The Belgian Competition Authority (the “BCA”) adopted on 30 May 2023 its annual communication setting out its policy priorities for the current year. It was published with a slight delay on 20 July 2023.
This publication, which has existed since 2014, explains how the BCA selects its formal investigations and describes its strategic and sectoral priorities for competition policy.
In its communication, the BCA highlights the price increases in the energy sector, global inflation, ongoing international geopolitical tensions, supply problems with China and the adverse financial environment. According to the BCA, such convergence of negative events may have a major impact on sectors such as the food industry, construction and other industrial sectors, depending mostly on the international supply of raw materials (certain metals and minerals). However, this difficult economic context does not justify anti-competitive behaviour.
Following an increase in its annual budget and additional financial resources, including from fees imposed for merger filings, the BCA revised its structure, which is now split between merger control and infringements. Six work groups have been set up whose function will relate to the type of infringement, whether cartels, collusion in public procurement or abuse of economic dependency, or more complex sectors such as the food industry and retail, network industries, life sciences and healthcare, and the implementation of the Digital Markets Act (“DMA”).
Furthermore, these new financial means will allow the BCA to be more effective globally and active in informal and strategic policy, advocacy and communication with the European Competition Network (ECN) as well as at national level with the Price Observatory and the National Bank of Belgium.
Another priority of the BCA is to continue monitoring the application of competition law in the context of the green economy and the economic circular transition in Belgium. The BCA has announced that it will set out its position on the coherence of competition law with green policies, for instance regarding cooperation agreements on sustainable development.
The digital sector remains a top priority for the BCA. The DMA imposes a specific ruling aimed at making the digital market more contestable and fair by limiting the number of big online platforms. Although the European Commission is the main competent body for its implementation, Member States have a role to play and the BCA will focus on its application, taking into account national specificities.
In line with the priority areas identified in previous years, the BCA intends to continue its actions in the following sectors:
- the food industry;
- services to undertakings and consumers (particularly the regulated professions);
- the energy sector;
- the pharmaceutical sector and healthcare;
- the digitalization of the economy;
- the telecommunications sector; and
- public procurement.
The sport sector is no longer included in the list of priorities. It does not mean of course that complaints will no longer be investigated.
As for the types of infringement prioritized, the BCA will seek the appropriate balance between obvious hardcore infringements and more complex or innovative cases.