Antitrust Law And Legislation In Belgium During Covid-19

Published date09 March 2023
Subject Matterorporate/Commercial Law, Antitrust/Competition Law, M&A/Private Equity, Corporate and Company Law, Antitrust, EU Competition
Law FirmCMS Law-Now
AuthorAnnabelle Lepiece

1. Introduction

In the context of the Coronavirus crisis, antitrust law must not be ignored. Companies, such as those in the supermarket or pharmaceutical sectors, that normally compete may have to cooperate in these exceptional circumstances, even under State recommendations. Such horizontal cooperation is still subject to antitrust rules. Indeed, the crisis does not justify any kind of exchange of confidential information or cartels or abusive practices such as excessive pricing.

While some National Competition Authorities have taken specific measures in the areas of misleading advertising, unfair commercial practices and competition law, in Belgium there has been no announcement by the Belgian Competition Authority (BCA), or the Belgian Government in general, that changes to Belgian competition law are necessary or being considered for the time being. However, the European Competition Network (ECN) has published a joint statement about the application of competition law during the Coronavirus crisis, allowing companies to cooperate to meet demand and to avoid supply shortages.

It is important to note that the crisis will affect merger control in Belgium. On 19 March 2020, the BCA announced that, given the containment measures and teleworking by its staff, companies are invited to postpone any proposed concentrations that are not urgent.

In view of the Coronavirus crisis, the companies concerned must ask themselves what freedoms the antitrust law gives them to improve their supply and reduce costs. Those in crisis have little time to read legal statements. Below, we summarize in brief the opportunities and risks arising from the crisis.

2. Antitrust

  • Even under the current rules, restrictions of competition which are necessary to achieve cost reductions or an improvement in supply can be exempted from the ban on cartels. This can be decided independently by each company, if necessary, after obtaining legal advice and/or coordination with the appropriate competition authorities.
  • The ECN and some National Competition Authorities have announced that they are open to the cooperation of competitors in the event of a crisis. This applies, in particular, to cases where the main concern is the supply of consumers. For instance, in Norway a temporary exemption from the ban on cartels has already been in force for a few days for the entire transport sector.
  • Existing...

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