In a decision of 28 May 2019, the Belgian Competition Authority ("BCA") imposed a fine of one million euros on the Belgian Order of Pharmacists (Ordre des pharmaciens/Orde der apothekers) ("OP"). According to the BCA, the OP violated competition law by applying an economic strategy aimed at hindering the market entrance and development of the MediCare-Market group.
According to the OP, MediCare-Market's business model creates confusion between pharmacy and parapharmacy goods, both of which are found in MediCare-Market stores (although there is a physical separation between the two). The OP decided to take disciplinary action against pharmacists working at MediCare-Market pharmacies and introduced multiple proceedings, including for injunctive relief (stakingsvordering/action en cessation).
The BCA found that the OP (through its National Council, which is responsible for developing the association's Code of Ethics and safeguarding the non-commercial nature of the profession) had developed a strategy aimed at opposing the development of the MediCare-Market group in Belgium.
Although the BCA recognised that introducing legal proceedings is in principle not anti-competitive, it found that the OP's actions formed part of a series of measures aimed at implementing an anti-competitive strategy to undermine the MediCare-Market business model and/or prevent its development and that of comparable models. The BCA's Investigative Service (Auditoraat/Auditorat) also established that the OP had spread harmful information about MediCare-Market. According to the BCA, these various actions formed part of the OP's anti-competitive strategy.
Furthermore, the BCA found that the decisions and general strategy of the OP's National Council should be considered "decisions of associations of undertakings" within the meaning of competition law, aimed at excluding an innovative distribution model. It found the OP's practices to constitute a serious restriction of competition by object.
In its press release on the decision, the BCA noted that "the market for pharmacists services is a highly regulated market in which price competition between traditional players is reduced. The entry into this market of new players, such as the MediCare-Market group, should allow com-petition to intensify in this market."
The OP announced that it will appeal the BCA's decision to the Brussels Market Court (Marktenhof/Cour des Marchés).
The full decision is available on the BCA's website.