On 20 July 2016, the BCA adopted competition law guidelines for small and medium-sized enterprises (“SMEs”). In the introduction of the guidelines, reference is made to the fact that Belgium has an open economy, which is largely driven by SMEs and that only free and sustainable competition can give consumers and undertakings the chances they are entitled to. Free competition is therefore of utmost importance for SMEs, but also requires that SMEs are perfectly aware of the rules that apply, and how they can improve a compliance culture within the organisation, which is the aim of the guidelines.
The guidelines first set out in a brief manner the applicable rules in the area of restrictive practices, and the sanctions that can be imposed for infringements. They then explain how SMEs can implement a tailored compliance programme, with practical guidance in the area of risk assessment, codes of conduct, the appointment of compliance officers and training. Finally, the importance of management support for a compliance culture is stressed. At the same time, the BCA restates its position that the existence of a compliance programme does not constitute an attenuating circumstance for the fine calculation in case an infringement is established.