On 10 March 2021, the Belgian Competition Authority ("BCA") published its Priority Policy Note for the year ahead (available in French and Dutch).

Impact of COVID-19

The BCA acknowledges that 2021 will be a year of recovery following the negative impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the Belgian economy. Both in sectors where the crisis has hit hard as in those where it has created new opportunities (mainly online commerce and the digital economy), a "healthy and honest" functioning of the market remains crucial. The BCA says it will watch developments in that space attentively.

Strategic Priorities for 2021

In addition, the BCA has identified three other strategic priorities. First, the BCA will focus on the "increasing power of digital platforms" and states that it will cooperate on the implementation of the initiatives adopted by other authorities (e.g. the European Commission and the German legislator). A second priority will be defining the contours of the prohibition on abuse of economic dependence, which entered into force on 22 August 2020. Finally, in line with other EU authorities (e.g. in the Netherlands and at European Commission level), the BCA will focus on applying competition policy to promote a green and circular economy in Belgium.

Priority Sectors for 2021

To ensure an efficient resources allocation, the BCA has identified several priority sectors. In line with its strategic priorities, the authority will keep an eye on the digital economy and on possible violations of competition law facilitated by algorithms or data use. In the services market (especially in regulated professions) professional associations will be on the radar. The BCA will also – as in previous years – focus on the distribution sector, to ensure that contracts between retailers and their suppliers do not restrict competition.

In line with previous years, energy, pharmaceuticals, logistics, public procurement and telecoms were also identified as priority sectors.

Analytical Framework for Identifying Priority Violations

The BCA has also given some insights on the principles it uses to set its 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 as high chances of success; and (iv) if the BCA can strike a balance between complexity and the resources necessary to carry out the investigation.

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