On 17 June 2019, the Belgian Competition Authority (“BCA”) published its Annual Report for 2018. This document, which is available in French and Dutch, also includes an Annex on the enforcement priorities for 2019, as previously published in February 2019.
The 2018 Annual Report reveals the following trends compared with 2017: the BCA devoted most of its time to dealing with an increase in merger control activity, which led to a slight decrease in antitrust investigations.
The Report describes the following antitrust and merger control decisions in 2018:
Antitrust: The BCA rejected two requests for interim measures and imposed interim measures in two other cases. It also decided to close two investigations in view of the commitments received and on the basis of the policy of priorities and the available means. The BCA did not adopt any final decision on the merits (but the Prosecution Service submitted one draft decision to the Competition College in the “Order of Pharmacists” case). No fines were imposed.
Merger control: The BCA approved 28 merger transactions under the simplified procedure (compared with 19 in 2017). It also cleared nine merger cases in first phase investigations (two of which were with commitments). No second phase investigations were initiated.
The BCA’s decisions have been the subject of four judgments by the Brussels Court of Appeal and four by the Court of Cassation. These judgments went against the BCA, except for a cassation judgment which overturned a judgment of the Court of Appeal annulling a decision of the BCA in a case involving bpost.
In 2018, in addition to the antitrust and merger control decisions, the BCA drafted an amicus curiae for the Antwerp Court of Appeal, delivered several formal opinions (principally on draft decisions of the BIPT Council) and maintained its contribution to the activities of the European Competition Network and various other international forums.
In terms of advocacy and policy support work, the BCA mainly focused on the reform of Book IV of the Code of Economic Law (‘Protection of competition’) as well as on the legislative initiative on abuse of economic dependence, which both passed into law. It also submitted for public consultation a guide about the exchange of market and price information.
The BCA concludes that the positive effects of its activities in 2018 for consumer welfare outweighed the costs. It considers that its economic impact ranges from EUR 7.5 million to EUR 13 million (depending on the methodology used). This lower economic impact compared with previous years is mostly due to the fact that there were no infringement decisions in 2018 and that, in calculating economic impact, draft decisions or dawn raids carried out by the Prosecution Service are not taken into account.
Finally, the Report highlights that 2018 was unique for Belgian competition law as it marked the 25th anniversary of the Belgian Competition Act. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager gave a speech in Brussels on that occasion.