Competition: Belgian law in Belgium
Allen & Overy LLP fields a team of 'top professionals: punctual and dedicated'. The group has a market-leading reputation in the Belgian law competition arena, which is underpinned by its involvement in high-profile behavioural and transactional matters. The firm is equally strong in all areas of merger control, abuse of dominance and cartel investigations, and private enforcement. In addition, it is becoming an increasingly active player in the state aid sphere; Karel Bourgeois was a key adviser to Sumitomo on the antitrust and state aid aspects of its investment in offshore wind farm Northwester II. Elsewhere, Bourgeois also assisted Roularta Media Group with obtaining clearance from the Belgian Competition Authority for its acquisition of various media assets from Finnish consumer media company Sanoma. Dirk Arts heads up the team, which also counts De Vijver Media, Procter & Gamble and Mediahuis as other clients.
contrast's top-tier credentials are illustrated by the fact that it features in most of the cartel cases currently pending before the Belgium Competition Authority. Clients also turn to the firm for advice on distribution law issues, headline Belgian mergers and complex interim measures cases. Praised for its 'down to earth approach', the group is 'very pragmatic, in what is a very theoretical area'. Frank Wijckmans and associate Eline Declerck are currently representing Kinepolis in the challenge by two of Kinepolis' competitors at the Brussels Court of Appeal over the removal of certain behavioural conditions that were created by the Belgium Competition Authority when it approved the merger that resulted in the creation of the client in 1997. In another matter, Wijckmans and others assisted Volvo Group Belgium with obtaining phase one clearance from the Belgium Competition Authority of its acquisition of the operations of the Kant group. Filip Tuytschaever and senior associate Sébastien Engelen acted for Belgian showjumper Jos Verlooy and BVBA Euro Horse Axel Verlooy (Euro Horse), the horse stable through which Verlooy participates in jumping events, in interim relief proceedings against the Royal Belgian Equestrian Federation (RBEF) before the Brussels Court of First Instance. The case concerned Verlooy's challenge of the ban imposed by the RBEF on his participation in the Global Champions League event in Rome. Wijckmans and Tuytschaever co-head the team, which also includes Herlinde Burez and counsel Maaike Visser. Senior associate Emmelie Wijckmans joined from Crowell & Moring.
Covington & Burling LLP
Covington & Burling LLP's team in Brussels has a standout reputation in both the behavioural and transactional aspects of Belgian competition law, which complements its highly regarded EU and global competition offering. Illustrative of its excellent record in landmark mandates, in 2017, team head Johan Ysewyn and senior associate Melissa Van Schoorisse acted for cinema operator Euroscoop as the third party complainant at the Brussels Court of Appeal in a case concerning an application by Kinepolis to lift conditions previously imposed by the Belgian Competition Authority (BCA) that would restrict its growth; this case represented the first time a decision of the BCA had been successfully appealed against. Another highlight saw Ysewyn and Van Schoorisse assist De Persgroep with obtaining unconditional clearance from the BCA of its acquisition of commercial TV and radio broadcaster Medialaan. The team is also acting PSA Antwerp in proceedings at the Belgian Supreme Court which have arisen from the decision by the Brussels Court of Appeal that the BCA could not base antitrust charges on evidence gathered in a series of dawn raids conducted without prior court approval.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer's competition team acts for large Belgian corporates and overseas-based companies (with interests in Belgium) in high-stakes cartel investigations, abuse of dominance investigations, state aid proceedings and market-shaping mergers, among other matters. Its recent work included Thomas Janssens and senior associate Tone Oeyen representing Carlson Wagonlit Travel and Euroports in the Belgium Competition Authority's Supreme Court appeals over the legality of its dawn raids during investigations into the travel agents and ports sectors respectively. Laurent Garzaniti and Angélique de Brousse are acting for Holcim Belgium at the Supreme Court in proceedings related to the BCA's cartel decision over standard setting in the cement sector. Other clients include Solvay, Voxbone and Greenyard.
Ashurst LLP has a strong track record of success in handling competition cases before the Belgium Competition Authority and Belgian national courts. Annick Vroninks represented Cimenteries CBR at the Supreme Court following the annulment by the Brussels Court of Appeal of the BCA's decision to impose fines on three cement manufacturers and the Belgian cement industry association for alleged unlawful concerted practices relating to the use of granulated slag as a cement substitute in the production of ready-mix concrete. Vroninks also acted for DPWorld at the Supreme Court in relation to the legality of the Belgium Competition Authority's dawn raids against several cargo handlers and their professional associations. On the transactional side, Vroninks and Denis Fosselard assisted ENI with the merger control aspects of its sale of a large part of its Belgian retail gas and electricity operations to competitor Eneco. Denis Waelbroeck and Alexandre Vandencasteele are other key figures.
Baker McKenzie CVBA/SCRL's first-rate reputation has made it a go-to for Belgian competition law advice among domestic and international clients. It is highly regarded in major behavioural investigations; its team has advised clients on matters connected with insurance, financial services, automotive and wholesale pharmaceuticals, among other areas. The 'very proactive' group, which is co-led by Kurt Haegeman and recently promoted partner Joost Haans, also excels in large, industry-significant mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures. Recent highlights for the team, which is praised for its 'excellent communication and technical skills', include advising Cardoen on the competition aspects of its sale to Aramis Auto/PSA, and assisting D'Ieteren with obtaining unconditional phase one clearance of its acquisition of Care. At senior associate level, the team was strengthened by the arrival of Bram Hoorelbeke from Stibbe. Senior associate Vincent Mussche 'really goes the extra mile for his clients'.
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton covers the full spectrum of domestic competition law issues for Belgian and international clients. In a notable highlight, Romano Subiotto QC, senior counsel Dirk Vandermeersch, and associates Thomas Woolfson and Suzanne Debras, are representing American Express at the Belgian Supreme Court in proceedings connected with the legality of the Belgium Competition Authority's inspections of the premises of various tour operators as part of its investigation into the Belgian travel sector. Another key figure is Robbert Snelders, who is leading the team acting for bpost (as an intervening party) in a claim brought by VFP over the European Commission's decision to approve the compensation granted by the Belgian government to bpost for distributing magazines and periodicals. Other clients include Henkel, Exide Technologies and JCDecaux.
Eubelius' team is 'keen to understand the business and the industry it is operating in'. It handles the entire ambit of Belgian competition law for clients in regulated sectors, such as postal services, rail transport, telecoms and broadcasting. It also demonstrates comprehensive knowledge of competition issues impacting the financial services sector, where its work spans areas such as payment systems, custody, clearing and settlement. The group, which is led by Hans Gilliams, is also active in the food sector. In the state aid sphere, Gilliams, Jan Bocken and Leen Goossens have been representing 13 companies at the EU General Court in an appeal of the European Commission's decision in 2016 on Belgian 'excess profit rulings'. In the travel sector, Gilliams and Goossens represented TUI at the Belgian Supreme Court in a case concerning the legality of the Belgium Competition Authority conducting investigative searches without obtaining a prior judicial warrant. On the transactional side, Bocken advised Antwerp Port Authority on the competition law aspects of its acquisition of Nationale Maatschappijder Pijpleidingen from its shareholders Ackermans & van Haaren and Electrabel. Stijn Goovaerts is also recommended.
Jones Day's clients benefit from the synergies between the competition practice and the firm's strengths in litigation, corporate and M&A, and regulatory matters. Co-led by Alexandre Verheyden and Bernard Amory, the competition team covers major Belgian-level mergers, investigations and litigation centred on alleged abuse of dominant positions/cartels, and state aid cases . In the competition litigation arena, clients benefit from the experience of Michèle Grégoire, who is one of only 20 lawyers to be a member of the Belgian Supreme Court Bar. The firm's excellent practice generates work from a mix of Belgian and global clients; Verheyden, Sébastien Champagne and associate Laurence N. Van Mullem are representing BT, Colt and Verizon in three separate damage claims in relation to an alleged abuse of dominance by Belgacom Mobile concerning low on-net tariffs. Further showcasing the firm's strengths in the telecoms sector, Yvan Desmedt has been advising Telenet/Liberty Global on a requirement to provide access to competitors to the cable market in Belgium. Elsewhere, the group stands out in matters involving other industries, such as transportation, consumer goods, energy and resource management, and financial services. Laurent De Muyter and Charles de Navacelle recently made partner.
Stibbe's standing in the Belgian competition market has enabled it to win work from new clients such as the Royal Belgian football association, D'Ieteren and MAN. Its team is led by Peter Wytinck, who is one of the leading names in the Belgian market for competition-related damages claims, and also has a stellar reputation in dawn raids and investigations. Senior associate Delphine Gillet is another key figure in the competition group, which is able to draw upon the expertise of practitioners in ancillary areas (such as administrative law, litigation and tax law) in highly complex cases. Wytinck, counsel Tom Ruys and members of the public law practice are representing Port of Antwerp in various proceedings arising from its decision to grant a reduction on the compensation owed by PSA and Antwerp Gateway for not meeting minimum tonnage requirements. Wytinck and Ruys are also acting for the Belgian Travel Organisation and Thomas Cook in two separate travel sector cartel investigations. In recent developments, Hendrik Viaene moved to Laga, while Bram Hoorelbeke departed for Baker McKenzie CVBA/SCRL.
Van Bael & Bellis' Belgian competition law practice, which is co-led by Martin Favart and Peter L’Ecluse, is a well-established force in high-stakes, reputationally-sensitive antitrust investigations. Favart and associate Charlotte Woolfson are advising Belgian consumer association Test-Achats (as the complainant) on the Belgium Competition Authority's investigation into allegedly anti-competitive agreements between two pharmaceutical companies concerning treatments for age-related eye disease. Elsewhere, the team is also highly sought-after for advice on mergers and joint ventures, litigation and the establishment and operation of distribution systems. In 2018, Kris Van Hove and counsel Koen T’Syen assisted Belgian DIY retail chain Intergamma with the Belgian merger control aspects of its acquisition of 151 DIY stores from Ireland-based CRH. Associate Valérie Lefever is another highly rated practitioner in the team, whose other active clients include Safran Group, Allianz and bpost Bank.
Carmen Verdonck leads ALTIUS' team, which has built up an impressive body of experience in state aid cases, IP-related competition cases and merger reviews. In addition, it is increasingly involved in proceedings before Belgian and European competition authorities and courts, where matters involve alleged abuses of dominance or anti-competitive agreements. Verdonck, who has 'her finger on the pulse' and has 'a good network', recently worked with counsel Grégory Ernes and associate Quentin Silvestre to act for showjumper Lisa Nooren and horse stable Henk Nooren Handelsstal SPRL in proceedings before the Belgium Competition Authority over the invitation rules used for the Global 5-Star show jumping events. Verdonck was also the lead adviser to telecoms group Altice on the competition law aspects of the sale of the group’s Belgian cable network company, Coditel Brabant, to Telenet. In the state aid space, Verdonck and senior associate Beatrijs Gielen are representing the Agency for Nature and Forestry in the European Commission's investigation into alleged state aid being granted to three Flemish-recognised land management nature organisations.
Led by Annabelle Lepièce, CMS' team covers all areas of competition law, with a particularly notable focus on the contentious aspects of public and private enforcement. The firm has enhanced its profile in the Belgian market since it merged with Nabarro and Olswang in 2017 - and added Dirk Van Liedekerke as a result of the combination - with these developments enabling it to become better positioned to attract work from clients in the TMT space. The firm's expanding presence in the Belgian market has also enabled it to successfully pitch to advise Belgian bank KBC on all competition matters in Belgium and other territories elsewhere in Europe. Elsewhere, the firm has been notably active in assisting the Belgian government with competition cases involving an interplay between state aid and tax. Also on the state aid front, Lepièce and associate Hanne Baeyens are advising the Walloon Region on the compatibility with European rules of subsidies (cofinanced with European structural funds) for several projects in Belgium, such as the construction of an eco-district in Liège, among others. Senior associate Romain Alderweireldt and associate Kim Gillade are also notable individuals.
Crowell & Moring's competition and intellectual property practices work closely together in matters involving an interface between the two disciplines. This is particularly evident in the firm's work for life sciences sector clients, but is also illustrated in matters involving other industries; competition group head Thomas De Meese and intellectual property partner Kristof Roox are co-leading a team which is representing the Federation of Music Festivals in Flanders at the Court of Appeal in Brussels in proceedings concerning the increase by Sabam of copyright royalties for licenses to use the works of its members. The team also undertakes a significant amount of competition work for clients in the gaming industry; names such as EGBA and Unibet turn to the firm for advice. The TMT sector is another core area of strength of the team, as was illustrated recently when De Meese and others assisted Telenet with obtaining unconditional clearance from the Belgium Competition Authority of its acquisition of Nextel. Elsewhere, the firm has been involved in three out of the seven interim measure cases undertaken by the BCA since 2013. In addition to De Meese, the group also includes senior counsel Jules Stuyck and counsel Karl Stas; the latter is a recent hire from Jones Day. Grégoire Ryelandt moved to Deprevernet.
DALDEWOLF's 'fast-growing team' garners significant praise from clients, with 'the combination of expertise, availability and reliability' being noted. Pierre Goffinet has previous experience serving as a former competition prosecutor of the Belgian Competition Council, and has 'a lot of insight into regulated markets'. Goffinet's experience spans multiple industries, including energy, telecoms, retail, insurance, health and rail. The hire of Carole Maczkovics in 2017 from DLA Piper has enhanced the firm's offering in relation to state aid cases. The group, which is co-led by Goffinet and Thierry Bontinck, also assists clients with follow-on damages actions, complex merger reviews, audits and investigations, and compliance programmes. Senior associates Anaïs Guillerme and Laure Bersou are also recommended.
Deprevernet is a particularly well-known name among public authorities, although it also acts for private companies as well. Its 'technically impeccable' team attracts wide praise from clients, with 'its extensive experience before the Court of Appeal (the Market Court)' being a notable strength. Its recent work in relation to abuse of dominance cases has spanned the postal, telecoms and energy sectors, among others. Philippe Vernet, Evrard de Lophem and Sébastien Depré are representing the Belgian Competition Authority (which has been a client since the BCA was established in 2013) in an appeal by bpost against its decision to impose a €37.4m fine because bpost allegedly abused its dominant position in postal services. The firm is also active in other areas across the competition law spectrum, including competition litigation, state aid cases, and domestic merger reviews; Depré, Ryelandt and others are advising Société Wallonne des Aéroports – the public body in charge of the airports in the Walloon region – on the restructuring of the legal framework governing the functioning, the supervision and the operation of airports in the Walloon region. Other clients include The Commission for the Regulation of Electricity and Gas, Région Wallonne and the Belgian Institute for Postal Services and Telecommunications. De Lophem co-heads the practice with Grégoire Ryelandt, who 'uses his outstanding knowledge in a practical manner'.
Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick has a strong pedigree in the Belgian competition law sphere, with its practice head Stefaan Raes having experience of serving as a judge at the Brussels Court of Appeal, and as the president of the Belgian Competition Authority. In private practice, Raes' competition law expertise is complemented by his knowledge about related areas, such as market practices and intellectual property. Raes and Simone Nudelholc are representing Proximus in litigation centred on a dispute with cable network operators over its cable network access. Other active clients include Multipharma, Uber and ABB Industrial Solutions.
Linklaters' Gerwin Van Gerven heads up a ten-strong team that is highly regarded in competition matters involving novel legal issues, or which otherwise require cutting-edge, strategic solutions. A hallmark of the practice is its breadth, with the group advising clients on merger control, abuses of dominance, cartels and state aid, among other areas. A recent highlight involved defending an energy undertaking against an abuse of dominance claim, which was lodged by its main competitor after the partial liberalisation of the Flemish electricity market. Electrabel, Engie and UGC are notable clients. Xavier Taton made partner in 2018. Managing associate Isabel Rooms, and of counsels Bernard van de Walle de Ghelcke and Francesca Crotti, are other key figures.
Since its inception in 2011, Quinz has emerged as a credible player in the market, and has become particularly known for its work for clients in the life sciences industry. Its team provides clients with compliance training, advises on abuses of dominance and restrictive practices, state aid, and also assists with public and private enforcement matters. Roche, Febelco, UCB, Johnson & Johnson and Shire International are active clients. Beyond the life sciences industry, the firm also generates mandates from clients in other sectors; Benoît Allemeersch, associate Wim De Meester and recently promoted counsel Stijn Sabbe are representing Horeca Vlaanderen (a Flemish hotel and catering industry association) in its complaint with the Belgian Competition Authority over the use by booking.com of parity clauses. Allemeersch, Olivier Van Obberghen and Pieter Wyckmans are the practice heads.