Whether or not this month’s revamping of the Belgian Competition Authority will create a more effective enforcer remains to be seen.
From personal experience, Belgian bureaucrats are neither the most efficient, nor the most diligent, as government employees go… And the national authority pales in comparison with the EU’s DG COMP, of course, which is housed only a few kilometers away in the European Quarter of Brussels, yet one of the leading antitrust enforcers worldwide…
Yet, the changes to the watchdog and its powers include several important structural elements that may herald a more streamlined process: for instance, removal from the oversight of the economic ministry, the elimination of the external tribunal that used to have the final say in the agency’s decisions, as well as a new settlement procedure and a potentially shorter investigative process. In addition, individual financial (not criminal, though) liability may be incurred by participants in hardcore restrictive practices, such as price-fixing cartels or market allocation.
From this month onward, the internal Competition College will not only hear the case but also make a final decision, after the Authority’s separate investigative team has concluded its investigation and made its recommendation for how to dispose of the case. The NCA body (“Autorité belge de la concurrence” or “Belgische Mededingingsautoriteit“) will, of course, remain on the innately inefficient side of things, as it will have to be multi-lingual, accounting for proceedings to be held French, Flemish/Dutch, and German.
On the personnel front, Jacques Steenbergen will remain the president and Alexis Walckiers the chief economist. The current in-house counsel and auditor at Dexia bank, Veronique Thirion, will be appointed the NCA’s general prosecutor.