Antonio Capobianco, Principal Administrator at OECD in Paris

Where would you go to develop your legal career?

Italian-qualified lawyer Antonio Capobianco has experience of working in three Member States at the national, private practice and international level.

Mr. Capobianco talked to Brussels Legal about the insights gained from his professional progress in the field of competition law.

BL: What is your professional background?

AC: I am an Italian antitrust lawyer. I worked for over two years for the Italian Competition Authority in Rome where I specialised in the application of Italian and EC competition rules in regulated or newly liberalised sectors (such as Electricity and Gas).

I then moved to the Brussels office of WilmerHale, specialising in EC and Italian competition law and more generally on regulatory issues both at the national and European level.

After spending the last seven years in Brussels I am now working for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris. I am currently responsible for one of the working parties of the OECD Competition Committee, the Working Party Number 3 (WP3) on International Co-operation and Competition Law Enforcement.

BL: Why did you decide to leave private practice?

AC: I am not new to changes which might at first sight appear quite radical. Many years ago, I initially started in private practice and then quickly decided to move on to a government position.

A few years later, when I had decided to move from the Italian Competition Authority, many people I knew were taken by surprise. I was involved in very interesting cases and had integrated perfectly in the working environment. In other words I was doing fine; so why leaving everything and start all over in a different country and in a different working environment?

The reason was simple. Competition law is complex and I find that the idea of experiencing it from various angles is very enriching and allows me to understand antitrust much better. It definitely broadens one's mind and lets you see the same problems from different perspectives. I have learned that in many cases, there are no right or wrong answers, but there are different ways of looking and interpreting the same facts or the same legal rules.

The rules tend to be relatively stable and unchanged but the underlying economic rationale develops constantly and can lead to different outcomes over time. This is an interesting feature of competition law, but it is also what makes this area so difficult to master.

I do believe that the ability to broaden your horizons and to take into account various perspectives makes someone a better competition lawyer. And it is for this very same reason, that I have recently decided to embark in yet a new professional adventure.

BL: So why choose to move to the OECD?

AC: I have to say that there was no real 'master plan' behind my decision. I saw the vacancy and thought I should apply but I had little expectation that I would actually get the job. So when I did, everything turned out well!

Obviously before applying I knew about the OECD and the work it does in the competition field. I had used its material and excellent Background Notes many times both for cases I had been working on and for articles I had published.

I was certainly attracted by the organisation's stellar reputation as a policy maker in the competition law area. The Competition Committee of the OECD and its Working Parties are really unique places where heads of agencies and senior competition officials meet regularly to discuss high profile policy issues. The OECD Secretariat supports the work of the Committee and its Working Parties from an analytical perspective and prepares the meetings. The approach taken by the OECD is very much analytical and policy-driven. This is the type of job that one can do in very few places in this area of the law.

I am responsible for WP3 and it is even more of a special place as it is the working group where antitrust theory and practice come together. It deals with international cooperation between antitrust agencies and with the enforcement of competition laws on mergers, cartels and on unilateral conduct.

Personally I cannot see a better place where someone with practical experience could more smoothly adapt to a policy perspective. The beauty of this position, which in part I knew before accepting it and in part discovered later, is that the job gives the opportunity to really go in-depth in the analysis of the topics that are discussed by the member country delegates. At the same time, one has the feeling that his work is contributing to shaping the enforcement policy of the future on a truly global scale.

Just to give a few examples, so far I have been dealing with competition issues in public procurement, with the pro- and anti-competitive aspects of trade associations and with minority shareholdings and interlocking directorates.

BL: And what is the OECD's relationship with other public agencies?

AC: The relationship with national governments is very close. The representatives of the competition authorities of the 30 OECD countries and of a number of observer countries sit in the Competition Committee of the OECD and its Working Parties.

We do overlap or 'compete' - a curious word to use in this context! - with other international fora doing policy work in this area, such as the International Competition Network (ICN). The OECD however has always retained a distinctive role in developing new policies and in shaping the international landscape of competition policy. The fact that the OECD has a Secretariat with very experienced full-time staff devoted to supporting the work of the competition authorities ensures the high-quality work output.

In addition, the OECD Competition Division is in contact with many other competition and regulatory agencies around the world. Part of the OECD's mandate is to strengthen the capacities of competition authorities around the world. The Competition Division therefore runs a number of projects with developing countries' agencies, with the help of experts from OECD competition authorities.

Finally, the OECD has a number of partnerships with regional development banks which provide support to the capacity building programs. The first partnership, with the Inter-American Development Bank, supports the Latin American Competition Forum. A new partnership with the Asian Development Bank supports an expanded program of support for the People's Republic of China.

BL: What skills or experiences have been required in making the transition from private practice to a public organisation?

AC: We see our OECD country delegates as our 'clients'. At the Secretariat we are in constant contact with the national capitals to ensure the needs and expectations of the delegations are met.

Every job requires its own specific set of skills. Private practice teaches you to be efficient, responsive and organised. All these skills are extremely valuable in any professional environment and I have made good use of them at the OECD where, in contrast to a law firm, there is less help in terms of secretarial support and also in terms of substantive support. In this context, efficiency and organisation can be very useful qualities.

On the other hand, responsibilities and autonomy on the job have significantly increased. Although there is a hierarchy this is relatively flat and each of us ends up enjoying a fair amount of freedom about how to organise and bring forward our own professional tasks. I have also learned that one needs to be tactful and perceptive. As I said, there are more than 30 competition agencies involved with the work of WP 3 and they are all equally important for the Secretariat. Unfortunately, they do not always agree on everything and part of our job is to facilitate finding a consensus.

BL: On a more practical level, you split your time between Brussels and Paris. Is that a manageable arrangement?

AC: The decision to take up a job in Paris was not easy for me as I have been living in Brussels for many years and I felt to a certain extent settled. This job opportunity forced me to rethink that situation.

But commuting between Paris and Brussels is quite straightforward and therefore manageable. The Thalys service is fantastic and I have enough flexibility in my working schedule to spend quality time with my family who remain in Brussels.

BL: What are your likely next steps?

AC: You save the most difficult question till the end!

I have to say that I really enjoy very much what I am doing now as I am learning a lot and I like very much my colleagues and the working environment.

However, I have learned throughout my career that flexibility is a key factor in the professional environment in which I work. It is more and more common for competition experts in Europe to benefit from the so-called 'revolving door'. Many friends and colleagues have left positions in the government to join private law firms or other organisations and vice-versa.

There are many interesting professional opportunities out there and I would not exclude another interesting move in the future.

BL: Thank you for your time and good luck.

Other features dealing with related issues:

Andrea De Matteis, Partner of Labruna Mazziotti Segni

Götz Drauz, Partner at Howrey LLP in Brussels

Mario Todino, Resident Brussels Office Partner, Gianni Origoni Grippo