The objective of EU competition law is to protect competition in the market as a means of enhancing consumer welfare. The key principles of competition law are included in Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and in Articles IV.1 and IV.2 of the Belgian Code of Economic Law (Wetboek van Economisch Recht (WER)).
Article 101 of the TFEU prohibits agreements between two or more independent companies which restrict competition. This provision covers both horizontal agreements (between actual or potential competitors operating at the same level in the supply chain) and vertical agreements (between companies operating at different levels). Only limited exceptions are foreseen to this general prohibition. The best-known example of illegal conduct infringing Article 101 is the creation of a cartel between competitors, involving price-fixing and/or market sharing.
Article 102 of the TFEU prohibits the abuse of dominant position, for example by charging unfair prices, by limiting production, or by refusing to innovate to the prejudice of consumers.
Companies engaged in conduct in breach of either article may not only have their agreements declared void and unenforceable, but may also face significant fines and (under some Member States’ legislation) criminal sanctions. Furthermore, an infringement of EU competition law may expose the infringer to significant civil damage claims.
Corruption is another obstacle to economic and social development, with negative impacts on sustainable development. All companies need robust anti-corruption measures and practices in place to protect their reputations and the interests of their stakeholders. A significant number of companies in the sector have introduced Codes of Conduct to advise their employees on (amongst other issues) competition and anti-corruption law. A growing number of suppliers are also being required to sign up to such codes and sustainable procurement procedures are being put in place.
As a national association, essenscia regularly organises meetings that bring together various companies in the sector, and compliance with competition law is an issue which is constantly addressed. Becoming a member of the national association implies compliance with competition law. To ensure competition law is duly respected, essenscia personnel are regularly trained by legal experts and an anti-trust audit was organised to check the association’s compliance with competition law in its daily activities. In addition, essenscia has developed ‘do’s and don’ts’ regarding competition law. These are referred to at the start of every meeting the association organises, and are available to members for future reference. Meetings are minuted according to agreed rules.