The Belgian Competition Authority’s 2022 priorities: what to expect?

The Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) has published its annual strategic priorities and priority sectors for 2022 (see in French and Dutch). We consider below what we view as the key takeaways. 

Three strategic priorities: new tools for (re)new(ed) challenges? 
  1. A long-awaited budget increase – The BCA’s budget has increased by EUR 1.4 million (approximately 20%), now totalling approx. EUR 7.5 million. This increase allows for staff expansion in a new dedicated merger control team and for the investigation of more antitrust cases. The BCA has stated that it will pay particular attention to the new rules on abuse of economic dependence. These new rules have not yet led to any publicly-announced BCA investigations, but we have seen a rather divergent application within private enforcement proceedings (see our earlier blogpost). Additional guidance by the BCA in this space would certainly be welcome, and is much needed. 
  2. Sector focus – The BCA will focus on the sectors impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and digitalisation. Sectors which are explicitly mentioned are: (i) distribution markets; (ii) the agri-food value chain; (iii) financial services; and (iv) the healthcare sector.
  3. A competition policy fit for the green and circular economy – Inspired by the European Commission (EC) and the Dutch and Greek competition authorities, the BCA will scrutinise the application of competition policy within the context of the green and circular economy. It will also develop its position on sustainability. 
Seven priority sectors: same old, or not really?

Beyond the sector focus mentioned above, the BCA has identified seven other sectors that it will focus on. Compared to last year’s priorities, the BCA has introduced two new priority sectors and kept five others:

  1. Agri-food (new): The BCA will pay particular attention throughout the entire food chain to price formation mechanisms, territorial supply constraints and competitive dynamics in the agricultural sector. 
  2. Sports (new): The BCA has already investigated several various sports infringements in the recent past and it will now have a greater focus on fair access to leagues, the organisation of competitions and events, no poaching agreements, and the emergence of e-sports and (online) betting.
  3. Business and consumer services: The BCA will continue to advocate for the revision of professional regulations if they restrict access to and/or the exercise of the profession to an unnecessary degree. 
  4. Energy: The BCA will ensure that gas and electricity suppliers do not use the current supply situation to pursue anti-competitive policies. It will pay particular attention to preventing energy companies from reaping windfall profits.
  5. Pharmaceuticals: The BCA will continue to pay particular attention to prices set by the pharmaceutical suppliers, competition between the wholesaler-distributors, competitive dynamics, and the innovation at the level of pharmacies. 
  6. Digitisation of the economy: The BCA will keep an eye on possible abuses of dominant position, abuses of economic dependence and other infringements of competition law resulting from the digital transformation. The BCA highlights in particular the services sector in this regard, including services to businesses and public authorities and the media and communication sector.
  7. Telecommunications: The BCA flags four areas for attention: (i) joint offers; (ii) the further roll-out of the 5G network; (iii) further consolidation, doing so in close collaboration with the EC and the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications; and (iv) the increased interactions and spill-over effects between the digital sector and telecommunications.