Belgian Competition Authority closes investigation on alleged gentlemen’s agreement between banks and Federal Debt Agency


In August 2023, the Belgian State decided to organise, via the Federal Debt Agency, a subscription to a State treasury bond in the face of low savings rates offered by banks. Although interests rates significantly increased in recent months, savings rates have remained low, especially in comparison with other countries.

The State treasury bond was a huge success, allowing the Belgian State to collect over EUR 12 billion, and the Belgian Competition Authority to remind this sector of basic principles of competition law after the media reported the existence of a gentlemen’s agreement between the Federal Debt Agency and 13 Belgian banks not to increase savings rate during the subscription period (between 24 and 31 August 2023).

The Federation of the Belgian Financial Sector (Febelfin) was quick to deny such an agreement and referred to individual agreements between the Federal Debt Agency and each bank willing to distribute the State treasury bond. These agreements related to savings certificates, not savings rates.

Despite this clarification, Competition Prosecutor General Damien Gérard decided to open an investigation following these press reports, reminding the sector that banks cannot collude together since this would be detrimental to customers. The mandate of the investigation was to establish if the reports of a gentlemen’s agreement were based on a misunderstanding or an actual cartel between banks. This entailed reconstructing the chronology of events leading up to the publication of the information in question, including the exchanges that took place within and between the banks concerned, and with Febelfin.

On 25 September 2023, the Belgian Competition Authority announced that it was ending its preliminary investigation in this case after the investigation determined that certain banks appeared to have misinterpreted the scope of a specific disposition in the contract concluded by each bank with the Federal Debt Agency concerning the issuance of the State treasury bond. The contractual commitment of each bank only concerned the release by banks of savings certificates during the subscription period of the State treasury bond (i.e. between 24 and 31 August 2023). Currently, however, banks rarely offer savings certificates. According to the Prosecution Service of the Belgian Competition Authority, it was therefore unjustified for the concerned banks to interpret this clause as covering a range of savings and investment products, and their yields.

Finally, in its press release, the Belgian Competition Authority questioned the level of approximation in the communication of certain banks on this topic. It should be noted that another investigation on the potential exchange of information between banks is still ongoing following the request of the Minister for Economy. The report is expected in the coming weeks.