In the aftermath of the numerous terrorist attacks in the European Union, EU member states agreed that additional measures were needed regarding the use of passenger name record data. Belgium has implemented a legal framework for passenger name record data based on EU legislation. It is hoped that the framework will enable all actors to achieve the main aim of fighting terrorist threats and serious crime.
As part of the Federal Public Service for Mobility and Transport, the Belgian Civil Aviation Authority is responsible for developing and maintaining the Belgian Aviation Safety Programme (BASP) in accordance with EU and international requirements on behalf of the state. The cornerstones of the aviation safety policy set out in the BASP are safety management, continuous improvement and a risk-based approach.
A legal vacuum has been filled with a new royal decree on the use of remote controlled aircraft in Belgian airspace. All market players ‒ from manufacturers to service providers ‒ can now develop their activities within the new legal framework, under which safety is paramount. The new regulatory regime provides the required legal certainty to commercialise and operate drones in Belgium, which has been welcomed by the sector.
The Chicago Convention provides that all aircraft must be registered with a national aviation authority and must carry evidence of this registration in the form of a certificate of registration at all times when in operation. The Belgian Aircraft Registry is an operator registry, meaning that aircraft are registered under the name of the operator only. In order to register an aircraft, an operator must submit documents evidencing its title, ownership or lease over the aircraft.
Legislation governing the civil and commercial use of drones in Belgium is limited, but a recently announced draft royal decree aims to fill the legal vacuum. Under the decree, commercial operators will need to register their activity with the Belgian Civil Aviation Authority and take out specific insurance. However, the decree will not apply to toy drones used by children under 14 or to drones used solely for recreational purposes.
It is often difficult to clearly demonstrate an abuse of a dominant position by way of excessive pricing. Nevertheless, the Brussels Commercial Court recently seemed to have little doubt that the Belgian Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers' (SABAM's) increased tariffs for concerts and music festivals constituted an abuse of its dominant position. However, what is more interesting is that the court also considered SABAM's existing practice to constitute an abuse of its dominant position.
The Competition College recently refused to initiate a Phase II investigation and approved Volvo Group Belgium's acquisition of various companies belonging to the Kant group, despite concerns that the transaction was likely to result in competition issues. This case demonstrates that a hearing before the Competition College is not just a formality and that parties can successfully contest a prosecutor's findings.
The act transposing the EU Damages Directive into Belgian law was recently officially published. Among other things, the implementation of the directive has established a rebuttable presumption that cartels cause harm, which did not previously exist under Belgian law. In addition, the binding effect of the Belgian Competition Authority's decisions before the Belgian courts now has a legal basis.
In a recent settlement decision, the Belgian Competition Authority imposed total fines of €1.8 million on five undertakings involved in a bid-rigging cartel. The decision relates to a public tender launched in 2008 by Infrabel, the Belgian railway infrastructure operator. The tender was for the delivery and onsite installation of electrical circuit equipment and related technical assistance.
A recent Competition Authority decision is another example of its fight against vertical restraints. The Competition Authority fined yeast supplier Algist Bruggeman and its parent companies €5.5 million for resale price maintenance, exclusive customer allocation, long-term non-compete obligations and abusive exclusionary practices in the market for compressed fresh yeast and stabilised liquid fresh yeast sold to artisan and semi-artisan bakers.
The former Bankruptcy Statute of 1997 included a principle that a natural person could be discharged of their remaining and outstanding debts – a so-called 'waiver' – at the moment of a bankruptcy's closure. The discharge's beneficial effects were extended to the bankrupt person's spouse. However, for bankruptcies that have happened since 1 May 2018, and so fall under the new legal framework, this situation has changed.
The legislature recently took steps to improve the follow-up monitoring of companies in financial difficulty and strengthen the fight against inactive companies. To determine whether companies are in financial difficulty, the courts gather information from various (digital) sources. However, the focus remains on preventive mechanisms – namely, identifying companies in financial difficulty and following up with court action.
The Belgian insolvency law's scope was recently broadened. As of 1 May 2018, all entities that are involved in commercial or entrepreneurial activities can be declared bankrupt (or enter into court-supervised reorganisation proceedings). Discussion has started about whether company administrators can also be seen as being 'involved in an entrepreneurial activity' and thus declared bankrupt.
The digitisation of different insolvency proceedings (ie, bankruptcies, judicial reorganisations and company voluntary agreements) recently reached a new milestone. All new insolvency files must now be commenced through the Central Solvency Register (Regsol) and followed up on the same system. Regsol offers a number of new features, including the electronic storage of insolvency files and a new declaration of debt form.
If reorganisation proceedings are unsuccessful and lead to bankruptcy proceedings, creditors with new claims resulting from services performed during the reorganisation proceedings often find it difficult to receive payment of their privileged claims when they are in competition with a general pledge on the debtor's estate that is held by a bank. The Supreme Court's recent judgment in this regard will help such privileged creditors to receive payment from the bankrupt estate.
In a high-profile trademark infringement case involving Moët Hennessey Champagne Services and a Belgian painter, the courts were asked to strike a balance between the right to property, including intellectual property, and artistic freedom of expression. The decision is expected to set an important precedent on how to strike a fair balance between freedom of speech and the protection of trademarks when these two concepts conflict.
Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) recently sued PI Pharma before the Brussels Commercial Court for the parallel import and repackaging of one of MSD's medicinal products. MSD based its claim on the alleged violation of the first, third and fourth Bristol-Myers Squibb conditions. Although this is not the first time that the Brussels Commercial Court has been involved in a dispute over the parallel importation of medicinal products, the judgment further refines the scope of certain Bristol-Myers Squibb conditions.
In a recent judgment, the Brussels Court of Appeal ordered two parallel traders to pay provisional compensation of €3 million to the Mitsubishi Corporation for illegally importing hundreds of Mitsubishi forklift trucks which had been on the Asian market into the European Economic Area via parallel trade routes. The court held that the parallel traders had failed to provide conclusive evidence that Mitsubishi, the proprietor of the Benelux and EU trademarks, had consented to the parallel trade.
The Mons Court of Appeal recently issued a judgment in a dispute between Verabel, holder of a complex trademark, and Verandas Confort, which used the word VERABEL as a Google AdWord. The court found that the AdWord VERABEL created likelihood of confusion between the goods concerned and infringed the trademark's function of origin. As a result, Veranda Confort was ordered to cease using the AdWord.
The Supreme Court recently issued a judgment in a dispute between a European patent holder and Swiss-based medical and dental equipment manufacturer Nouvag. The court confirmed that Nouvag had failed to comply with an order not to offer an infringing product in Belgium, as the product was presented on its website as being available throughout Europe. The judgment provides clarity on 'offering' as an act of patent infringement in Belgium.
The Supreme Court has rendered its second decision in the long-running road haulage dispute known as the 'sugar case'. The Supreme Court considered the scope of application of the Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR), and whether all damages resulting from a loss that arises from a CMR contract can be recovered from the road carrier.
Over the past few years, the Antwerp Commercial Court has considered on multiple occasions the question of whether a carrier's terms and conditions published on its website can be validly incorporated into an agreement. Although the court has provided insightful guidance on the matter, further questions remain unanswered.
A new law has been passed that establishes measures to combat maritime piracy. Under certain conditions, a Belgian-flagged ship will now be allowed to rely on maritime security companies to protect the vessel against piracy. This new legislation is a step in the right direction, but there is still work to be done.
In cases where extensive mandatory implementation of an EU directive in one EU member state conflicts with the (lesser) implementation in another member state, does the Rome Treaty prevail over the law chosen by the parties? This was the question posed to the European Court of Justice in an ongoing case relating to an arbitration clause in a ship agency contract.
A new law has been passed that establishes an investigative body for maritime casualties. The legislation includes certain obligations and criminal penalties for those involved in maritime incidents. Ships flying the Belgian flag and all ships calling at Belgian ports will finance the new institution, which was introduced to implement EU measures on reducing the number of maritime casualties.