2015 was first of all a year of settlements. The Investigation and Prosecution Service concluded a major cartel case (18 parties – all major distribution chains and a number of multinationals) with a settlement less than two years after the enactment of the rules on settlements and in which the parties accepted to pay a total fine of €174 million. It also settled an abuse case within two years of its opening with a substantial fine. This confirms, in the author’s opinion, that the introduction of the settlement procedure is one of the most important contributions of the 2013 reform to the enforcement of the competition rules in Belgium.
We also saw continued development of the case law on interim relief measures, with two cases demonstrating that under the 2013 rules, requests for interim measures can offer effective protection against future damage to potential victims of what is found to be a prima facie infringement of the rules of competition. Thus, the competition authority is a valid alternative to interim relief procedures in court, and that is in turn important in order to enable the competition authority to set precedents and offer guidance.
The Belgian competition authority dealt with 32 merger cases in 2015 (up from 16 the previous year), of which five and one review of remedies were not handled in a simplified procedure. Two were approved with remedies (of which one with a fine for late filing of data), and one was approved without remedies but with a fine for late filing.
With its informal and advocacy policy the Belgian competition authority has put itself on the map with agencies involved in public procurement, and showed with regard to agricultural policy issues that it is willing to engage in constructive discussions but setting out as clearly as possible the limits of what is acceptable under competition law, etc. In respect of the informal policy, the competition authority has published a communication on the informal guidance by the president. The board also prepared new guidelines on leniency which have been presented for public consultation.
The competition authority worked in 2015 not only on content, but also on accessibility by preparing for the launch of its renewed website.
Moreover, it did so with a dedicated but much too small team: fewer than 38 full-time staff in total, and fewer than 27 full-time investigators.