The economy is not completely left free to operate. The legislator has charged supervisory bodies with monitoring the observance of the legislation in place. For example, they can decide on issuing a licence, set out policy rules, inspect the observance of regulations, etc.
In order to make a clear distinction between competition authorities monitoring all markets of an economy and the specific competition authorities acting in a specific sector, such as the electronic communications sector or the electricity sector, the latter are merely referred to as (market) supervisors or sector regulators.
Competition authorities, which do not focus on one specific sector, can take action against past behaviour which may constitute a violation of general competition law, in order to safeguard free competition (ex post). As such they can act against companies who make price arrangements in order to reduce competition. In Belgium, the Belgian Competition Authority (hereinafter: “BCA”) has the task of bringing action against anticompetitive practices (there are no regional competition authorities in Belgium). It intervenes on its own initiative or following complaints, as soon as competition distortion is detected on the market, regardless of the status - private or public - of the market players. These are acts committed “ex post”, so in the past. However, it can also act partly ex ante, notably when there is a concentration (merger/take-over) of companies that are subjected to a previous monitoring by the BCA to see if the concentration is allowed or not. In this situation it can also make use of the know-how of sector regulators, such as the BIPT, when a concentration in the electronic communications sector is concerned for instance, or in the postal sector.
Sector regulators, such as the BIPT, act ex ante on specific markets. This means that certain measures can be imposed on SMP companies even without an actual violation (abuse of a dominant position or cartel formation) having taken place. They take measures to guide a sector towards more competition. A regulator such as the BIPT can force telecom operators to offer specific services or products at the wholesale level to other interested competitors under certain conditions for instance. The BCA is involved in each draft decision of the BIPT to verify whether the draft decision complies with the objectives of competition law.