrust, cartels and mergers, because work has come from across the DG and to look at the rights of the defence of any matter it has first been necessary to look at the substance and evolution of that case.

I learned how the Hearing Officer's role is a balancing exercise between the practicalities of a case and applying established legal principles. You always have to be creative in applying due process; it is always at the forefront of your mind, just like the Commission's interaction with the CFI and the ECJ!

Equally, I learnt a great deal from the legal research I undertook. There have been numerous consultations and advice followed by written intellectual discussion with other parts of the Commission on issues such as privilege and proposed direct settlements. I have found officials across the DG have always been willing and open to discuss legal issues.

Regarding that openness, there is a lot of fusion in thinking between lawyers from different legal traditions who have to work together. The different legal backgrounds means everyone starts from different legal principles and so some discussions had to start from the basics and work forward.

I appreciate the need to keep an open mind regarding different ways of legal thinking. I have noticed that lawyers from different legal traditions (such as the civil and common law) can arrive at the same conclusions but the substantive reasoning could be quite different. I have always thought being a lawyer is about being creative and transparent, 'honest' if you like, and an awareness of another's legal thinking helps keep you 'honest'.

I have enjoyed the Oral Hearings as that is when matters have come alive. It is exciting as suddenly there is physical contact with all the different parties involved in the matter. Again different cultural perspectives arise in the Oral Hearings and it is interesting to see how they are worked through.

BL: Would you recommend the stage (in particular in DG Competition) to other lawyers?

AAG: Absolutely. You have to really embrace this opportunity as it is a unique experience in a multilingual, multicultural legal environment. There is just so much to learn from it. I also undertook a stage at the ECJ. It was an equally educational experience but there is a real feeling of being 'in the thick of it' at the Commission. I would recommend the stage to any young aspiring competition or European lawyer. There is no substitute for first-hand experience.

BL: What advice would you give to a stagiaire to make the most of their DG Competition stage experience?

AAG: Prior to the stage I would recommend any competition lawyer knows more about the economic elements of competition law and to be aware of the different parts of the DG and how they function. It is helpful to know about lines of responsibility and communication and to understand what the employment opportunities are regarding staying on after the stage.

I was told at the start of my stage that the stage is really what you make of it. This proved to be the case. You have to get involved from day one and there definitely is no 'hand-holding'. It is best to throw yourself into the opportunity you have. After all, a stage at the European Commission is a unique and much sought-after opportunity!

Also the more languages you have the better. I am fortunate as I am fluent in English and French and those are usually the two most useful working languages. Having other languages is definitely useful for looking at different language versions of legal texts.

Beyond the DG, the Commission offers various training in abundance. I did not take advantage of those as I would have liked to, but they are definitely worthwhile.

On the social side the stage is a great experience. The stagiaire organising committee is well organised and friendly. Perhaps because I am bit older I did not participate so much in the social side of the stage, but that is an enjoyable part of the experience.

BL: Thank you Ms. Gilly.

BL: Ms. Schropp what is your professional background and in which part of DG Competition are you working?

ES: I am an Italian lawyer and am currently undertaking a five month stage in Directorate C-4 Information, Communications, Media - Mergers.

BL: What sort of work are you doing there?

My work is specific to the merger context, being more fact-intensive and deadline-driven than other types of competition work.

I have dealt with a lot of market definition issues in the cases I am involved in. There have been information requests to customers and competitors in our market investigations. I have analysed, summarised and reported on those market findings to the case team regarding market definition and substitutionability.

I have attended internal and external meetings with my case teams. The internal meetings have been consultations with other parts of the DG and Commission. The external meetings have been with the parties and other interested parties.

I have also drafted notes to the Commissioner on some small decisions.

BL: What have you learned during the stage experience?

ES: I have learnt about many different aspects of the merger process.

On a general level, at the start my fellow stagiaires and I were given a training session explaining the merger procedure and deadlines. The regular merger 'House' meetings have been very useful in building upon that foundation by giving an insight into the range of ongoing merger cases the DG is dealing with. The 'House' meetings are also insightful in understanding how particular issues are raised and discussed by the DG's officials. There is a lot of experience and know-how in the DG and it is interesting to see how it operates in practice.

In the cases I have been involved in I have learnt more about the specific industries and sectors and about the interaction between the case team and various stakeholders in the merger process.

The DG Competition stage experience has also been useful in making a comparison with working in other organisations and institutions. I have previously undertaken stages at the Italian national competition authority and with law firms in Brussels and Rome. There is an interesting contrast in the perspective and practice between these different organisations. For example, before I had little idea how deep the market investigation runs in a Commission merger investigation. The capacity and resources available here facilitate a deeper market definition investigation than is often possible at a national competition authority.

Overall the stage also gives an insight into the Commission as an institution. I understand how it operates and works a lot better.

BL: Would you recommend the stage (in particular in DG Competition) to other lawyers? If so, what advice would you give to a stagiaire to make the most of their DG Competition stage experience?

ES: Yes I would definitely recommend the Commission stage. Different parts of DG Competition offer different types of work. I mentioned the fact-intensive nature of merger work and there is probably less legal research working here than in other parts of DG Competition (such as in cartels).

I can offer a few practical tips for new stagiaires. One is if you are involved in mergers, is to be familiar with Excel. The data analysis means it is used a lot with merger market investigations and so it is definitely useful to be or get familiar with it beforehand!

Another is to develop your knowledge about economics, it is increasingly emphasised in competition law. A third tip is to have a good standard of English; it helps to get the most out of your DG Competition stage and certainly a lot of merger work is conducted in English.

BL: Thank you for your time.

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