Competition law and sustainability: who would have thought that these two could be combined? In fact, scholars like Anna Gerbrandy and Julian Nowag had done, but only in 2019 that the dream of integrating sustainability into competition law enforcement started to come true. First, a comprehensive report commissioned by the Fair Trade Advocacy Office set out the “unsustainability” of the current EU competition law enforcement in food systems. The report also proposed ways to move away from a price, consumer and efficiency-centric competition law towards a new system embedded in the double limit of planetary boundaries and of social foundations inspired by Kate Raworth’s “Doughnut Economics”. Then came a series of conferences and workshops on competition law and sustainability, where contributors have covered issues ranging from labour market considerations in merger control, to “acceptable cartels” for environmental protection and animal welfare as an objective justification for competition law infringements. In the meantime, Simon Holmes published a seminal paper on climate change and competition law, and more publications are on the way. Most memorably, Commissioner Vestager also contributed to the competition law & sustainability saga last October, and she confirmed that “It’s the right time to be looking at how competition enforcement can support sustainability”.
It looks like 2020 will combine even more efforts from different stakeholders, including fair trade organisations, climate change activists, competition authorities, academics, lawyers, and last but not least students in designing ways to ensure that sustainability becomes an integral part of competition law enforcement. A happy new year indeed!
Ayse Gizem is the founder of We Are Competition, a student initiative for competition law enthusiasts, and is currently doing her PhD at Sciences Po Paris where she also teaches competition law.