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Former ACELG PhD researcher Or Brook (University of Leeds) talks to us about the benefits of her fairly uncommon, empirical approach to studying EU Competition Law, which entailed the manual coding of over 3000 cases.

Or Brook (Amsterdam Centre for European Law and Governance)

You used quantitative and qualitative mapping to study Article 101 TFEU, which is to date a rare choice of methodology, at least in legal scholarship. Which came first? Your choice of subject or your choice of methodology? Why did you choose this methodology? And what was it like working with this methodology in legal research?

The general topic of my PhD was given ahead of time; the vacancy of my PhD position invited research proposals on how to examine the role of public policy in the enforcement of EU competition law. One of my project’s main contributions was its novel choice of methodology. Some previous studies had already examined the topic from more traditional legal methods, but my research was the first to approach it from an empirical perspective. More specifically, the dissertation applied a systematic content analysis (“coding”) to all of the decisions rendered by the EU Commission, EU courts, and national competition authorities, and courts of five Member States with respect to enforcement of the EU prohibition on anti-competitive agreements (Article 101 TFEU). This approach is based on the assumption that since EU law does not clearly define how to balance competition and non-competition interests in the enforcement, such balancing principles can only be deduced by how this balance was achieved in practice.

As you might imagine, the empirical approach took quite some time. It took me almost a year and a half to code more than 3100 cases(!) While this required quite some motivation and persistence, this method proved to be very rewarding. The empirical findings generated new and exciting insights, which I couldn’t have obtained otherwise. It also unearthed new insights in a pretty well-researched topic, which is always a challenge for a PhD student.

Were there any obstacles you had to overcome during your research process? If so, could you describe them? And did you have any epiphanies during the research process?

The main challenge was the coding process. The first two years of my PhD mainly focused on coding the cases and gathering data so I had very little fruition to show for. After two years of full time-research I only had a lengthy Excel file and no PhD chapters. At times I feared that the empirical findings would yield nothing of interest. This also meant that I had little time to actually write the PhD. I’m not sure that I had an epiphany per se during the process, but I do remember that the first few weeks of analysing the results after the coding was finished were particularly exciting.

Has your attitude towards your research project changed after having completed it, as compared to before you started the project?

I maintained my level of excitement throughout the PhD writing process and was proud of the project after finishing it. I think this was largely because I had the opportunity to present different parts of the PhD in various panels and conferences all the while getting extraordinary feedback and engagement.

How does your doctoral research relate to your current work at the University of Leeds and/or future plans you may have?

Half a year after defending my PhD, I’m still very much engaged in my PhD research area. I have been transposing some of the PhD chapters into articles (one of them, Struggling with Article 101(3) TFEU, has recently been published in the Common Market Law Review). I am also working on adapting the PhD into a monograph. Finally, during the data collection stage of the PhD, I have come across many other interesting findings which were not included in the PhD project. Therefore, I still use the empirical dataset I have created as part of the PhD to explore new and different research questions.


Download Or Brook's full thesis from the website of the University of Amsterdam.

An edited version of one of the thesis chapters was published in Common Market Law Review:
Or Brook, 'Struggling With Article 101(3) Tfeu: Diverging Approaches Of The Commission, Eu Courts, And Five Competition Authorities' (2019) 56 Common Market Law Review, Issue 1, pp. 121–156