Interview with Michael Ristaniemi on his dissertation about antitrust – Part I

Michael Ristaniemi, 2019. / © SEPPO SAMULI

Michael Ristaniemi, currently the VP, Sustainability at Metsä Group, has defended his dissertation titled International Antitrust: Toward upgrading coordination and enforcement on 31 October 2020. Professor Petri Kuoppamäki, a Board member of the Finnish China Law Center was one of the examiners and public opponents. Michael’s dissertation has a very interesting chapter on international antitrust on how the three economic superpowers the USA, the EU, and China approach international antitrust, and the possibility to enhance international cooperation. Therefore, the Center would like to take the opportunity to further discuss the dissertation, Michael’s stay in Beijing at the China University of Political Science and Law and his future plans. In Part I of the interview, Michael’s background and his motivation for writing about antitrust are discussed. Part II will cover the dissertation more concretely.

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I am Finnish-American but I have lived most of my life in Finland. I was born and raised in Espoo but then moved to study law at the University of Turku. During my student years, I had a bit of an international mix: I did two semesters abroad, one in California and one in Thailand, and an internship in Washington DC at the law firm Morgan Lewis (previously known as Bingham McCutchen). I focused my studies on business law and since graduating in 2011 I’ve worked in the private sector primarily as an in-house counsel in international Finnish companies. In 2012, quite shortly after I graduated I started a PhD project on the side, and then I took a year and a half study leave to focus on the dissertation which was a great period in between professional working life.

All in all, I would say my legal background is heavily impacted by having worked only in the private sector with commercial law and business law questions.

Could you tell us about your doctoral research? What is your motivation behind pursuing the topic? 

Besides focusing on business, I have always been interested in societal questions which is an interesting reason to study law in general: you get to study the rules of society and how everything works. From that perspective competition law is great for understanding society because it is essentially the rules of our market economy and the framework within which businesses function.

I started my deep dive into competition law early in my law school career. I wrote my bachelor’s and master’s theses in the realm of competition law so my dissertation was sort of a continuum.

I wrote my Master’s thesis on airline alliances in light of competition law. I found the topic peculiar in its nature; it is a very political sector when you think about it. The airline industry has rules that prevent merging. Without these political rules, there would be a lot fewer airlines in this world. Because airlines can’t merge they cooperate more closely than typical competitors in a more rules-free industry. For instance, airlines agree on pricing on a certain route.

With my dissertation, when mirroring it with what I had learned from my master’s thesis, I felt that this interplay of politics and competition law was a weird situation and it would be interesting to dive deeper into it through more general research. That’s basically how the topic was born. It also got a bit more energy through the work I was doing at Cargotec and then at Metsä Group, which are both international businesses, operating globally in global markets. Through my work, I came to contact with global markets. I could really see the current situation up close: you have many competition laws all around the world and authorities that don’t really cooperate that well. All this happens within a framework of rules that aren’t that consistent in how they are enforced. This creates a burden on businesses and is generally ineffective. I believe my work has a practical impact and is not only an academic consideration.

Michael at his his dissertation defence on 31 October 2020 with Professor Antti Aine (University of Turku) serving as custos and Professor Petri Kuoppamäki (Aalto University) as opponent

The interview and report were done by the Center’s intern, Mr. Jakub Pichna. Jakub is a Master’s student at the University of Helsinki’s International Business Law program with a BSc. in Economics and Business Administration from the University of Turku.