There is a large consensus that the current Belgian Competition Act, which dates from 2006, needs some revision, at the very least on a number of procedural issues. This is, in the first instance, the result of the Court of Justice's VEBIC judgement, but there have also been a few decisions from the Competition Council and the Court of Appeal highlighting some shortfalls. In addition, there are a number of topics which were not on the agenda back in 2006, such as possible sanctions for individuals or the introduction of a settlement procedure at a Belgian level, which could now be included in the Belgian competition regime.
The reflection process for these possible changes coincided with the formation of a new federal government. The new government confirmed its support of an ambitious competition policy and announced its intention to strengthen the efficiency of the Belgian Competition Authority. Interestingly, the government agreement placed its intentions regarding competition policy within the broader framework of the fight against inflation and price increases.
The intentions of the current government have overtaken the more timid earlier efforts to amend some of the provisions of the Belgian Competition Act. As a result, we may now be heading towards a complete overhaul of the Belgian Competition Act, the fourth since the introduction of a fully-fledged Competition Act in the early 1990s.
The government is still working on a draft, which is expected to be submitted to Parliament after the summer. The target is to have the new Act in force at the beginning of 2013.
At this point, it appears that most of the proposed changes are of an institutional nature or relate to procedural aspects of the Belgian regime. From an institutional point, the current set-up could significantly change, although the choice for a dualistic system will most probably be maintained in one way or the other. As far as the substantive law is concerned, the current provisions on restrictive practices and merger control would remain unchanged. However, one important and much contested change would be to increase the jurisdiction of the future Belgian Competition Authority to include matters of price control, with the power to intervene against unusual or "abnormal" price changes (whatever this notion may mean). Such an intervention would be independent from a finding of dominance or a restrictive agreement. This proposal reflects the government's current focus on price control, but it remains to be seen whether it will be introduced as such in the Competition Act.
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