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Belgian Competition Authority in Fight to Protect its Review Powers over Hospital Mergers

  • 22/02/2024
  • News

The Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) made a last-ditch effort to protect its turf in reviewing hospital mergers. On 20 February 2024 it took the unusual step of reminding the public of a hospital merger which it had already approved in December 2023 (see, attached press release). But its apparent goal was not to bring that case under the spotlight for a second time (the merger was uncontroversial from a competition law perspective). The BCA rather sought to remind the general public of the federal government’s plan to curtail its merger review powers in the hospital sector (see, VBB Belgian Antitrust Watch of 9 February 2024).  The BCA argued that this is a bad idea because its specific task is to make sure that, post transaction, the merging parties will maintain the incentive to offer the best products and services under the best possible conditions. According to the BCA, the specific analysis which it applies risks being ignored if it is stripped of its merger control powers. It added that when reviewing hospital mergers it always has the interests of the patient, the hospital staff and the budget at heart.
The BCA requested the committee for economic affairs, consumer protection and digital agenda of the federal Chamber of Representatives to be heard when that committee discusses bill 55K3813, the proposed statute that contains the amending rules governing hospital mergers which the BCA takes issue with (see, VBB Belgian Antitrust Watch of 9 February 2024). The committee reviewed bill 55K3813 for a first time on 22 February 2024, but did not take a position on the BCA’s request to be heard. It will first analyse the written submission to the Minister for Economic Affairs in which the BCA pleaded to keep its current merger review powers. The committee will reconvene next week, on 28 February 2024, but is expected to decide against a hearing and to approve bill 55K3813.

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