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Competition Authority Sets Out Key Priorities For 2022 – Antitrust, EU Competition



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On 12 May 2022, the Belgian Competition Authority
(“BCA“) published its Priority Policy
Note for the year ahead (available in French and Dutch).

Year-in-review: continued impact of Covid-19, energy crisis,
and the war in Ukraine

The BCA acknowledges that the Belgian economy has continued to
suffer from the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021. The
crisis and accompanying restrictive measures have impacted various
industries, with contact-intensive services among the hardest hit.
In addition, the BCA states that the Belgian economy has been
shaken up by exceptional surges in energy prices since the 2nd half
of last year, particularly affecting the competitive landscape in
energy-intensive industries. The economic repercussions resulting
from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have further exacerbated the
current economic context, according to the BCA, putting a further
strain on various industries already facing unprecedented
difficulties.

Strategic Priorities for 2022

A first priority for the BCA is the practical implementation of
Belgium’s law transposing the ECN+ Directive, which entered
into force on 17 March 2022. We highlighted some of the key changes
introduced by the implementing law in our newsletter earlier this year. Like many other
competition authorities in Europe, the implementation of the ECN+
Directive has resulted in a fresh injection of much needed
financial resources to better staff the authority and increase its
technical capabilities. In terms of additional financial resources,
the BCA was granted a significant budget increase of EUR 1.4
million, adding 20% to its total budget.

As a second item of strategic priority, the BCA will focus on
the sectors that have been most affected by the pandemic. The BCA
will keep a close eye on the impact the crisis has on competition
in the distribution markets, the agri-food value chain, financial
services, and the healthcare sector (including the distribution of
medicines, vaccines, and medical equipment).

A third strategic item on the BCA’s agenda is the continued
support of efforts (e.g. in the Netherlands and at
European Commission
level) in applying and developing competition policy to promote a
green and circular economy in Belgium.

Priority Sectors for 2022

To ensure an efficient allocation of resources, the BCA has
identified several priority sectors. The authority states it will
particularly keep an eye on the proper functioning of
services markets (with an emphasis on regulated
service providers). This includes financial services (e.g. banking
and insurance services), legal services, accounting services,
security services and quality control. Price inflations in the food
industry over the last two decades have made the agri-food
industry
particularly vulnerable. As a result, the BCA
will pay close attention to the functioning of the entire food
chain. Special attention will be given to price formation
mechanisms, territorial restrictions, and the overall competitive
climate in the sector. The BCA will also carefully monitor
supply-demand tensions in the energy sector
resulting from the recent hikes in electricity and gas prices. To
this end, the BCA is in close contact with the CREG, the federal
energy regulator in Belgium, as well as with regional
regulators.

Additional fields of priority on the BCA’s radar are the
digitalisation of the Belgian economy, pharmaceuticals, telecoms,
and competition in sports.

Analytical Framework for Identifying Priority Violations

The BCA has also given some insights into the principles it uses
to set priorities. In a nutshell, the authority is more likely to
open a formal investigation if: (i) the potential infringement
decision will have a high impact on the market concerned; (ii) a
priority sector is concerned; (iii) the investigation has high
chances of success; and (iv) the BCA can strike a balance between
complexity and the resources necessary to carry out the
investigation.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

POPULAR ARTICLES ON: Anti-trust/Competition Law from Belgium

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