In antitrust investigations we expect the trend towards settlement of cartel cases to develop further. The possibility of settling antitrust investigations was introduced by the Belgian Competition Act of 2013. In 2015 the BCA issued its first settlement decision fining 18 retailers and suppliers a total amount of €174m for a “hub and spoke” cartel regarding branded drugstore, perfumery and hygiene products. The BCA has indicated that it considers settlement decisions an important tool to resolve antitrust investigations and that more settlement decisions are to come.
New leniency guidelines (currently under consultation) should also come into effect during 2016 which will enable individuals to apply for leniency for the first time. Since 2013 individuals that participate in a cartel on behalf of an undertaking can have an administrative fine imposed upon them. Up until now the BCA has not done so. However, with the new leniency guidelines on their way it can only be a matter of time before the BCA will want to test this new enforcement tool.
Finally, in merger control cases, the BCA appears to dread lengthy second phase investigations. In the past year, it cleared a number of complex mergers in first phase with remedies. The BCA clearly prefers to discuss possible issues and find appropriate remedies upfront during pre-notification than to open a second phase investigation – a development that we expect will continue in 2016.
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