The case of the missing shareholders in the proposed Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive

A post by guest blogger Marleen Och (KU Leuven)

Background

On 23 February 2022, the European Commission published its long-awaited proposal for a new Directive on corporate sustainability due diligence. This proposal is the next phase of an initiative on sustainable corporate governance, which the Commission launched in 2020. The initiative initially pursued several objectives, namely for companies to better manage environmental and human rights aspects in their operations and value chains and to align the companies’ interests with those of its management, shareholders, stakeholders and wider society. These changes would then introduce a shift away from short-term benefits towards long-term sustainable value creation.

Unlike the initiative itself, the proposal is not titled sustainable corporate governance, but corporate sustainability due diligence, illustrating the change in focus the Commission has seemingly undergone since the launch of the process. This post discusses the shift away from corporate governance and in particular the lack of recognition of the role of shareholders and the topic of short-termism.

Continue reading “The case of the missing shareholders in the proposed Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive”

Heiploeg: Europees Hof van Justitie geeft groen licht voor een wettelijk vastgelegde pre-pack of stil faillissement

In een eerdere post kondigden we aan dat de Nederlandse Hoge Raad in de context van de pre-pack van de Heiploeg-concern twee prejudiciële vragen heeft gesteld aan het Europees Hof van Justitie. Het Europees Hof van Justitie heeft deze vragen vandaag beantwoord. Het arrest vormt een nieuw hoogtepunt in de saga Estro – Plessers – Heiploeg.

Continue reading “Heiploeg: Europees Hof van Justitie geeft groen licht voor een wettelijk vastgelegde pre-pack of stil faillissement”

De IPR-ontwikkeling van de paulianeuze onrechtmatige daadsvordering na het faillissement van een vennootschap

Hof van Justitie schept in arrest van 10 maart 2022 (C-498/20) duidelijkheid over toepassing art. 7 Brussel I bis-Verordening (rechtsmacht) en art. 4 Rome II-Verordening (toepasselijk recht)

Er was eens… een curator van een failliete vennootschap gevestigd in Nederland die een aansprakelijkheidsvordering instelde tegen de grootmoedervennootschap, met statutaire zetel te Duitsland, wegens schending van de op haar rustende zorgplicht jegens de gezamenlijke schuldeisers van de failliete vennootschap. De rechtbank Midden-Nederland had zich bij tussenvonnis in 2018 bevoegd verklaard op grond van de Europese Insolventieverordening, omdat het centrum van de voornaamste belangen van de failliete vennootschap in Nederland lag.[1]  

In 2019 had de Nederlandse rechtbank een verzoek van de Stichting Belangenbehartiging Crediteuren om te mogen tussenkomen in het hoofgeding ingewilligd op grond van artikel 8, tweede lid van de Brussel I bis-Verordening. De stichting betoogt onder meer dat de indirect aandeelhouder ook onrechtmatig heeft gehandeld jegens de gezamenlijke schuldeisers van de failliete vennootschap en vordert namens die schuldeisers schadevergoeding via een collectieve actie (art. 3:305a NBW). De grondslag van de vorderingen van de Stichting is dezelfde als die van de curator. Anders dan in België is de bevoegdheid van de curator over de Peeters/Gatzen-vordering immers niet exclusief. Volgens de curator moet de indirecte aandeelhouder schadevergoeding betalen aan de boedel voor de onbetaalde schulden van de failliete vennootschap. Volgens de stichting moeten de schulden rechtstreeks aan de individuele schuldeisers worden betaald.[2]

Doordat het Hof van Justitie in het arrest van 6 februari 2019 had geoordeeld dat de rechtsmacht over een zgn. Peeters/Gatzen-vordering (het equivalent van onze collectieve paulianeuze onrechtmatige daadsvordering) wordt bepaald aan de hand van de Brussel I bis-Verordening, vroeg de rechtbank zich af (i) of zij nog bevoegd was om kennis te nemen van de vordering van de curator en de vordering tot tussenkomst van de stichting en (ii) of zij dan het Nederlandse recht kon toepassen. De rechtbank stelde talloze prejudiciële vragen, die het Hof van Justitie in het hierna besproken arrest van 10 maart 2022 reduceerde tot een kwartet.

Continue reading “De IPR-ontwikkeling van de paulianeuze onrechtmatige daadsvordering na het faillissement van een vennootschap”

Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence – voorstel Commissie gepubliceerd

Vandaag heeft de Europese Commissie haar langverwachte voorstel inzake Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence gepubliceerd. Met dat voorstel wil de Europese Commissie ondernemingen verplichten het risico op schendingen van mensenrechten en milieuschade in hun waardeketen preventief op te sporen. 

Aan grote ondernemingen of kleinere ondernemingen (met meer dan 250 werknemers) actief in bepaalde risico-sectoren wordt een due diligence verplichting opgelegd. In het bijzonder wordt gewezen op art. 25 van het voorstel, dat betrekking heeft op de zorgvuldigheidsplicht van bestuurders:

‘1. Member States shall ensure that, when fulfilling their duty to act in the best interest of the company, directors of companies referred to in Article 2(1) take into account the consequences of their decisions for sustainability matters, including, where applicable, human rights, climate change and environmental consequences, including in the short,
medium and long term.

2. Member States shall ensure that their laws, regulations and administrative provisions providing for a breach of directors’ duties apply also to the provisions of this Article.’

Dit voorstel zal in de komende maanden het voorwerp van onderhandelingen uitmaken van Europese onderhandelingen. Verwacht wordt dat deze onderhandelingen intens zullen zijn.

The impact of the EU Restructuring Directive on the Belgian collective plan: “To class or not to class?” – that’s the question for the Belgian legislator

A post by guest blogger Jente Dengler

The official deadline for the implementation of the Directive (EU) 2019/1023 on restructuring and insolvency was scheduled for 17 July 2021. Like many other Member States, Belgium availed itself of the possibility foreseen in the Directive to benefit from an extension of the implementation period by a maximum of one year. The Directive introduces the obligation to separate creditors into different classes for the purpose of voting on restructuring plans in order to prevent vulnerable creditors from being treated unfairly in business restructurings. Such class formation for the approval of a restructuring plan is unprecedented in Belgian insolvency law and could completely upset the bargaining dynamics between stakeholders in Belgian restructurings.

In his article “The impact of the EU Restrucuring Directive on the Belgian collective plan: “To class or not to class?” – that’s the question for the Belgian legislator” (available here), guest blogger Jente Dengler discusses the potential impact of the Directive’s voting model on the Belgian restructuring practice.

A summary of the full article published in INSOL International’s Collection of Short Papers can be found below:

Continue reading “The impact of the EU Restructuring Directive on the Belgian collective plan: “To class or not to class?” – that’s the question for the Belgian legislator”

Private enforcement strikes again: liability of subsidiaries and sister companies

Guest blogger Michiel Verhulst (KU Leuven) on the Sumal-case

Subsidiary companies, and presumably sister companies as well, can be held liable to pay damages for the EU competition law infringements committed by their parent companies. In its judgement of 6 October 2021, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Justice shed light on the EU autonomous concept of ‘undertaking’. The undertaking as a whole, meeting the characteristics of an economic unit, is to be considered personally liable for the actions of its different components. This automatically entails the joint and several liability among the legal and/or other entities that make up the economic unit at the time of the infringement.

More than two and a half years have passed since a previous blogpost explained how the judgement of the European Court of Justice of 14 March 2019 applied the autonomous EU concept of ‘undertaking’ to the private enforcement of EU competition law. As a result of this judgement, both the principles of parental liability and economic continuity became applicable when claiming damages for an infringement of the EU competition rules. The economic reality thus caught up with the legal matrix.

Continue reading “Private enforcement strikes again: liability of subsidiaries and sister companies”

A blank cheque for SPACs? 

The regulator, SPAC and investor point of view – 29 October 2021

Q1 of this year will go down as the 2000 internet bubble for SPACs. There was a unique confluence of factors that drove that insane risk-seeking behaviour, particularly at a retail investor level.” – FT, 27.09.2021

The next EU Financial Law clinic (Jan Ronse Institute, KU Leuven) will deal with one of the most intriguing phenomenons of this year: “special purpose acquisition companies”, or SPACs for short.

SPACs, short for “special purpose acquisition companies”, are companies without commercial operations or material assets. Once incorporated, they aim to raise money through an IPO to then buy another already existing company. Which company will be acquired is typically unknown at the time of the IPO. Investors therefore indeed give a “blank cheque” to the SPAC.

SPACs were probably one of the hottest product in the US investment industry in early 2021. In Europe, the picture is more diverse. While there have been over 32 SPACs in the Netherlands this year to date, Belgium is still waiting for its first SPAC.

In this financial law clinic, our four distinguished speakers will explore the topic of SPACs from a regulatory, practical and investor protection perspective. They will first discuss the process of creating a SPAC and the subsequent de-SPAC procedure, with attention for the practical and regulatory challenges involved, based on practical experience with cases in the Netherlands and Luxembourg. They will then focus on the (potential) regulatory framework (prospectus, MiFID product governance, market abuse, and AIF legislation) and compare the SPAC-process with traditional IPOs. In addition, the speakers will address the question why certain Member States seem to attract many more SPACs than others, and analyze the diverse supervisory responses to the phenomenon (by ESMA and several national regulators). Finally, the speakers will discuss potential causes for the recent difficulties experienced by SPACs and the future potential of the phenomenon.

Our four speakers are experts in this area. Gregory Frigo is a senior policy officer at the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) and has been working on the recent ESMA guidance on SPACs. Annemie Rombouts will present the FSMA’s recently published minimum standards for SPACs. Martijn Schoonewille, attorney at law at the Loyens&Loeff Amsterdam office, has advised several SPACs in both the Netherlands and Luxemburg.  Vanessa Marquette, attorney at law at the Loyens&Loeff Brussels office, has analyzed the regulatory constraints for SPACs in Belgium and conducted a comparative overview of the treatment of SPACs in Belgium, Luxembourg and in the Netherlands.

Continue reading “A blank cheque for SPACs? “

The new prudential framework for investment firms – More fit for purpose?

A post by guest bloggers Ivan Peeters, Charles-Henri Bernard and Leopoldo Luyten de Alvear

1. Investment firms play a key role in modern financial markets and in advising professional and retail clients. In particular they assist in matching investors and funds to be invested with investment opportunities and funding needs. The current market situation combines a structural low interest rate environment on the one hand and an expected surge of projects that need funding or equity. Such surge will not in the least be driven by ESG (environmental sustainability targets in particular) and by the efforts to re-open the economies in Western Europe.

2. In December 2019, the EU Parliament approved the new prudential framework for investment firms in the Investment Firm Directive (“IFD”) [1] and Investment Firm Regulation (“IFR”)[2] to be implemented in the European Union (“EU”) by 26 June 2021. This represents a significant reform in the EU regulatory framework and will have a material impact on most investment firms. In the Belgian regulatory landscape, investment firms are either stockbroking firms (sociétés de bourse / beursvennootschappen) or portfolio management companies(société de gestion de portefeuille et de conseil en investissement / vennootschappen voor vermogensbeheer en beleggingsadvies). Continue reading “The new prudential framework for investment firms – More fit for purpose?”

Green disclosure rules for the financial services sector become applicable in the EU

A post by guest blogger Arnaud Van Caenegem (KU Leuven)

Financial services providers can no longer communicate at will about sustainability now certain provisions of the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR)[1] have become applicable as of 10 March 2021. The SFDR imposes harmonized disclosure obligations on financial services providers to ensure that the sustainability features of their financial products can be better compared by investors. Up until now, sustainability disclosures have often been limited to vague, unsubstantiated and sometimes misleading marketing rhetoric.[2] This blogpost will discuss the transparency obligations of the SFDR that become applicable on 10 March 2021. Continue reading “Green disclosure rules for the financial services sector become applicable in the EU”

Crypto-assets: regulators and regulations trying to catch up with innovation without stifling it?

A post by guest bloggers Ivan Peeters, Philip Van Steenwinkel and Frederik Stappers

1. Over the past few years crypto-assets have garnered significant attention from the media, financial analysts, governments, regulatory institutions and investors. However, this year interest in crypto-assets has skyrocketed. With big investments of corporates, investment funds and millions already being raised by Initial Coin Offerings, it shows that crypto-assets are maturing and here to stay. In this post we provide some considerations in relation to the legal and regulatory characterisation and regulatory treatment of token offerings and the most common crypto-assets. Continue reading “Crypto-assets: regulators and regulations trying to catch up with innovation without stifling it?”

Delinquent mortgage loans: the EU is working hard to promote solutions for dealing effectively and responsibly with NPLs – Our Belgian supervisory approach needs a change of direction.

A post by guest bloggers Ivan Peeters and Charles-Henri Bernard

1. Under the Belgian regulation on residential mortgage credit (the “ML Regulation”)[1], any individual or legal entity willing to own and hold receivables arising from residential mortgage loans, either by originating such loans or by purchasing mortgage loan receivables, must be authorised as a mortgage lender (“kredietgever inzake hypothecair krediet” / “prêteurs en crédit hypothécaire”). This authorisation shall be requested to, and granted by, the Belgian Financial Services and Markets Authority (the “FSMA”).

2. However, certain derogations from the normal authorisation conditions are available for two special categories of entities:

a) entities that only manage and recover mortgage loans; and

b) certain special types of purchasers of mortgage credit receivables, in particular securitisation vehicles and mobilisation institutions more generally.

These derogations were introduced in the ML Regulation in 2017, when existing mortgage credit lenders and existing mobilisation institutions were required to seek an updated licence (the “2017 Update”).

3. But what about sales of delinquent or defaulted residential mortgage loans. How does this fit within the ML Regulation and, more broadly, within the Belgian regulatory framework? Continue reading “Delinquent mortgage loans: the EU is working hard to promote solutions for dealing effectively and responsibly with NPLs – Our Belgian supervisory approach needs a change of direction.”

Pand op levende bankrekeningen: Swedbank arrest “revisited”

Een post door gastbloggers Ivan Peeters en Sean Jonckheere

Collateral Richtlijn

1.         De invoering van de Richtlijn 2002/47/EG (de “Collateral Richtlijn”)[1] beoogde een communautaire, geharmoniseerde regeling te bewerkstelligen ter versterking van de positie van de gewaarborgde schuldeiser van een financiële zekerheidsovereenkomst en om systeemrisico’s in de financiële markten beter te kunnen beheersen. De omzetting van de Collateral Richtlijn naar Belgisch recht vond plaats in 2004 middels de befaamde Wet financiële zekerheden[2] (“WFZ”).

2.         De Collateral Richtlijn voorziet in een gunstregime voor de financiële zekerheidsovereenkomsten die onder haar toepassingsgebied vallen. EU-lidstaten zijn onder meer verplicht om bepaalde formaliteiten inzake de totstandkoming, derdenwerking en uitvoering van financiële zekerheidsovereenkomsten te versoepelen en bepalingen inzake insolventierecht van hun nationaal recht niet toepasselijk te verklaren om de afdwinging van financiële zekerheidsovereenkomsten te bevorderen.

Verschaffingscriterium

3.         Een essentiële voorwaarde om als financiële zekerheidsovereenkomsten onder het toepassingsgebied van de Collateral Richtlijn te vallen, is dat de financiële activa (contanten, of financiële instrumenten) die als zekerheid moeten dienst doen worden “verschaft”. Recital (10) bepaalt dat de Collateral Richtlijn enkel handelt over “financiëlezekerheidsovereenkomsten die voorzien in een vorm van het doen van afstand van de controle, d.w.z. de verschaffing als zekerheid van financiële activa, en waarbij de verschaffing als zekerheid van financiële activa schriftelijk of door middel van een duurzaam medium kan worden aangetoond, waardoor de traceerbaarheid van die activa wordt gewaarborgd”. Bijkomend stelt artikel 2 van de Collateral Richtlijn: “Verwijzingen in deze richtlijn naar het „verschaffen” of de „verschaffing” als zekerheid van financiële activa hebben betrekking op een situatie waarin de als zekerheid verschafte financiële activa daadwerkelijk worden geleverd, overgedragen, gehouden, ingeschreven in een register of anderzijds gekwalificeerd, zodat zij in het bezit of onder de controle komen van de zekerheidsnemer of een persoon die namens de zekerheidsnemer optreedt”. Voor alle duidelijkheid, naar nationaal recht kan een zekerheid geldig zijn zonder deze verschaffing, maar deze zal dan niet kunnen genieten van het gunstregime van de Collateral Richtlijn.

Arrest Swedbank

4.         Net de preciese draagwijdte van deze vereiste van “verschaffing” stond centraal in het Swedbank-arrest.[3] Continue reading “Pand op levende bankrekeningen: Swedbank arrest “revisited””

Corporate insolvency law – seen from a comparative perspective

A guestpost by Prof. Dr. Reinhard Bork (Universität Hamburg)

 

The financial shipwreck of a company is a customary event in nearly all states of the world. Most jurisdictions have special statutes addressing this topic and they are – beyond terminological issues – all dealing with the same questions: how is the term “insolvency” defined? How are insolvency proceedings commenced? What are the responsibilities of the court on the one hand and of the Insolvency Practitioner on the other hand? Are there various classes of creditors and what are their procedural and substantive rights? How is the insolvency estate determined? What are the effects of the opening of insolvency proceedings on the estate? What are the consequences for executory contracts or rights to set-off? Can transactions performed prior to the opening of insolvency proceedings be reversed to the benefit of the general body of creditors? What is the legal position of secured creditors? Is restructuring of an insolvent company a possible scenario and what are the differences between liquidation and restructuring proceedings? Which rules apply to cross-border affairs, e.g. to assets located in a foreign jurisdiction? Continue reading “Corporate insolvency law – seen from a comparative perspective”

Aansprakelijkheid van moedervennootschappen in het Europees mededingingsrecht

W. Devroe, L. Michaux en B. Beems, “Het onderdernemingsberip in het mededingingsrecht, het marktprakijkenrecht en het consumentenrecht”

Onlangs verscheen bij Intersentia Leerstukken Ondernemingsrecht (eds. J. Vananroye en D. Van Gerven), een overzicht van enkele belangrijke thema’s uit het ondernemingsrecht na de hervormingen van het WER, het WVV en het nieuw BW.

Decaan-elect Devroe, Michaux en Beems bespreken in hun bijdrage het ondernemingsbegrip in het mededigingingsrecht, het marktpraktijkenrecht en het consumentenrecht. Daarbij komt onder meer de aansprakelijkheid van moedervennootschappen aan bod:

“De invulling van het entiteitsbegrip in functie van de economische realiteit komt tegenwoordig aan bod in bijna elk voor het Gerecht (en in beroep, voor het Hof van Justitie) ingesteld beroep tot nietigverklaring tegen boetebesluiten van de Europese Commissie. Er ontstaat immers zeer regelmatig betwisting omtrent de aansprakelijkheid van moedervennootschappen voor het gedrag van hun dochteronderneming (parent company liability), of nog, over de aansprakelijkheid van overnemende ondernemingen voor het mededingingsrechtelijke gedrag in het verleden van de overgenomen onderneming. Aan de orde is de mate waarin mededingingsinbreuken van dochterondernemingen toegerekend kunnen worden aan moeder- en zelfs zusterondernemingen.[1] De vraag is hoofdzakelijk relevant in het kader van het mededingingsrechtelijke boetebeleid, aangezien bij de berekening van boetes de omzet van de beboete ‘onderneming’ een doorslaggevende rol speelt.[2] Het in aanmerking nemen van de omzet van een hele ondernemingsgroep, dan wel van één dochter alleen, leidt zeker in tijden van exponentieel gestegen boetes tot enorme verschillen. Daarbij komt dat de Commissierichtsnoeren voor de berekening van geldboeten het mogelijk maken om boetes te verhogen voor ondernemingen met een bijzonder hoge omzet.[3]

Continue reading “Aansprakelijkheid van moedervennootschappen in het Europees mededingingsrecht”

Five remarks on the ruling of the Bundesverfassungsgericht in the PSPP-case

On May 5th the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court of Germany; BVerfG) ruled that both (1) the ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) in Weiss (C-493/17) and (2) the public sector purchase program (PSPP) of the European Central Bank (ECB) – in the context of which 2 trillion in government debt was bought – were ultra vires; and that the Bundesbank (Federal Central Bank of Germany) could only continue its participation in the PSPP after a transitional period of 3 months, if the ECB would undertake a more substantiated proportionality assessment in a new decision (initial decision) of the Governing Council.

This might sound impressive, but it is not. In essence, the BVerfG only requires the Governing Council of the ECB and ECJ to substantiate their decisions so that those decisions would become intelligible to the BVerfG. If this requirement is not fulfilled, the Bundesbank will not be allowed to implement the PSPP and the BVerfG will not abide by the ECJ’s ruling. As the demand for further clarification by the BVerfG is rather modest and easy to satisfy, there seems to be no reason to believe, as some commentators argued, that this judgement undermines the European legal order.

This is even more true since the judgement contains – from a legal point of view – nothing unprecedented. The judgement of the BVerfG

  1. is not the first to declare an ECJ’s ruling ultra vires;
  2. adheres to constitutional safeguards that
    2.1 have been endorsed by the majority of constitutional courts within the EU,
    2.2 have been part of the BVerfG’s case law for more than half a century, and
    2.3 did not undermine the position of EU law in those member states and that time period;
  3. contains criticism of the ECJ’s approach that
    3.1 was already included in the OMT-case,
    3.2 less substantive than in its older ‘Solange I’-criticism, and
    3.3 might improve the functioning of the EU legal order;
  4. contains conditions regarding the participation of the Bundesbank in the ECB program which
    4.1 are not unprecedented, and
    4.2 are less substantial that in the OMT-case;
  5. is part of the checks and balances of a multilevel legal order.

This blog discusses each of these points in more detail below.

Continue reading “Five remarks on the ruling of the Bundesverfassungsgericht in the PSPP-case”

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