As we reported in the previous edition of this newsletter, the Directorate General for Competition in the Federal Public Service Economy has been preparing a legislative proposal to amend the Belgian Competition Act. The proposed changes initially mostly related to technical and procedural issues, in particular those arising from the VEBIC judgment of the Court of Justice (see Belgian Competition Law Report 2012/Q1).
In line with its governmental declaration, the new federal government clearly wants to do more than simply adjust the current Competition Act, and another, more far reaching proposal for a new Competition has been put forward. Although the proposal is still the subject of discussion within the government, and will also face wider parliamentary scrutiny, some likely changes to the current regime can already be discerned.
Central to the proposal is a reform of the institutional structure. The proposal would see the College of Prosecutors, which currently leads investigations in competition cases, integrated into the Directorate General as a separate investigation unit. Under the proposal, once the College has finalised an inquiry, it will not longer present a draft decision to an independent administrative tribunal, but will report instead to a decision making body within the Directorate General itself. Undertakings which are subject to an investigation will retain the opportunity to defend themselves against the findings of the Prosecutors, but only within a shortened procedure. Once the decision making unit of the Directorate General has adopted a decision, an appeal will be open to a newly established Market Court, which will also function as the appellate body for the decisions of sector regulators.
Other substantive changes to the current competition regime, such as sanctions for individuals and the introduction of settlement procedures, are still on the table.
The proposed reform also aims to facilitate cooperation between the competition authority and the price observatory, an institution established in 2009 in order to stabilise consumer prices and to monitor price setting. It is part of the new government’s coalition agreement to reinforce the price observatory’s role. The proposed reform is also aimed at strengthening the cooperation between the competition authority and sector-specific regulators (such as those which oversee the telecoms, energy and other industries).
Finally, the proposal seeks to introduce potentially far reaching price control mechanisms.