Belgian Competition Authority Fines Professional Organisation of Pharmacists
The Belgian Competition Authority (“BCA”) announced today that it has imposed a fine of EUR 1 million on the professional organisation of pharmacists known as “Orde der Apothekers”/”Ordre des pharmaciens” (the “PO”) (see attached press release in three language versions). The PO is tasked by law with organising the profession of pharmacist and maintaining the ethical standards of that profession. Pharmacists are also subject to a number of public service obligations.
The PO was found to have misused these significant responsibilities for the commercial gain of its members. According to the BCA, the PO took a range of exclusionary measures to thwart the development of MediCare-Market, a successful new retailer that combines the sale of medicines with that of other, less regulated health products, wellness products, cosmetics, nutrition products and the like (see, Van Bael & Bellis Life Sciences Newsflashes of 9 November 2018 and 20 June 2017). The BCA took issue with the PO’s decision to start disciplinary procedures and court action and seek the help of public authorities to stop MediCare-Market. It also challenged the PO’s publication of threatening messages aimed at MediCare-Market. The BCA stressed that while some of these steps, such as taking court action, are normally legitimate, in this case they formed part of an overarching anticompetitive strategy.
In harsh words, the BCA labelled the PO’s decisions a competitive restriction by object in breach of Article IV.1, Code of Economic Law and Article 101, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It specified that the decisions of the PO had “harmed greatly consumer welfare” by reducing price competition for medicines and by limiting innovation. The BCA’s observations on medicine pricing are remarkable given the tight regulation of prices for medicines, including over-the–counter medicines, in Belgium.