Bosteels Acquisition by AB Inbev: Brussels Court of Appeal Confirms Decision of Belgian Competition Authority Rejecting Allegedly Abusive Character of Acquisition
09/08/2017

On 28 June 2017, the Brussels Court of Appeal (Hof van Beroep te Brussel/Cour d’appel de Bruxelles) confirmed the decision of the Belgian Competition Authority (Belgische Mededingingsautoriteit/Autorité belge de la Concurrence) (“BCA”) which had rejected the interim measures Brouwerijen Alken-Maes NV (“Alken-Maes”) requested against the acquisition of Brouwerij Bosteels (“Bosteels”) by Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (“AB InBev”).

On 21 November 2016, the Competition College (Mededingingscollege/Collège de la concurrence) of the BCA rejected the request of Alken-Maes to suspend the acquisition of Bosteels by AB InBev. AB InBev’s takeover of Bosteels was not subject to merger control since it did not meet the notification thresholds. However, Alken-Maes still requested the suspension of the acquisition, arguing that even if this acquisition was not caught by merger control rules, it had to be reviewed under Article IV.2 of the Code of Economic Law (Wetboek van Economisch Recht/Code de droit économique) and Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), both of which prohibit the abuse of a dominant position. Alken-Maes contended that the acquisition infringed these provisions as it allegedly strengthened AB InBev’s dominant position. The BCA rejected this request for interim measures, finding that an acquisition that is not subject to merger control can only be assessed prima facie under the rules prohibiting the abuse of a dominant position if there are possible restrictions of competition that can be distinguished from the mere effect of the concentration and which might by themselves qualify prima facie as an abuse of a dominant position (See, VBB on Belgian Business Law, Volume 2016, No. 11, pp. 6-7, available at www.vbb.com).

The Brussels Court of Appeal confirmed the reasoning of the BCA. The Court held that an acquisition that creates a concentration which falls outside the scope of the merger control rules does not “as such” amount to an abuse of a dominant position absent “accompanying but decisive conduct.” The Court went on to say that such conduct must qualify as a prima facie abuse of dominant position, rather than being capable of being abusive. Additionally, the alleged abuse must be distinguishable from the actual effect of the concentration. In response to the objections raised by Alken-Maes, the Court specified that this is not a test which is more stringent than the test habitually used for determining an infringement of Article IV.2 of the Code of Economic Law and Article 102 TFEU. Lastly, the Court made it clear that the BCA had some room for maneuver in that it is allowed to make policy choices that fall outside the scrutiny of the Court.

Alken-Maes could appeal this judgment before the Supreme Court. However, such an appeal is limited to points of law: the Supreme Court cannot review facts. In addition, Alken-Maes may still try and pursue a complaint on the merits with the BCA.

Voir aussi : Van Bael & Bellis ( Mr. Martin Favart ,  Mrs. Valérie Lefever )

Mr. Martin Favart Mr. Martin Favart
Partner
mfavart@vbb.com
Mrs. Valérie Lefever Mrs. Valérie Lefever
Associate
vlefever@vbb.com

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