Sociale dumping, brievenbusvennootschappen en IPR

“A hunters game: how policy can change to spot and sink letterbox-type practices”  (ETUC, 2016)

De stijd tegen ‘sociale dumping‘ staat prominent op de agenda van de Europese Commissie, de Belgische en de Vlaamse regering.

Een interessante studie uit eind 2016 A hunters game: how policy can change to spot and sink letterbox-type practices in opdracht van ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) met de steun van de Europese Commissie zoomt in op de belangrijke rol van brievenbusvennootschappen bij het omzeilen van socialrechtelijke verplichtingen. Brievenbusvennootschappen zijn vennootschappen die worden beheerst door het vennootschapsrecht van een land waarmee ze geen of nauwelijks een reële economische band hebben.

Interessant in het deelrapport van Prof. Dr. Mijke Houwerzijl, hoogleraar Arbeidsrecht aan de Universiteit van Tilburg, is dat ze de band legt tussen brievenbusvennootschappen en misbruik in het sociaal recht (p. 22-23):

“Moreover, in light of the permissive attitude of the Court towards the incorporation theory, national reforms moved away from the real seat theory in laws governing the creation of companies, but this was accompanied with shifting ‘real seat’ criteria to related areas of national law such as substantive company law, insolvency law and tort law.

A negative side effect of the strategy to shift ‘real seat’ criteria to several substantive areas of law can be observed in what is called the ‘unbundling’ or decoupling national areas of law which are functionaly interdependent and therefore, benefit from an aligned approach. Less coherence means an increased risk of gaps or overlap and also legal complexity which hampers effective application and enforcement of the law and therefore favours unreliable actors. […]

In conclusion, it is clear that the divergence of conflict rules leads to complex situations where a company may be subject to the laws of various Member States at the same time. This situation undermines legal certainty as to which is the law governing the operations of companies, and may work both to the detriment of bona-fide cross-border establishment and provision of services and to effective monitoring and enforcement of the rules. In all this uncertainty and complexity, one thing is sure: the current situation creates an ideal environment for malafide cross-border business activities.”

“In all this uncertainty and complexity, one thing is sure: the current situation creates an ideal environment for malafide cross-border business activities.”

Het rapport adviseert dan ook –  tegen de stroom in Europa in – om het “werkelijke zetel”-principe toe te passen met het oog op het reduceren van sociale dumping en fraude (p. 42-44):

“In all this uncertainty and complexity, one thing is sure: the current situation creates an ideal environment for malafide cross-border business activities. To combat letterbox strategies, it would be best to guarantee that only genuinely “established” companies may benefit from the freedom of establishment and the freedom to provide services and hence from the PWD.

Stronger sanctions against fake arrangements and enhanced efforts to detect them are a sine qua non. As a preventive measure it would be a logic step to introduce at EU level the real seat principle in all legal areas, including the law on establishment of corporate legal entities.”

Het debat over de wenselijkheid van vrije keuze van toepasselijk vennootschapsrecht kwam hier reeds herhaaldelijk aan bod (zie o.a. hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, en hier). Het voorontwerp voor een nieuw Wetboek van vennootschappen en verenigingen, vorige week in eerste lezing goedgekeurd door de ministerraad, kiest resoluut voor de mogelijkheid van vrije keuze van toepasselijk vennootschapsrecht. En dus voor de mogelijkheid van brievenbusvennootschappen.

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