Priorities of the Belgian Competition Authority for 2024

On 7 June 2024, the Belgian Competition Authority (the “BCA”) published its annual communication setting out its policy priorities for the current year.

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 relative calm on the economic front in 2023 in comparison with previous years.

However, the BCA notes the price level of certain essential goods and services, which remains worrying. Some additional measures in that respect were put in place in 2023, such as reducing VAT on energy prices by up to 6%. The wholesale prices in this sector decreased due to mild weather conditions, saving efforts and the slowdown of the Chinese economy.

The high prices in the food industry were the focus of special attention last year. A study on this topic by the Price Monitoring Authority highlighted the differences in the level of prices between Belgium and neighbouring countries. Despite signs of improvement in recent years, Belgian consumers are still experiencing significant price differences.

The banking sector has also been the focus of the BCA’s scrutiny. The BCA proposed a study on the potential lack of competition in this sector, particularly in relation to the sector’s slow response to the decrease in interest rates. Some of the BCA’s recommendations are being studied by the relevant regulatory authorities.

Finally, the BCA noticed a significant number of mergers and acquisitions in the hospital sector due to financial difficulties, regulatory constraints and the investments required for modernising infrastructure and medical equipment. A specific law was adopted recently to exempt this sector from merger filing except above certain thresholds. The BCA reiterates the importance of compliance with competition law by all actors in the health sector.

Following increased financial resources and the implementation of the ECN+ Directive, the first priority for the BCA in 2024 is to develop and implement its strategy of reinforcement of its action capacity. The BCA has revised its internal structure with dedicated practices and work groups. It also plans to cooperate further with other national competition authorities in Member States that have to deal with similar challenges in applying competition law.

The second priority is the ongoing development of an active policy for protecting competition in the digital sector. The Digital Markets Act imposes a specific ruling aimed at making the digital market more contestable and fair by limiting the number of big online platforms. The BCA is drafting a policy paper setting out its experience, approach and priorities to ensure a healthy competitive dynamic and to meet the challenges of this sector in Belgium.

The third priority for 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 intends to adopt additional measures to preserve incentives given by economic operators and the interests of customers. It will advise and interacts informally in the framework of the advocacy policy. It will focus on the agricultural sector, offering its assistance and ensuring transparency and a balanced approach, taking into account the whole value chain.   

In line with the priority areas identified in previous years, the BCA intends to continue its actions in the following sectors:

  • public procurement;
  • the food industry;
  • the digital infrastructure and telecommunications sector;
  • the pharmaceutical sector and healthcare;
  • services to undertakings and consumers (particularly the regulated professions); and
  • the energy sector.

As for the types of infringement prioritised, the BCA will seek the appropriate balance between obvious hardcore infringements and more complex or innovative cases.

Annabelle Lepièce