Each month we focus on the work and interests of either a regulator or an in-house counsel. This month we interviewed Saar Dierckens, Senior Counsel Competition at Siemens AG.
What is your background and what got you into your role as senior counsel competition at Siemens AG?
I already had a strong interest in competition law during my law studies in Leuven, Belgium, but I was unsure which area of law I would like to practice in. I therefore decided to start my traineeship to get a better understanding of what interests me in practice. After my traineeship, I went to King’s College London to pursue an LL.M. in European law. Returning from London, I worked in private practice in Brussels for several years before moving to Munich for personal reasons. The move to Munich was quickly followed by a move in-house at Siemens which I have not regretted ever since. Compared to private practice, you are involved at a much earlier stage of a company’s decision-making process. You get to peak “behind the curtains” in a manner of speaking. I continue to be fascinated by the diversity of work and the different aspects that you deal with as in-house counsel on a day-to-day basis. The work is not only diverse in terms of the legal questions you are advising on but also in terms of the products and the countries that you are dealing with given Siemens’ large product portfolio and regional presence.
What current competition law occurrences are of interest to you?
There are currently several occurrences that are of interest to me.
As I work in an M&A-driven company, we regularly have to obtain merger clearance for transactions in several jurisdictions. The diverging scope of information that is requested by the different competition authorities creates significant some challenges and impose a huge burden on companies, in particular if you are under significant time pressure to obtain clearance and to close a transaction. There are still a number of jurisdictions which take a very formal approach and ask for detailed corporate information and even personal information on management and board members which is clearly not required to assess the potential effects of the transaction on competition. There have certainly been significant improvements over the last decade but there is still a lot of work to be done both in terms of authorities aligning on the information required for merger filings as well as in terms of removing the requirement to provide detailed corporate information which is not necessary to assess a transaction.
The on-going e-commerce sector inquiry is another major topic. The European Commission’s preliminary report is expected to be released for public consultation in mid-2016. As consumers, we are all regularly confronted with geo-blocking if we attempt to purchase products online and are prevented from purchasing products in other countries. Surely, any action or legislation by the European Commission in this area might significantly impact and change the e-commerce business of many companies in the future. It is certainly an area that will become very important for antitrust lawyers in the coming years.
Finally, big data is what everyone is talking about nowadays. There is a fierce debate going on regarding how competition law should deal with big data and whether special antitrust rules should be imposed on the use and accessibility of big data. The European Commission is currently of the opinion that there is no need for such special rules which is a view that I share. It will be interesting to see how national competition authorities will deal with big data in view of the fact that they can impose stricter rules for unilateral conduct under Article 3 of Regulation 1/2003.
How does a day at work look like?
Since starting as an in-house counsel, I find it generally much more difficult to plan my day. You are dealing with a much larger amount of different matters simultaneously and you need to be able to switch between different topics very quickly. Colleagues often want ad hoc advice, maybe even directly on the phone which means that you need to grasp legal questions quickly and take decisions within a very short timeframe. Your advice should be pragmatic and you should be able to communicate it in a clear and concise manner. In that sense, there is a very entrepreneurial side to working as an in-house competition counsel. I also get to deal with people with different cultural backgrounds which I personally find a very enriching and interesting experience. There is no day without surprises but that is certainly part of the fun of working as an in-house counsel.