ALTIUS

Brussels

ALTIUS is one of the largest Belgian independent law firms, consisting of approximately 65 lawyers. Established in Brussels and Louvain-la-Neuve, we advise Belgian and international companies on the legal aspects of their transactions and disputes.

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Updates

Competition & Antitrust

Dawn raid's illegality does not automatically void subsequent request for information
Belgium | 21 January 2021

The Market Court of the Brussels Court of Appeal recently ruled in a case involving a Belgian telecoms operator, which had been ongoing for more than a decade. In this latest judgment, the Market Court ruled on the effects of a dawn raid's illegality and confirmed the two-step test for determining the same.

BCA suspects Caudalie of imposing minimum resale prices on distributors and limiting active and passive online sales
Belgium | 14 January 2021

Following dawn raids carried out in 2018, the Belgian Competition Authority's Investigation and Prosecution Service has opened an investigation regarding alleged anti-competitive practices committed by Caudalie, a French cosmetics company specialising in vinotherapy, after a Belgian pharmacist complained that his supplier was imposing a pricing policy on him.

First Belgian ruling on abuse of economic dependence
Belgium | 03 December 2020

In August 2020 a new act introducing a prohibition on the abuse of economic dependence entered into force in Belgium. In October 2020 the president of the Ghent Commercial Court has issued a judgment in the first abuse of economic dependence case in Belgium. As there is no equivalent prohibition in EU competition law, practitioners have been waiting for case law guidance on how to apply these conditions. However, it is questionable whether this first case provides such valuable guidance.

BCA updates its fining guidelines following entry into force of abuse of economic dependence concept
Belgium | 08 October 2020

After some last-minute delays, the Royal Decree of 31 July 2020 introduced the concept of abuse of economic dependence in Belgium. Following this royal decree, the Belgian Competition Authority has announced an update to its fining guidelines so that they apply to this new abuse.

BCA and civil courts rule on interim measure requests in football industry
Belgium | 10 September 2020

As in many other European countries, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Pro League – the Belgian professional football league – to set up an alternative arrangement for the end of the disrupted 2019-2020 football season. Subsequently, football clubs have challenged such decisions to prevent relegation or promotion. In this context, the Belgian Competition Authority and the civil courts recently had to rule on different interim measure requests in the football sector relating to competition law.

Advocate general issues opinion on SABAM's tariffs for festivals
Belgium | 03 September 2020

Against the backdrop of the legal dispute between festival and concert organisers versus SABAM (the Belgian music authors' collecting society) regarding SABAM's tariffs for festivals and concerts being taken to the European level, in two parallel legal proceedings, one pending before the Brussels Court of Appeal and the other before the Antwerp Enterprise Court, the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union have been asked to shine a light on SABAM's tariffs.

New prohibition on abuses of economic dependence enters into force
Belgium | 27 August 2020

The prohibition on the abuse of economic dependence to protect undertakings that are economically dependent on their suppliers or buyers recently entered into force. Thus, Belgium has followed the example of other EU member states by making use of the option offered by Article 3(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to prohibit and penalise unilateral conduct by companies even in the absence of a dominant position.

BCA confirms that merger control rules apply to creation of loco-regional hospital networks
Belgium | 20 August 2020

The Belgian Competition Authority's (BCA's) latest note reiterates that competition law rules concerning merger control fully apply to the creation of local hospital networks as required under the Act of 28 February 2019. Although hospitals seem largely unaware of the obligations under the merger control rules attached to such forms of cooperation, they should consider that the BCA is paying more attention to the sector and that significant penalties may be incurred for non-compliance.

Does competition law allow competing researchers to collaborate on COVID-19-related R&D?
European Union | 23 April 2020

New vaccines, quick and trustworthy diagnostic tests and effective medicines are key to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. The development of these products depends on pharmaceutical companies, R&D companies, research institutes and universities. However, one question remains: what are the competition rules regarding COVID-19-related R&D?

New act reforms Competition Authority
Belgium | 06 June 2013

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.

Confidentiality of in-house counsel legal advice protected in competition cases
Belgium | 04 April 2013

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.

Interim order for warehouse operator over dominant position complaint
Belgium | 04 October 2012

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.

National Chamber of Judicial Officers subject to competition rules
Belgium | 26 April 2012

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.

Will new fining guidelines enhance transparency?
Belgium | 05 April 2012

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.

Supreme Court rules on Honda abuse of dominance case
Belgium | 22 September 2011

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.

Employment & Immigration

Dos and don'ts for employers regarding COVID-19 vaccination
Belgium | 21 April 2021

The government's vaccination campaign is now progressing well. Employers are eager to have a large number of their workers vaccinated to be able to work in a safe and healthy environment and resume business as usual. However, can employers force their workers to get vaccinated? Can they ask their workers to submit a vaccination certificate? Must they grant their workers paid leave of absence to get vaccinated? This Q&A answers these and other questions.

New monthly online COVID-19 telework registration obligation for employers from April 2021
Belgium | 14 April 2021

As many employers either have not been or have been insufficiently respecting compulsory teleworking, the government has enhanced the monitoring of compulsory teleworking by introducing a new online registration obligation for employers. From April 2021, every employer must submit a monthly declaration via the National Social Security Office's online portal by the sixth calendar day of each month.

Social inspection audits in construction sector: what to expect in 2021
Belgium | 31 March 2021

The Social Information and Investigation Service (SIOD/SIRS) recently published its 2021 action plan revealing its strategy and top priorities for the year. Similar to recent years, the construction sector remains a target. This article summarises what employers can expect in 2021 and how they can prepare, based on the SIOD/SIRS checklist.

ECJ partially upholds Belgium's docker rules
Belgium | 10 March 2021

In a long-awaited court ruling, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) confirmed that the Belgian rules on dock work, obliging companies to have only recognised dockers carry out dock work in ports, do not necessarily constitute a violation of the free movement of workers, the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services. However, the ECJ rejected several parts of the recognition procedure of such dockers. Legislative changes are now inevitable.

New National Labour Council collective labour agreement sets framework for COVID-19 teleworking
Belgium | 17 February 2021

Traditionally, Belgian labour law has distinguished between two forms of telework: structural and occasional telework. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a third category has been added: COVID-19 telework, which was previously recommended but has now been made compulsory again by the government. The National Labour Council has now concluded Collective Labour Agreement Number 149, which creates the legal framework for COVID-19 teleworking.

Occupational doctors' enhanced role in combating COVID-19: contact tracing, quarantine certificates and testing
Belgium | 10 February 2021

A new royal decree has temporarily extended occupational doctors' role in combating the COVID-19 pandemic in the workplace. Occupational doctors will be contact tracers in the workplace and in this context have been given the authority to identify high-risk contacts in the company, issue a quarantine certificate for these workers and refer certain workers to be tested.

Obligations and checks relating to foreign workers and self-employed individuals extended to all sectors and industries
Belgium | 03 February 2021

As part of measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the government imposed a new record-keeping obligation and compliance check on certain employers and users which temporarily rely on foreign employees or self-employed individuals. The government has extended these obligations to all sectors and industries. In addition, foreign workers and self-employed individuals must, under certain circumstances, provide evidence of a negative COVID-19 test.

District cells' social fraud inspection audits focus on construction sector
Belgium | 16 December 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has not prevented the Social Information and Investigation Service from proceeding with its inspection audits concerning illegal employment and social fraud. The available (provisional) data reveals that the construction sector has remained a highly targeted sector. This article highlights some interesting recent findings.

Points for retail sector employers to consider when dismissing employees for economic or technical reasons
Belgium | 02 December 2020

The retail sector has been one of the sectors most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and as a result employers therein might be considering dismissing employees for economic or technical reasons. Employers must be aware that most joint committees in the retail sector have entered into collective bargaining agreements obliging employers to first take measures to avoid dismissals and, if dismissals cannot be avoided, to comply with a specific procedure.

Employers must provide employees present in workplace with document to certify this fact
Belgium | 18 November 2020

The new Ministerial Decree of 1 November 2020 stipulates that, until 13 December 2020, all workers must telework. However, an exception applies when either an employee's role or the continuity of business operations, activities and services does not allow for teleworking. In such cases, employers must provide the worker with a certificate or other supporting document attesting that their presence in the workplace is needed. The minister of internal affairs has already announced that inspections will be organised.

New teleworking rules to limit further spread of COVID-19
Belgium | 28 October 2020

The government recently reinforced the urgent measures to limit the further spread of COVID-19. Teleworking is no longer highly recommended, but has become the standard for all employees whose roles allow for telework. Yet, the new rule is less far-reaching than that in place during the first lockdown, as an exception now applies when the continuity of business operations, activities and services does not allow for teleworking.

Last call to implement electronic voting or voting by letter for COVID-19-proof social elections
Belgium | 21 October 2020

In principle, companies should have decided whether to vote electronically in the social elections as early as February 2020. However, companies that did not do so but, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, would like to do so now have been given the opportunity to introduce electronic voting. However, they must reach an agreement on this issue by Day X+56 (ie, between 13 October 2020 and 26 October 2020, depending on the new election date).

COVID-19: new record-keeping obligation and compliance check relating to foreign workers and self-employed individuals
Belgium | 30 September 2020

As part of some new measures that aim to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the government has imposed a new record-keeping obligation on certain employers and users which temporarily rely on foreign employees or self-employed individuals. In-scope employers and users must also verify whether the foreign employees and self-employed individuals have duly completed the passenger locator form.

New rules on temporary unemployment from 1 September 2020: start preparing now
Belgium | 19 August 2020

From 1 September 2020, new rules on temporary unemployment will enter into force. Companies and sectors that are substantially affected by the COVID-19 crisis can continue to apply the current and simplified COVID-19 force majeure temporary unemployment regime until 31 December 2020. For sectors and companies that are not substantially affected by the COVID-19 crisis, the current COVID-19 force majeure regime can no longer be applied from 1 September 2020.

EU Posted Workers Directive: impact on employers posting workers to Belgium
Belgium | 29 July 2020

The Act of 12 June 2020 implemented the EU Posted Workers Directive in Belgium by introducing, among other things, adjustments to the Act of 5 March 2002 Relating to Labour, Salary and Employment Conditions When Posting Workers to Belgium. This article summarises the key changes introduced by the act and its impact on employers.

Share-related benefits granted by foreign parent companies: Esko strengthens view that social security contributions are due
Belgium | 15 July 2020

Benefits in general – and shares and restricted stock units in particular – attributed by a third party (eg, a foreign parent company) to employees of a Belgian (group) company will, in principle, be subject to Belgian social security contributions. If followed, the Ghent Labour Court of Appeal's recent decision in Esko will make it even harder, if not impossible, for international groups to avoid the payment of social security contributions.

Reopening your workplace after lockdown: 10 key questions
Belgium | 08 July 2020

With the exit from lockdown in full swing, many companies are recalling their staff to the workplace. This article answers 10 FAQs that employers, business managers and HR specialists must consider during their employees' return to work, including what are employers' health and safety obligations, must employers consult staff or employee representatives on their health and safety measures and do fines or penalties for non-compliance exist?

No retroactive suspension of notice period due to COVID-19 temporary unemployment
Belgium | 24 June 2020

Until now, there has been no suspension of the notice period served on employees who have been made temporarily unemployed under the specific 'COVID-19 regime'. As employers could dismiss employees 'cheaply', a draft bill to suspend the notice period in the event of COVID-19 temporary unemployment was submitted in Parliament. The Chamber of Representatives has now voted to introduce the law without retroactive effect. But what does this mean for employers?

FAQs: Employment Ministry's and DPA's new positions on checking employees' temperatures
Belgium | 17 June 2020

The controversial issue of whether employers can check their employees' temperatures has been much debated. The Employment Ministry and the Data Protection Authority (DPA) have recently changed their positions in this respect. The Employment Ministry allows temperature checks, but only during the COVID-19 pandemic and provided that the decision to introduce such checks is included in the company's work rules. The DPA has also clarified its position regarding the processing of personal data.

Night work in e-commerce companies in 2020: nothing new under the sun?
Belgium | 20 May 2020

With e-commerce growing at an unprecedented rate across the globe, in the past few years the Belgian legislature has taken several measures to make Belgium a more attractive hub for e-commerce activities. Among other things, such measures were meant to facilitate the introduction of night work schemes within companies. Some of these measures ended on 31 December 2019. What does this situation mean for companies and the night work schemes introduced in 2018 and 2019?

Social elections procedure postponed due to COVID-19
Belgium | 13 May 2020

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the social partners have decided to suspend the current social election procedure and postpone its continuation until after the summer. This article outlines the most important consequences of this postponement for employers.

How to introduce a temporary COVID-19 unemployment regime based on force majeure
Belgium | 29 April 2020

Until recently, when considering implementing a temporary unemployment regime within a company, employers could, depending on their specific situation, apply for the temporary unemployment regime based on either 'force majeure' or 'economic reasons'. The government has implemented a temporary COVID-19 unemployment regime whereby if an employer is faced with temporary unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this situation is automatically considered to be force majeure.

New COVID-19 employment measures to respond to economic crisis
Belgium | 29 April 2020

The government has adopted new socio-economic measures that aim to support the Belgian economy during the COVID-19 economic downturn. Most of the measures seek to encourage individuals to continue working and allow for more flexibility in the way that work can be carried out. This article provides an overview of the different measures that have been approved by the Council of Ministers.

Healthcare & Life Sciences

Can Belgian companies use EU vaccine certificates?
Belgium | 05 May 2021

To fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU Commission is setting up a vaccine passport system (the so-called 'Digital Green Certificate') to enable European citizens to travel easily and safely within the European Union in Summer 2021. This article examines whether Belgian companies may also use these certificates for other purposes (eg, to authorise or prohibit access to private places depending on a citizen's vaccination status).

Must AstraZeneca supply the European Union with sufficient COVID-19 vaccines under Belgian law?
Belgium | 10 February 2021

AstraZeneca recently announced that it would reduce the supply of its COVID-19 vaccine to the European Union in the first quarter of 2021 to 31 million doses. Questions have therefore arisen as to what extent AstraZeneca is under a contractual obligation to supply the European Union with the initially planned 80 million doses, and what role its UK manufacturing sites should play in this regard. To answer these questions, this article examines the parties' rights and obligations under Belgian law.

BCA suspects Caudalie of imposing minimum resale prices on distributors and limiting active and passive online sales
Belgium | 20 January 2021

Following dawn raids carried out in 2018, the Belgian Competition Authority's Investigation and Prosecution Service has opened an investigation regarding alleged anti-competitive practices committed by Caudalie, a French cosmetics company specialising in vinotherapy, after a Belgian pharmacist complained that his supplier was imposing a pricing policy on him.

Which COVID-19 vaccines are on the menu for Belgium?
Belgium | 23 December 2020

Belgium is following the lead of the European Commission and the European Medicines Agency with respect to its COVID-19 vaccine strategy. The European Commission, on behalf of EU member states, has already concluded six advance purchase agreements with vaccine suppliers for a potential total of almost 2 billion doses. Belgium's share presently amounts to a total of 22.4 million vaccines. Purchasing is expected to begin in early January 2021.

Can parallel importers rebrand generic medicines?
Belgium | 04 November 2020

If a branded medicine and its generic version are put on the EEA market by economically linked undertakings, is a parallel importer then allowed to rebrand and repackage the imported generic version as the branded reference medicine? This issue recently led the Brussels Court of Appeal to refer three questions to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). In anticipation of the ECJ's ruling, this article provides the factual background and explains why a parallel importer should not be allowed to rebrand in such cases.

BCA confirms that merger control rules apply to creation of loco-regional hospital networks
Belgium | 12 August 2020

The Belgian Competition Authority's (BCA's) latest note reiterates that competition law rules concerning merger control fully apply to the creation of local hospital networks as required under the Act of 28 February 2019. Although hospitals seem largely unaware of the obligations under the merger control rules attached to such forms of cooperation, they should consider that the BCA is paying more attention to the sector and that significant penalties may be incurred for non-compliance.

Parliament adopts act increasing transparency of managed entry agreements
Belgium | 06 May 2020

Parliament recently adopted a new act to increase the transparency of managed entry agreements (MEAs) concluded between pharmaceutical companies and the National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance. MEAs stipulate confidential compensation mechanisms for the government regarding the publicly listed price and reimbursement basis of the medicines concerned.

Federal government restricts sale of PPE and medical devices for fighting COVID-19
Belgium | 29 April 2020

The minister of economic affairs recently adopted a ministerial decree which restricts the retail and wholesale distribution of certain types of personal protective equipment and medical devices used for treating COVID-19 patients. Further amendments were implemented by ministerial decrees on 27 March 2020 and 7 April 2020. This article provides a short description of the relevant trade restrictions followed by a legal analysis in light of fundamental principles of EU law.

Medical supplies: public procurement procedures in cases of extreme urgency
Belgium | 29 April 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak has created an urgent need for certain goods, including medicines and medical devices. However, do public authorities (eg, hospitals) still need to follow the complete public procurement procedures to procure these urgently needed goods? In cases of extreme urgency, such as that presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, contracting authorities can use the negotiated procedure without publication to place tenders.

Medicinal product reimbursement during pandemics and budgetary constraints: why quick fixes don't work
Belgium | 22 April 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the fact that an EU common policy in the healthcare sector is virtually non-existent, especially in respect of medicinal product pricing and reimbursement. This article illustrates the need for national pricing authorities to consider that their policies could have unintended consequences and cross-border effects. Otherwise, national measures risk backfiring, as seems to have happened with the Belgian authorities' most recent attempt at further reducing medicinal product prices.

FAMHP adopts measures to avoid medicine shortages during COVID-19 pandemic
Belgium | 15 April 2020

The Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products recently adopted a consolidated version of its decision to take a series of urgent measures for certain listed medicines (and raw materials) to avoid medicine shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. The measures apply until the end of April 2020 but may be renewed on a monthly basis. This article discusses the measures and their legality under EU law in more detail.

DPA approves draft act prohibiting life and health insurers from processing health tracker data
Belgium | 18 March 2020

The Data Protection Authority (DPA) has approved a draft act that would prohibit life and health insurers from processing data from policyholders' health trackers. Notably, data from health trackers and apps can still be used for any other insurance that does not qualify as life or health insurance. However, in its advice, the DPA appears to acknowledge that all data coming from health trackers and lifestyle-related apps is likely to be considered health data.

New act on medicinal product shortages
Belgium | 04 March 2020

A new act amending various legal provisions concerning shortages of medicinal products was recently published in the Official Gazette. Arguably, the new legislation does not prevent pharmaceutical companies from applying quotas, provided that they do not affect the public service obligation of wholesaler-distributors (also known as 'full-line wholesalers'). In addition, the act arguably imposes no general obligation on pharmaceutical companies to supply retail pharmacies directly.

Incentives and public procurement in the healthcare sector: be careful what you wish for
Belgium | 23 October 2019

The Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products recently issued a circular letter reminding the different actors in the Belgian healthcare sector that incentives in the course of public procurement procedures should be considered carefully. Further, the circular letter underlined the risk of contravening the ban on receiving gifts, monetary advantages or benefits and public procurement rules.

Anti-tampering devices – fading boundaries of parallel trade?
Belgium | 06 February 2019

A legislative package aimed at fighting falsified medicines will enter into force in the European Union in early 2019. This EU legal framework was transposed into Belgian law through the Medicines Act and the Royal Decree concerning Medicines for Human and Veterinary Use. As a result, pharmaceutical companies will be required to affix a so-called 'anti-tampering device' on all prescription medicinal products to allow verification of whether the packaging has been tampered with.

Invalidated SPC retains prima facie validity in preliminary injunction proceedings
Belgium | 25 September 2013

A pharmaceutical company requested a preliminary injunction against a generic manufacturer based on one of its invalidated supplementary protection certificates. An appeal court granted the injunction, but the generic manufacturer appealed to the Supreme Court. The court's decision is notable for its distinction between the authority and the force of res judicata, and the implications of this distinction for rights holders.

GMO trial gets green light despite formal invalidity
Belgium | 08 May 2013

The government has implemented a strict regulatory framework for genetically modified organism field trials. But what happens when one of the players fails to respect the rules? Does it affect the valid work that has already been done by others? These questions recently arose before the Ghent Court of First Instance in the context of expedited civil proceedings initiated by Greenpeace against the Belgian state.

Mock-ups no proper notification of repackaged pharmaceutical parallel imports
Belgium | 13 February 2013

The Brussels Court of Appeal recently ruled that a parallel importer did not properly notify a pharmaceutical trademark holder when it provided a two-dimensional mock-up of the outer packaging, rather than an actual sample, of the repackaged pharmaceutical as it would be presented on sale. The decision provided much-needed clarity, as the first instance court had issued contradicting decisions on the matter.

Doctors not easily misled? Brussels court decides on pharmaceutical advertising
Belgium | 28 November 2012

The Brussels Commercial Court has dismissed Pfizer's misleading claims directed against an advertisement for a generic product marketed by Eurogenerics, as well as Eurogenerics's counterclaim regarding the marketing of Pfizer's own generic product. The court's relaxed views on doctors' awareness of the regulations on reimbursement and their implications will be of interest to pharmaceutical marketeers.

Projects, Construction & Infrastructure

District cells' social fraud inspection audits focus on construction sector
Belgium | 14 December 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has not prevented the Social Information and Investigation Service from proceeding with its inspection audits concerning illegal employment and social fraud. The available (provisional) data reveals that the construction sector has remained a highly targeted sector. This article highlights some interesting recent findings.