The new Competition Act was recently adopted, which will be included in the new Code of Economic Law. The new act does not affect the substantive law on anti-competitive agreements, abuse of dominant position and merger control; rather, it completely restructures the Competition Authority and introduces a number of important procedural reforms with the aim of increasing the authority's efficiency.
In a long-awaited decision, the Brussels Court of Appeal has held that advice drafted by in-house legal counsel is to be considered as covered by legal professional privilege when facing an investigation under the Competition Act. The decision allows companies to oppose the seizure of documents drafted by their in-house counsel during dawn raids by the Competition Authority; however, certain restrictions apply.
The president of the Competition Council has ordered Port Real Estate, a warehouse operator in the port of Antwerp, to maintain minimum load-out rates for robusta coffee traded on the NYSE Liffe Exchange in London. The interim order follows a complaint lodged by a UK-based trader in agricultural goods, on the basis of an alleged abuse of dominant position by Port Real Estate.
The Competition Council has ruled that the adoption of a directive by the National Chamber of Judicial Officers - on the fees applicable for so-called 'amicable' (ie, pre-judicial) collection - infringed the Competition Act. Among other things, the council noted that the fact that such officers exercise state authority in some tasks does not preclude the application of competition rules to extra-judicial tasks.
New fining guidelines which were recently adopted by the Competition Council aim to improve transparency for undertakings and associations of undertakings under investigation. However, the council clearly retains significant discretion when determining the size of a fine. Among other things, the guidelines leave open the issue of taking compliance programmes into account as a mitigating circumstance.
The Supreme Court has issued a succinct judgment on the scope of the Court of Appeal's powers to overturn Competition Council decisions and the nature of proceedings before the council. This is the latest decision in a case that began in 1995 with complaints filed by 12 independent motorcycle distributors in Belgium against five official importers of motorcycles, including Honda Belgium.
The Competition Council has clarified the application of the five-year limitation period under the Competition Act. In annulling a decision to dismiss a complaint regarding alleged abuse of dominant position, it held that the five-year period does not begin until a continuous infringement has ended.
The Competition Act allows the College of Competition Law Prosecutors to dismiss cases on the basis of priorities and resources. However, the latest development in InBev - on alleged abuse of dominant position in the brewing and beer sales market - demonstrates that if the prosecutors dismiss a case on the basis of a substantive assessment, they must provide full and adequate grounds for their decision.
The president of the Competition Council has approved a request for preliminary measures from a diamond merchant against De Beers, the world's leading diamond mining and trading company. De Beers was ordered to continue a contractual relationship with the merchant until the outcome of proceedings on the merits which have been pending at national and EU level for many years.
The College of Competition Law Prosecutors has reported to the Competition Council on alleged anti-competitive practices in the market for the supply and sale of flour in Belgium. Following the Dutch regulator's decision to impose fines of over €81 million for anti-competitive agreements in the same industry, will leading Belgian producers also be put through the mill?
The College of Competition Law Prosecutors has dismissed a complaint filed against brewer InBev Belgium NV by Freedom CVBA, a purchasing association made up of several beverage wholesalers. Freedom had claimed that InBev was abusing its dominant position in the Belgian brewing and beer sales market by applying different commercial conditions to on-trade and off-trade customers.
The Competition Council has ordered television provider Telenet to continue to make its pay-to-view channel Prime available to other platforms while it holds exclusive rights to live Jupiler Pro League football matches. The council remains concerned about possible exclusionary effects if Telenet acquires all of the live broadcasting rights, cautioning the league about the inherent anti-competitive risks of collective exclusive reselling.
The Professional Institute of Estate Agents has been found guilty of having infringed EU and Belgian competition law between 1996 and 2004 by adopting and publishing recommended minimum tariffs. The Competition Council held that less restrictive methods could have been used to provide guidance to consumers and real estate agents.
The College of Competition Prosecutors has reported to the Competition Council on the existence of agreements or concerted practices between laboratories that carry out bovine spongiform encephalopathy tests in Belgium. The report suggests that several slaughterhouses and a government agency - the Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain - were also involved.
The Competition Council has fined four Belgian steel plate radiator manufacturers - Masco, Quinn, Caradon and Radson (now called Rettig) - for participating in a cartel in the steel plate radiator market in Belgium. The council decided to impose a total fine of over €3.5 million on the cartel members; however, as the first whistleblower, Masco was given full immunity.
The College of Competition Prosecutors has rejected a complaint by telecommunications company Base against incumbent operator Belgacom for alleged abuse of dominant position. The decision follows proceedings before the Competition Authority regarding Belgacom's abuse of dominant position, which ended in Belgacom's subsidiary Proximus receiving the highest fine ever imposed by the Competition Council.
In two recently published rulings the General Assembly of the Competition Council considered a challenge to two councillors that arose from a claim of abuse of dominant market position. Telecommunications operator KPN Belgium argued that one councillor had opined on the case when ruling on a request for preliminary measures, while another had previously worked for one of the companies involved.
An investigation that began two years ago in Germany, where the competition authorities examined the activities of Ferrero, Kraft, Nestlé and Mars, has led to investigations by Belgium's Competition Authority in the chocolate and confectionery sector. The Competition Council has now received a report into alleged price fixing between Ferrero and three Belgian supermarket chains.
The Competition Council has issued the latest in a series of decisions involving Kinepolis, Belgium's leading cinema chain. Its summary of the long-running dispute demonstrates the council's decisional workings, illustrates its discretion to give a third party partial access to a case file and goes to the heart of issues that are still being considered in the case.
The largest investigation team ever deployed by the Belgian competition regulator has carried out dawn raids on the head offices of Electrabel and SPE, which together account for around 80% of the electricity produced in Belgium. The raids are only the start of a thorough investigation of the wholesale electricity market, which has not come too soon for some downstream competitors.