Bram Vroege on the tension between competition and national security and the Trojan Horse

What kind of mind-set is needed to carry out ground-breaking research as we do at UUCePP?

UUCePP researchers introduce themselves in brief interviews conducted by Elisabetta Manunza and Fredo Schotanus. Today: PhD candidate Bram Vroege, employed from March 16th, 2020.

Bram Vroege

Who’ and ‘what’ are you?

My name is Bram Vroege, and I have recently started working as a PhD candidate at UUCePP. I do my research on a part-time basis: the rest of the week I work as a senior lawyer at the Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). I have a background in European economic law, more specifically in (general and sector specific) competition law.

I’m a curious lawyer, who loves to get to the bottom of things. This is one of the reasons why I chose to follow the UU’s Legal Research Master when I was a student. But at the same time I am very practically oriented, and enjoy solving concrete legal disputes. This part-time PhD forms a great way for me to combine legal practice and academia.

As a researcher I am particularly interested in topics that involve the intersection of market and government: what are the boundaries of competition, and when and in which manner should the government intervene in the competitive process? These are questions with prominent economical and political components, that often require an inter- or multidisciplinary approach in order to come to a good solution.

As a person I am a calm bon vivant. My hobbies are reading and playing (board) games. I also enjoy good food, and am not afraid to put in the necessary kitchen work myself. In order to maintain this somewhat Epicurean lifestyle I also go to the gym a couple of times a week.

What do you work on, and why?

My PhD research concerns (European) procurement law in the defence sector. Procurement law regulates the manner in which governments purchase goods and services. The goal is to help them gain value for money. After all, from a societal point of view it is desirable that the government achieves a good price/quality ratio when purchasing from the market. Allowing companies from other EU member states to compete for government contracts can help to achieve this goal, because it greatly expands the offering from which the government can choose.

However, purchasing in the defence sector does not just involve economic interests. Possessing the right military equipment is important for guaranteeing a country’s military capacities, and the EU only has a limited role in the field of foreign and security policy. Per the EU Treaties, the protection of national security is a member state prerogative. According to many member states, the protection of national security requires the state to possess its own defence industry. Due to this, member states have a strong inclination to rely on national security in order to purchase in their own country as much as possible, rather than purchasing abroad.

In my PhD I intend to further examine this tension between competition and national security. Is the current system fit for purpose, considering the specific – partially intergovernmental – dynamic of the defence sector? But also: do member states perhaps make insufficient use of the space they have for giving a national interpretation to the European framework? In this way, I hope to create more clarity regarding the room for European competition in the defence sector, now and in the future.

What makes you get out of bed in the morning? And is this different because of the COVID-19 crisis? Is there nevertheless something you appreciate in these changing circumstances?

I derive a great deal of pleasure from my work and have a strong drive to perform. However, life can’t only be about work – not even at the office. I find it important to have good social contacts with my colleagues, and I derive a lot of energy from that. Due to COVID-19, mainly this element of working life has become a lot more limited. A quick catch-up via Teams or Facetime just isn’t the same as a good conversation during after-work drinks or at the coffee machine.

Due to COVID-19 I have changed my mind about remote meetings. Videoconferencing offers a lot more possibilities than I had though. After this crisis, many international meetings in particular could very well continue to be done at a distance. This would save a lot of (travel) time, and would also be a great idea from an environmental point of view.

Bram Vroege: "The Trojan Horse is a good example of the risks of defence-related imports."

Should we go back to our old way of life after the crisis, or not?

COVID-19 has revealed a number of weaknesses in the way in which our globalised world is organised. Outsourcing to foreign companies has contributed much to Dutch society via lower prices. But we now also see what the risks are of external dependencies for the supply of certain (strategic) goods, such as medical protective equipment. The EU could take a leading role in bringing certain production capacities back to Europe, in order to reduce our dependence on third countries.

Which professor stayed with you during all of your studies, and why?

Anna Gerbrandy. Her lectures were always particularly clear and inspiring. Furthermore, she was early in identifying the risks of too strict a focus on competition relative to other public interests. This continues to be a topic of note, that does not just confine itself to the field of competition law.

Which book has impressed you the most, has shaped you, and would you read 100 more times? And why?

That would be two books, that almost cannot be seen separately: the Iliad and the Odyssey. I have a great passion for mythology and grand, compelling stories, which can be traced back to my first reading of this classic heroic epic.