On 20 July 2012, in its last session before the August recess, the Belgian Council of Ministers announced that it had adopted the first draft of a new law which is intended to restructure the Belgian Competition Authority.

Under the present law, the authority to intervene in competition matters is split between DG Competition, the body empowered to investigate and pursue competition infringements and which is part of the Belgian Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Competition Council , which is an independent quasi-judicial body that is empowered to rule on competition cases and impose fines and order measures designed to cure or remedy competition infringements.

Under the proposed new structure the two existing bodies will be merged into one new single autonomous body which will be not be part of, and which will be independent of, any government ministry or department. This independence is currently a feature of other regulatory bodies in Belgium, including notably the regulators in the fields of energy and telecommunications.

The draft law also aims to considerably increase the means available to the Belgian Price Observatory. At the moment this is a body with limited powers to carry out research on price movements in the Belgian market. Under the new proposals the budget and means available to the Price Observatory will be considerably increased and the Price Observatory will be given the means and the authority to investigate and identify so-called abnormal price movements and price increases as well as structural problems related to prices in particular markets. The Price Observatory will be given authority to report its findings to the newly restructured Belgian Competition Authority, which will itself have the power to impose measures, including price controls.

The draft law still has to be presented to Parliament, where it is likely to be subject to further debate and discussion.

Charles Price