CRA’s Raphaël De Coninck was ranked as a Global Elite Thought Leader in Competition by Who’s Who Legal in their 2023 rankings. In an interview with Who’s Who Legal, he answers some questions about his experience in the industry and about CRA’s competition economics services.
Dr. Raphaël De Coninck heads CRA’s Brussels office. Raphaël provides expert economic evidence and testimony in all competition matters, leading teams of economists at the forefront of merger, antitrust and damages analysis. He has worked on many of the landmark European competition cases of the last two decades, including over 80 mergers and 25 “Phase II” merger investigations, and over 50 abuse of dominance, cartel and damages cases.
What motivated you to specialize in competition economics?
I was attracted to competition economics because it is a field where economics and empirical evidence have a very tangible impact on the real world. Working as an economic consultant on competition matters, such as mergers and antitrust, also provides unparalleled access and direct insights on the functioning of so many varied industries, including in my case: the tech sector, pharma, consumer goods, transport, finance… so I always keep learning, which is fantastic.
What do clients look for when selecting a competition economist to advise them?
Creativity and the willingness to leave no stone unturned, a deep knowledge of economics of course but also the ability to explain economic mechanisms clearly to non-economists, reliability, responsiveness and the ability to be supported by wider teams when needed, the ability to anticipate how regulators assess economic evidence in practice, impeccable credentials and credibility with competition authorities and courts.
There is evidence that mergers in the tech industry can stifle innovation. To what extent do you perceive this to be true?
Tech mergers may lead to a wide variety of outcomes for consumers, including very positive ones. So-called killer acquisitions are a possibility but not the norm; tech mergers do often allow, improve, or speed up the development and consumer adoption of ground-breaking products and services. There is therefore no one-size-fits-all approach, and it is essential to conduct thorough and case-specific economic analyses when considering the impact of mergers on innovation in this space.
With the departure of some big names from the Directorate-General for Competition, do you envisage any challenges for the European Commission in devising and enforcing anti-competition laws?
Despite the high-profile departures, I am not worried because DG Competition has a deep bench of talent available. In particular, the Chief Economist Team has greatly benefited from hiring members with prior private practice experience, which is one of the benefits of the revolving door policy. A certain level of staff movement in both directions is in my view healthy to avoid silos and make sure there is a good understanding of what is going on, on both sides. Of course, I may be slightly biased since I made the move in both directions (first from private practice to the Commission, and then back to private practice)…
What makes Charles River Associates stand out from its competitors in the market?
In my view CRA stands out as being absolutely rigorous and uncompromising on the quality of its economic analysis, while staying pragmatic and grounded in market reality. This makes CRA highly respected not only by clients but also by courts and agencies worldwide.
CRA is also one of the very few economic consulting firms that is truly global and can offer first-rate integrated teams covering key jurisdictions on transatlantic deals, ensuring that that the economic work for large deals is top notch and well-coordinated across jurisdictions worldwide, which can be immensely valuable to clients.
Looking back over your career, what is the most memorable case that you have been a part of?
There are so many… one to mention is TomTom/TeleAtlas back in 2008, which I worked on while at the Commission. This was a test case for the approach to vertical mergers, and a close call – if we hadn’t gotten it right, this would likely have had strong adverse consequences for many years. It is also the only merger case so far where the Commission recognized efficiencies linked to innovation (a question that is still getting a lot of attention these days).
You have taught new generations of economists at universities home and abroad. What advice would you give to younger economists hoping to one day be in your position?
Specialize in competition but keep the broader economic perspective in mind and stay close to the latest economic developments, also outside of competition – this is a great way to keep moving and stay at the cutting-edge of the application of economics to competition… and keep it interesting!
What has been your greatest achievement to date?
I am most proud of having contributed to building CRA’s market-leading Brussels office after leaving the European Commission. I am now particularly thrilled to see my younger team members grow into accomplished and respected economic consultants of their own, which I am hoping to help them achieve further.