Working Papers


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Diederik Bruloot

De minnelijke invordering van schulden van de consument: het toepassingsgebied van het nieuwe Boek XIX WER

WP 2024-4

Deze bijdrage spitst zich toe op het toepassingsgebied van de nieuwe wettelijke bepalingen inzake “Schulden van de consument” en besteedt daarbij achtereenvolgens aandacht aan het materiële, personele, territoriale en temporele toepassingsgebied van Boek XIX WER.

Diederik Bruloot, Gauthier Vandenbossche

Bestuurders van rechtspersonen en het ondernemingsbegrip: nieuwe poging tot synthese

WP 2024-3

In deze bijdrage wordt de kwalificatie van bestuurders als ondernemingen besproken in het licht van de cassatiearresten en de daaropvolgende lagere rechtspraak. Om dit te kaderen wordt hierna eerst een schets gegeven van de meerderheidsopvatting die was gegroeid in de rechtspraak en de rechtsleer over de kwalificatie van bestuurders als onderneming. Nadien wordt de uitkomst van de cassatiearresten over het ondernemingsbegrip besproken. Er is ook kort aandacht voor de prejudiciële vragen die het Grondwettelijk Hof diende te beoordelen over de bestuurdersproblematiek. Vervolgens wordt aan de hand van recente rechtspraak over het ondernemingsbegrip onderzocht hoe de organisatievereiste nader wordt ingevuld, of niet ingevuld, door de hoven en de rechtbanken. Tot slot lichten wij het belang toe van een flexibele interpretatie van het organisatieconcept, alvorens tot enkele overkoepelende slotoverwegingen te komen.

Floris Mertens, Julie Goetghebuer

Virtual Reality, Real Responsibility: The Regulatory Landscape for Virtual Influencers

WP 2024-2

Virtual influencers are a new type of social media influencers, deployed by commercial entities to endorse their goods and services across several social media platforms. Distinguished by their entirely fictitious nature, virtual influencers exhibit remarkably human-like attributes encompassing physical characteristics and personalities. The visual representation of existing virtual influencers is claimed to be facilitated by artificial intelligence, although it is uncertain if this technology is really used to generate their images. Virtual influencers promote products in a way that human influencers do, albeit lacking the essential authenticity required to provide a faithful recommendation. They are fake personalities; hence they cannot try the products they recommend, a characteristic inherent to their human counterparts. In addition, virtual influencer profiles are under complete control of commercial entities such as brands. The average consumer developed the legitimate expectation that influencers endorse products based on their personal experience and opinion, rather than just following instructions from brands. However, in case of virtual influencers, experience-based endorsements are replaced by the financial incentives of the entities behind them. The lack of a personal element makes virtual influencer advertisements inauthentic and incommensurable with consumer expectations. Problematically, the average consumer remains oblivious to the fictitious nature of virtual influencers, or worse, their orchestration by commercial brands. The glaring absence of transparency pertaining to these elements leads to a general deception of the consumer.

The protection of consumers against such practices is harmonised in the European Union through the Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices. This paper explores the application of the standards set by EU law on virtual influencers, which are fictional characters without a form of natural or legal personhood. It ascertains that the deployer of virtual influencers, in addition to the third-party seller of the endorsed product, is in some cases bound by the provisions of EU law in this respect. We establish that the deception of the consumer by highly anthropomorphised virtual influencer posts that do not disclose the ad, the virtual nature of the influencer, and the control of the trader, is per se an unfair market practice that is forbidden under EU law. In this paper, we also take a closer look at the liability distribution between the parties involved in the creation process of these influencers, alongside the respective sanctioning that may be imposed. By doing so, we uncover several hardships when it comes to the enforcement of EU law provisions against misleading content created by virtual influencers. In addition, the paper uncovers the obligations of social media platforms to assess the systemic risks arising from such profiles, while suggesting a couple of specific policy measures these platforms could take to strengthen the existing enforcement mechanisms of EU and national law.

This working paper is a draft of a chapter that will appear in J. KERCKAERT and S. GEIREGAT (eds.), Social Media Influencers and the #Law, Heverlee, LeA Uitgevers, 2024.

Julie Kerckaert

Influencer Marketing Meets Consumer Protection: The Role of the Rules on Unfair Commercial Practices in Regulating Social Media Influencers

WP 2024-1

This working paper is a draft of a chapter that will appear in J. KERCKAERT and S. GEIREGAT (eds.), Social Media Influencers and the #Law, Heverlee, LeA Uitgevers, 2024.

Niels Rogge, Sinan Vanden Eynde

The legal implications of disclaimers used by finfluencers

WP 2023-15

The emergence of “finfluencers” in the financial sector has raised critical concerns regarding their influence, particularly in light of high-profile cases involving celebrities and regulatory scrutiny. A noteworthy trend among finfluencers is the routine use of disclaimers emphasising their non-financial advisory role. This article critically explores the legal risks from a financial law perspective that finfluencers seek to avoid with such disclaimers and the efficacy of such disclaimers in limiting or exempting finfluencers from civil liability. The analysis includes a specific focus on finfluencers specialising in crypto-assets, acknowledging the distinct regulatory challenges in this domain. The conclusion underscores the importance for finfluencers to exercise caution in their communications, emphasising that reliance on disclaimers alone may fall short in shielding them from potential administrative penalties and civil liabilities.

This working paper is a draft of a chapter that will appear in J. KERCKAERT and S. GEIREGAT (eds.), Social Media Influencers and the #Law, Heverlee, LeA Uitgevers, 2024.

Niels Rogge

The Role of EBA Guidelines in Private Law Disputes: Assessing Civil Fault in the Legal Framework of Belgium

WP 2023-14

In Belgium, it is well established that banks, when granting credit, have a duty to assess the borrower's creditworthiness. Failure to conduct a prudent assessment of a borrower's creditworthiness is considered a fault in a civil law context. Historically, there have been cases wherein banks were held liable by third parties when credit was granted to companies who were virtually bankrupt. Traditionally, the evaluation of a credit applicant's creditworthiness exclusively scrutinized their capacity for repayment. The European Banking Authority (EBA), in its Guideline of May 29, 2020, concerning Loan Initiation and Monitoring, mandates that banks, in the process of granting credit, must assess the borrower’s exposure to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) risks. This prompts an intriguing inquiry into the potential role of these guidelines within the context of private law disputes. Specifically, this prompts the question of whether external entities possess the capacity to impute civil liability upon a bank in scenarios where credit is granted in breach of the EBA Guidelines.

The present research explores whether a failure to comply with EBA Guidelines, with a specific focus on the ESG-related obligations introduced by the EBA Guideline governing the initiation and monitoring of loans, could lead to a civil fault within the legal framework of Belgium. According to Belgian law, a civil fault arises if the behaviour in question (I) contravenes a particular statutory provision or (II) deviates from the conduct expected of a reasonably prudent person placed in the same circumstances.

Considering the non-binding nature of the EBA Guidelines, there is no doubt that non-compliance with these guidelines does not constitute a violation of a specific statutory provision, and therefore does not automatically result in a civil fault. Consequently, under Belgian law, the determination of a civil fault necessitates an evaluation of whether the conduct in question deviates with the behaviour expected of a reasonably prudent bank, operating under the same circumstances.

This paper argues that due consideration should always be given to the underlying purpose of the EBA Guidelines when assessing prudent conduct. In other words, a breach of the EBA Guidelines does not invariably lead to a breach of a bank's duty of care within the context of a private law dispute. The contention is that if the EBA Guidelines are not intended to confer rights upon banking customers, it would be inappropriate to presume that a breach of these guidelines automatically constitutes a violation of a bank's duty of care in a private law dispute between the bank and its customer.

By examining the interplay between EBA Guidelines and Belgian civil fault criteria, this research aims to contribute valuable insights to the legal assessment of financial institutions' conduct in the context of private law disputes. The findings of this study could provide guidance to policymakers, legal practitioners, and financial institutions in understanding the nuanced relationship between soft law instruments, such as EBA Guidelines, and their potential implications in the domain of private law.

Hans De Wulf

What is a duty of loyalty for directors or shareholders and does it exist under Belgian law?

WP 2023-13

This is Hans De Wulf's contribution to the liber memorialis of Didier Willermain, one of Belgium’s foremost corporate law attorneys and part-time academic, who died prematurely in 2021. In the text, De Wulf argues that it only makes sense to talk about a duty of loyalty for directors if one means a UK-style no-profit rule and that Belgian courts pay lip service to such a duty of loyalty for directors, but do not actually apply it and have indeed sometimes explicitly refused to apply it. De Wulf also argues that talk by German and Delaware courts about a duty of loyalty for shareholders verges on the misleading and, more importantly, that such a duty for (controlling) shareholders is not part of Belgian law and could not lawfully be construed by Belgian courts.

This is the draft of the contribution of Hans De Wulf to the liber memorialis of Didier Willermain, published by Larcier as Gouvernance et responsabilité. Mélanges à la mémoire de Didier Willermain (J.-Q. De Cuyper, B. Inghels et al., eds.), Brussels, 2023, p. 425-456.

Hans De Wulf

Towards a political corporation? NGOs as ESG shareholder activists and litigators influencing corporate strategies in continental Europe

WP 2023-12

Non-governmental non-profit organisations (NGOs) that try to influence ESG strategies of corporations, especially climate strategies, have recently, after buying a very limited number of shares in target companies, begun to pursue their campaigns through the use of shareholder activist techniques, such as submitting shareholder proposals and using the right of shareholders to ask questions of the CEO and give speeches at the annual general meeting. At the same time, some investment funds, especially pension funds, have in a limited number of cases engaged in “halo activism” i.e. shareholder activism campaigns that cannot be explained by a desire to increase investment returns. These organisations represent the interests of truly external stakeholders; their efforts go beyond trying to force companies to internalize their negative externalities. The article incorporates empirical research by Michael Bakker (University of Amsterdam) on the use of E&S shareholder proposals in European companies. Recent French, German and EU sustainability due diligence legislation creates leverage for such stakeholder organisations to influence corporate policies by forcing European companies to enter into a dialogue with these organisations. The French due diligence legislation in particular encourages general interest litigation by NGOs’s as the continuation of activism with other means, this has led to 10 pending court cases against French corporations. These new stakeholder tactics (shareholder proposals, climate/ESG litigation) are hard to reconcile with legal doctrines in certain European countries, especially the Netherlands and Germany, that hold that determining a corporation’s strategy should be the exclusive preserve of the (executive) board. Such a stance can be justified because the NGOs are not really shareholders: they buy a few shares for purely instrumental reasons and their interests diverge from those of shareholders. Nevertheless Hans De Wulf argues that the Netherlands and Germany should loosen their restrictions on shareholder proposals by only outlawing shareholder proposals that are too prescriptive on strategy, e.g. proposals that want to impose a specific quantitative emissions reduction schedule on companies. This would allow NGOs and halo activists to use the AGM as a transmission mechanism for the expression of the views of stakeholders and ESG-minded investors. Shareholder proposals are in any case a more appropriate channel through which to allow external, not financially invested stakeholders to influence corporate strategy than strategic ESG/climate litigation against companies, which is undesirable, and should in fact be inadmissible if it wants to impose strategic measures on companies that do not flow directly from binding, precise regulation but are based on the tort law concept of duty of care. Inconsistently, however, several European jurisdictions ban shareholder proposals on corporate climate strategies, while simultaneously enabling general interest climate strategy litigation against such companies. Everywhere, the new stakeholder tactics make life more difficult for boards, who have to balance incommensurable conflicting interests and values, thus taking the kind of decision that until recently was the preserve of politicians. At the end of the article, Hans De Wulf will venture to suggest that these development could have a negative impact on the board’s role in setting corporate strategy, that this problem may be made worse by the installation of another extra board committee (e.g. sustainability committee) and that probably, the new “political” and oversight roles of boards are more efficiently handled in a dual board system, with a “political” supervisory board that concentrates on oversight (risk management, compliance) and internalizing stakeholder interests, and a relatively small, coherent and insulated executive board that determines corporate strategy and executes it. But Hans De Wulf would be the first to admit that on this last topic- implications for the board’s strategy role and the board’s ideal structure- far more research by specialists in board dynamics is needed.

Hans De Wulf

An introduction and evaluation of the 2019 Belgian Companies Act – Preparing for the previous war?

WP 2023-11

This article discusses some aspects of the completely new Companies Act (“BCCA”) adopted in Belgium in 2019. Even though the reform touched upon all aspects of company law and all company types, its main goal was to roll back Belgian goldplating of EU company law Directives and to turn the hitherto very rigid Belgian private company into a very flexible, contractual vehicle with little mandatory law applicable to it, except for rules on creditor protection and directors’ disclosure duties to make sure general meetings decide on issues on an informed basis. As part of this reform, the concept of legal capital (not just minimum capital requirements) was abolished for the private company. In order to allow Belgian company to better compete in the light vehicle competition, Belgium moved from the real seat doctrine to the incorporation theory. For public companies, the main reform was probably the introduction of loyalty shares, which (so far) did not succeed in attracting more listings to the Brussels stock market, but did allow existing controlling shareholders to cement their control with a smaller stake than before.

Except perhaps for the partially failed reform of the rules on changes to class rights, the reform was very successful in increasing legal certainty about many issues about which no authoritative case law exists. The rationale for the reduction of the number of company forms was less convincing, and the reform of the cooperative company was botched because of the conflicting demands emanating from the influential cooperative lobby. But in a way, the reform fought the last war (the light vehicle competition) while arguably not enough attention was paid to enabling venture capital and private equity contracting and the capital structures that go with these investments.

Hans De Wulf

The failed derivative action by ClientEarth against Shell’s directors: minority shareholders should not try to determine a corporation’s climate change strategy through the courts

WP 2023-10

Louise Van Marcke

The Belgian substantive law regime for (the cross-border holding of) intermediated securities

WP 2023-09

This contribution comments on the present state of Belgian securities law and will be included as a comparative law supplement to the second edition of the German Depotgesetz Kommentar (forthcoming, 2023) (first edition: Munich, Verlag C.H. Beck, 2012).

Evariest Callens

EMIR 3.0: Active Account Proposal Seeks to Reduce EU Reliance on Third Country CCPs

WP 2023-08

On 7 December 2022, the European Commission published its long-anticipated ‘EMIR 3.0’ proposal to improve the attractiveness of EU central counterparties (CCPs) and to foster the resilience of central clearing in the EU. In an attempt to reduce reliance of EU market participants on third country CCPs, the texts from the Commission propose substantial amendments to the 2012 European Market Infrastructure Regulation (EMIR) and related EU legislative acts such as the Capital Requirements Regulation (CRR) . Central to the suggested reforms is the proposed requirement for certain EU market participants to clear at least a portion of ‘systemically relevant derivatives’ through ‘active accounts’ at EU CCPs, i.e. mandatory accounts at EU CCPs through which a certain level of central clearing activity would have to occur. This paper provides a first analysis of the proposed active account requirement and frames it against the post-Brexit EU drive to limit risks to the EU financial system that may follow from strong reliance by EU market participants on clearing services provided by UK CCPs.

Louise Van Marcke

Who is the shareholder? The (ir)relevance of introducing an EU-harmonised definition of ‘shareholder’ in the context of the SRD II review process

WP 2023-07

This working paper reflects a presentation Louise Van Marcke delivered to the members of the Belgian Company Law Centre, during its PhD Seminar in April 2023. It addresses a subtopic of Louise's ongoing PhD research, which focuses on chains of intermediaries. This working paper is a normative and critical analysis of an ongoing discussion and should be interpreted as such.

Gauthier Vandenbossche

Fiscale obstakels voor succesvolle reorganisatie na omzetting Insolventierichtlijn?

WP 2023-6

In deze Working Paper analyseren Charlotte Meskens en Gauthier Vandenbossche de fiscale gevolgen van het wetsontwerp tot omzetting van Insolventierichtlijn 2019/1023. Om de evenwaardige toepassing van de nieuwe insolventieprocedures die door het wetsontwerp omzetting Insolventierichtlijn worden ingevoerd te garanderen, is het absoluut noodzakelijk dat de fiscale regimes voor de schuldeisers en schuldenaren worden uitgebreid tot die nieuwe vormen van reorganisatieprocedures. Daarnaast moeten ook sinds langere tijd in stand gehouden fiscale discriminaties worden weggewerkt. Indien de wetgever het behoud van de continuïteit van ondernemingen voorop wenst te stellen door tijdige reorganisatie, dienen ook de fiscale spelregels daarop afgestemd te zijn. Er moet dan ook over gewaakt worden dat de positieve economische effecten van reorganisaties niet gedwarsboomd worden door ongewenste fiscale (neven)effecten.

Julie Goetghebuer

The (un)limited use of AI segmentation in the insurance sector

WP 2023-5

In theory, under the premise of freedom of will, insurers in Belgium are permitted to employ artificial intelligence (‘AI’) and big data analytics for segmentation purposes, enabling them to determine the ‘claims probability’ (i.e., the likelihood and severity of potential claims) for each prospective policyholder. This analytical approach empowers insurers to determine whether or not they should underwrite a risk, and if so, on what terms. A more extensive pool of policyholder data may increase the accuracy of the assessment of claim probability and surpasses the information asymmetry between the policyholder and insurer.

Although the implementation of AI and big data benefits insurers, pervasive segmentation through AI has some negative implications and could entail serious ramifications for policyholders if their risk is incorrectly calculated. In Belgium, the current insurance regulation does contain some existing restrictions that limit the freedom of insurers to use AI; nevertheless, these provisions fall short of protecting policyholders from inaccuracies in their risk assessments and thus from receiving incorrect premiums or conditions.

Dominique Blommaert

Lening op interest of kredietopening: enkele puzzelstukken op hun plaats gelegd

WP 2023-4

De problematiek van de vervroegde terugbetaling van commerciële kredieten door de kredietnemer heeft de laatste jaren een ware zondvloed aan gerechtelijke procedures ontketend, althans voor wat betreft de commerciële kredieten die niet onder het toepassingsgebied vallen van de wet van 21 december 2013 betreffende diverse bepalingen inzake de financiering voor kleine en middelgrote ondernemingen. De aanleiding hiertoe is de volgehouden daling van de interestvoeten. Veel kredietnemers die op een eerder ogenblik aan een hoge(re) interestvoet hun kredietovereenkomst hebben gesloten, wensen bij (verdere) daling hun lopende kredietovereenkomst vervroegd terug te betalen en een nieuw krediet te negotiëren aan een lagere interestvoet.

In deze Working Paper annoteren Dominique Blommaert en Othilly De Wilde de cassatiearresten van 27 april en 18 juni 2020.

Dominique Blommaert

De derde-medeplichtigheid van de niet-professionele verkoper aan de schending door de kredietnemer van het beding van eigendomsvoorbehoud ten gunste van de kredietgever

WP 2023-3

In deze Working Paper annoteren Dominique Blommaert en Prescillia Algrain een vonnis van 6 augustus 2021 een vonnis van het vredegerecht te Mol, waarin de vrederechter de toepassingsvoorwaarden onderzocht van de rechtsfiguur “derde-medeplichtigheid aan andermans contractbreuk” en het schadeherstel dat hieruit kan voortvloeien.

Evariest Callens

Third Country CCP Supervision as a Catalyst for More Centralized EU CCP Supervision?

WP 2023-2

In early 2022, a UK CCP canceled some $4 billion of transactions in the war-affected nickel market, triggering outrage from market participants that were in the money. The ‘nickel debacle’ illustrates that CCP risk management and loss absorption mechanisms may result in value redistribution among stakeholders. With CCP stakeholders located in multiple jurisdictions, crisis management decisions from a single-jurisdiction CCP supervisor may not pursue multi-jurisdictional financial stability or a fair balance of stakeholder interests across jurisdictions. Although the case for centralized supervision of EU CCPs thus appears strong, national concerns have persistently blocked increased centralization. This paper re-examines decentralized EU CCP supervision in light of the much-debated post-Brexit centralized EU supervisory regime for systemically important third country CCPs. Two new arguments emerge from this juxtaposition, revealing a dichotomy between the named supervisory regimes that appears hard to justify. First, a decentralized supervisory regime for EU CCPs is difficult to logically square with the policy arguments underpinning the post-Brexit EU supervisory system for systemically important third country CCPs. Secondly, the controversial location policy for ‘too systemically important’ third country CCPs could be more justifiable if the EU were to adopt centralized EU supervision of systemically important EU CCPs.

Working paper is available here.

Floris Mertens

The use of artificial intelligence in corporate decision-making at board level: A preliminary legal analysis

WP 2023-1

Praised popular applications of artificial intelligence (AI) such as ChatGPT are merely a demonstration of AI’s potential in the business world. AI is on the verge of assuming a common role in the management of companies, since its steady emergence as a support tool for the administrative and judgement work of directors and managers. While only a handful of companies worldwide have attempted to appoint a robo-director, the general use of AI in corporate governance has proven to rationalize board decision-making, challenge groupthink and strengthen the independence of directors. Contrastingly, company law frameworks around the world remain rooted in exclusively human decisionmaking and deny the role of technology in corporate governance, resulting in inefficient regulatory strategies with regard to AI systems bestowed with governance powers. As a result, uncertainty exists about the legal permissibility and legal consequences of the implementation of AI in the corporate realm, which could discourage corporations from adopting AI, in spite of the technology being likely to enhance the business judgement of
directors.

Therefore, this paper attempts to highlight the growing importance of AI in corporate governance by classifying its gradual levels of autonomy vis-à-vis the board of directors. Then, this paper proceeds to make a preliminary legal analysis of the potential roles of AI in the management of memberless entities, leaderless entities and traditional corporations. The strongest focus of this paper lies on fundamental questions of corporate law pertaining to the delegation of decision rights to AI, the full replacement of human directors by AI, the required human supervision of AI and the attribution of liability for algorithmic failure.

Last year

Hans De Wulf

Some thoughts on the regulatory use of tort law in a corporate context

WP 2022-23

This paper is the draft version of Hans De Wulf's contribution to the now already published Liber Amicorum Xavier Dieux. It is a very essayistic text, as is allowed in a Festschrift. In it, Hans De Wulf argues that tort law is being transformed from a mechanism to award damages into a regulatory tool that can be used by judges to create new rules that they then enforce against corporations (always at the request of a plaintiff, of course). This development is only possible because some - the Dutch legal system is a primary example - have transformed the concept of negligence from a standard, i.e. a yardstick to measure and judge behaviour, into a duty to at all times behave with due care, and have allowed private plaintiffs who have not suffered any damage (let alone even argued about causality), but who have at best been exposed to a risk, to enforce this new-found duty.

Hans De Wulf argues the first instance decision in the Dutch climate litigation against Shell is an illustration of the excesses to which this can lead; I argue this Dutch court decision would in Belgium be incompatible with our statutory provisions on tort law, and would be unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers by creating and allocating a new subjective right on the basis of a political balancing of interests which the court misleadingly tries to present as the mere application or enforcement of a pre-existing human right (right to life which entails right to a climate that does not heat up too much).

In the contribution Hans De Wulf also offers some (again, essayistic) thoughts on the ideal distribution of liability between companies on the one hand and their directors and managers on the other. Hans De Wulf discusses the circularity problem and whether it can be solved by concentrating liability exclusively on directors/managers instead of on the corporation. This seems to be necessary if one seriously thinks tort law and enforcement in general can have preventive(prophylactic, ex ante) behavioral effects, an idea for which there seems to be, however, little empirical proof.

Gauthier Vandenbossche

Hervorming fiscaal regime auteursrechten en naburige rechten: een hobbelige weg back to its roots?

WP 2022-22

Dinsdag 6 december 2022 wordt in de Commissie Financiën het ontwerp van programmawet besproken. Dat bevat o.m. een hervorming van het fiscaal stelsel voor
auteursrechten.

Het ontwerp voorziet, naast het bestaande absolute drempelbedrag, in nieuwe relatieve beperkingen. Die maken een onderscheid naargelang de rechten al dan niet worden overgedragen n.a.v. een "geleverde prestatie".

Die nieuwe bepalingen kunnen echter voor rechtsonzekerheid zorgen. Kunnen vergoedingen, n.a.v. een opdracht, nog volledig als een roerend inkomen kwalificeren? En wat indien de prestatie niet wordt vergoed, of er zelfs geen prestatie is?

In een extract van een nieuwe Working Paper onderzoekt Gauthier Vandenbossche de draagwijdte van de nieuwe bepalingen. De volledige Paper, met een grondige analyse van de nieuwe belastingregeling, volgt later.

Christoph Van der Elst

Fostering Sustainability in the Netherlands: Companies, Ownership, Engagement, Finance and Products

WP 2022-21

This paper addresses several European regulatory developments in sustainable finance and its transposition and implementation in the Netherlands. First it is discussed how sustainability is embedded in the Dutch corporate governance framework. The stakeholder approach has long been adopted into Dutch company law, however, recently, pressure from various stakeholders that sustainability should be included in the execution of the duties of the board of directors is increasing. Next, it reports the sustainability requirements of the financial entities and the state of the art of the (disclosures of the) financial products sustainability specifications. The AFM-studies show that significant progress has been made to adequately inform the financial end-investor, but also that the quality of information (and the sustainable financial investment process) can be further increased. However, it has been found that not all end-investors can fully and sufficiently qualify the disclosed information. The road to a sustainable society has started but there is a long way to go.

Christoph Van der Elst

The long-term shareholder versus the engaged shareholder

WP 2022-20

According to the European Commission it is of importance to build a long-term relationship between the shareholders and their investees because so-called short-termism is endangering the capital market. The Commision endorses «long-term engaged share ownership under which shareholders effectively hold the board accountable for its actions». Both companies as well as many of their investors, report (extensively) about their relationships and contacts. However, this information addresses the current relationship between these parties. Little is known whether and which shareholders effectively develop a long-term relationship with the company. Neither is much known whether the behavior of “long-term” investors differs from short-term investors. In this paper I analyze whether institutional investors make use of a “buy and hold” practice or apply a “hit and run policy” in large Belgian companies. Second, I study whether the voting behavior of the different types of investors (short and long(er)-term investors) differs.

Hans De Wulf

Schending van de belangenconflictregeling voor bestuurders leidt niet automatisch tot nietigheid van de bestuursbeslissing

WP 2022-19

Dit is een bespreking van het Cassatiearrest van 9 december 2021. Dat arrest handelt over de mogelijkheid voor een NV om, op basis van art. 7:96 § 2 WVV, de nietigheid te vorderen van een bestuursbeslissing wanneer het bestuur de belangenconflictprocedure uit art. 7:96 § 1 WVV niet (volledig) heeft nageleefd. In navolging van de stichter van het Instituut Financieel Recht, Eddy Wymeersch, oordeelt het Hof van Cassatie dat de nietigheid niet kan uitgesproken worden wanneer de feitenrechter vaststelt dat de naleving van de belangenconflictprocedure geen verschil had kunnen maken, dus geen invloed op de besluitvorming had kunnen hebben. Terwijl Wymeersch (De belangenconflictregeling in de vennootschappen, Maklu, 1996, nr. 71) enkel wou verhinderen dat nietigheid werd uitgesproken wanneer alleen maar de openbaarmakingsverplichtingen (melding aan de algemene vergadering, opname van notulen in het jaarverslag) niet werden nageleefd, laat het Hof van Cassatie ten onrechte ruimte aan de feitenrechters om ook andere “procedurefouten” als “zonder invloed” te kwalificeren.

De noot legt uit dat het Hof van Cassatie een weliswaar niet volledig onverdedigbaar arrest over een betwiste rechtsvraag heeft geveld, maar dat het arrest niettemin positiefrechtelijk verkeerd en beleidsmatig te betreuren is.

In elk geval zal ook na dit arrest een rechter nooit uit de feiten kunnen en dus mogen afleiden dat de deelname aan de besluitvorming van een bestuurder die krachtens de wet van deelname uitgesloten was, geen invloed op de besluitvorming heeft kunnen hebben.

Deze WP bevat de draft versie van een noot die bij het cassatiearrest zal verschijnen in TBH 2022/10.

Hans De Wulf

Shareholder inspection rights in Belgium: unpopular or unnecessary?

WP 2022-18

In this Working Paper Hans De Wulf dicusses the rules and relatively rare case law on shareholder inspection rights, allowing minority shareholders to inspect corporate documents, often in preparation for a derivative claim. It argues courts should not demand that plaintiffs show the "discovery" pursued during the inspection procedure could potentially be useful for a subsequent claim. Rather, the procedure should be considered as a stand-alone check on directors at the disposal of minority sharheolders.

Diederik Bruloot

Aansprakelijkheid voor onrechtmatige uitkeringen aan de aandeelhouders

WP 2022-17

Het hoofddoel van deze bijdrage is een vergelijking te maken van het nieuwe regime inzake aansprakelijkheid voor onrechtmatige uitkeringen aan de aandeelhouders in de BV met het ongewijzigd gebleven regime ter zake in de NV. Volgens sommige commentatoren zou het gras in de oude “NV-weide” op dit punt heel wat groener zijn dan in de nieuwe “BVweide” aan de overkant. Zoals dat wel vaker het geval is, blijkt, na een grondige inspectie, het kleurverschil in de realiteit evenwel helemaal niet zo groot.

Eddy Wymeersch

G 20/ OECD Principles of Corporate Governance – Comments by Eddy Wymeersch

WP 2022-16

In this public consultation, the OECD seeks to benefit from a wider input from the public in order to achieve a statement optimally reflecting ideas developed in the numerous studies and reflections about the future of private companies and the way these should be managed. The Principles are addressed to policy makers: apart from the case when the principles have been translated in legal rules, some of the Principles are to be included in the companies’ corporate governance codes, but other remain in the status of unwritten standards. Only legal rules are fully binding.

In general the Principles deal with prominent corporate governance issues and indicate for most of these a way forward, which looks convincing. The present paper focuses on the issues where the Principles could usefully be complemented by issues which came forward more recently, or can be considered lacunae in the present presentation.

The Principles are adressed to private companies traded on public markets, but are equally of importance for the many unlisted companies, and even other bodies – such as the state owned economic enterprises which exercise central functions in our societies, eg the railways. The corporate governance principles may be equally applicable to these entities and a similar reflection as developed in the Principles would be of great importance.

According to the accounting directive companies will include the corporate governance statement in their management report. That statement shall be included as a specific section of the management report and shall contain at least the information listed in article 20 of that directive. Some of this information will be subject to external review by the auditor.

Louise Van Marcke

Securities lending as a barrier to (or an instrument for) shareholder activism and the role of intermediaries as lending agents

WP 2022-15

This paper discusses the corporate governance implications of securities lending transactions in the European Union, in particular with regard to the exercise of voting rights by activist shareholders. When shares are on loan, both sides of the lending equation (i.e. that of the lender and the borrower) affect the exercise of voting rights: lenders must recall lent out shares in a timely manner if they do not want to lose the voting rights attached to them, and borrowers may employ stock borrowing practices to increase their voting power and manipulate voting outcomes. By analysing legal doctrine, consulting with practitioners and examining recent securities lending cases (such as Mediobanca/Generali), this paper highlights the ongoing risks that stock lending poses to corporate governance. Techniques such as negative risk-decoupling, record date capture and empty voting are analysed from the perspective of stock lending. It is found that securities lending can be as much a barrier to activism as it can be used to the advantage of activists. As a conclusion, some recommendations and guidelines for future regulation are included.

Evariest Callens

The Future of Centrally Cleared OTC Derivatives Markets

WP 2022-14

Financial markets are in constant flux. New players and services, often leveraging new technology, emerge and challenge the status quo. Changes in markets, regulation, the environment, and global politics affect the business and risk profiles of financial market participants. The central clearing sector is no exception to this. Moreover, with its crucial position as bulwark against systemic instability, the central clearing sector sits at the heart of modern financial markets and is particularly exposed to the speed of the ever-evolving financial system. Based on recent evolutions and policy initiatives, this paper aims to formulate conjectures about the directions in which centrally cleared over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets may develop in the future. Given the inherently forward-looking nature of this paper, our analysis is necessarily limited in that it employs incomplete information about the future in an attempt to map future risks, challenges, and opportunities in centrally cleared OTC derivatives markets. The paper is structured around (i) emerging risks (cyber risk, environmental risk, new technologies, and legal risk); (ii) challenges that come with the friction between an increasingly cross-border market for centrally cleared OTC derivatives and a regulatory and supervisory approach towards CCPs that has remained largely domestic or regional; and (iii) potential future directions for CCP governance.

Working paper is available here.

Evariest Callens, Reinhard Steennot, Niels Rogge

Meer mogelijkheden tot bevrijdend betalen zonder cash

WP 2022-13

De wet van 17 maart 2022 houdende diverse fiscale bepalingen en fraudebestrijding creëert voor ondernemingen de verplichting om, wanneer de betaling in euro in gelijktijdige fysieke aanwezigheid van de consument en de onderneming plaatsvindt, aan de consument een elektronisch betaalmiddel ter beschikking te stellen. Op die manier speelt de wetgever in op een evolutie waarin steeds minder cash wordt gebruikt en consumenten steeds vaker een beroep willen doen op elektronische betaalmiddelen om zich van hun schuld te kwijten. In deze bijdrage gaan dr. Evariest Callens, prof. dr. Reinhard Steennot en Niels Rogge na wanneer precies een schuldenaar zijn schuldeiser kan dwingen om een ander betaalmiddel dan cash te aanvaarden. De nieuwe regelgeving komt aan bod na een overzicht van de klassieke principes (en uitzonderingen daarop).

Evariest Callens

Derivative Contracts in EU Law: Never Mind the Definition

WP 2022-12

Trillions of euros change hands through derivative contracts every year. Although economically valuable for risk redistribution purposes, derivatives may also pose grave threats to financial stability, having led Wall Street magnate Warren Buffett to dub them “financial weapons of mass destruction”. In line with international policy initiatives after the 2008 financial crisis, the EU co-legislators have sought to mitigate the potential destructive effects of derivatives through a host of far-reaching legislative interventions (e.g. mandatory usage of central counterparties (CCPs)). To determine the scope of application of these legislative initiatives, the definition of derivatives is of pivotal importance. Although a strand in legal scholarship has aimed to map the conceptual properties of derivatives, the derivatives definitions that have been conceived by the EU colegislators to demarcate the scope of recent legislative interventions have received virtually no attention. This paper seeks to fill this gap. Through a combination of conceptual and regulatory analysis, the paper develops two new arguments. First, it argues that derivatives definitions in EU law do not identify any distinctive conceptual properties of derivatives and, instead, only provide a circular description of what derivatives may be. Secondly, it submits that this conceptually unsatisfactory approach is symptomatic for a more fundamental deficit in the conceptual underpinnings of derivatives. By exploring the relation between the derivatives definitions in EU law and the conceptual properties of derivatives, this paper seeks to uncover some of the conceptual impurities in the premises on which the major overhaul of EU derivatives legislation has been built.

Paper is available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4096694.

Floris Mertens

De brievenbusvennootschap aan banden: antimisbruikmaatregelen van internationaal privaatrecht

WP 2022-11

Het Belgisch Wetboek van Vennootschappen en Verenigingen bracht een belangrijke vernieuwing met zich mee op het vlak van het vennootschappelijk internationaal privaatrecht. De werkelijke zetelleer werd verlaten en vervangen door de statutaire zetelleer, waardoor men voortaan voor de bepaling van het toepasselijke vennootschapsrecht aanknoopt bij de locatie van de statutaire zetel. Deze overschakeling heeft tot gevolg dat oprichters of bestuurders zullen zoeken naar landen met lakse regels van vennootschapsrecht, om aldaar de statutaire zetel te (ver)plaatsen. Wanneer de vennootschap vervolgens haar voornaamste economische activiteiten verricht in een ander land dan dat van de statutaire zetel, komt een zogenaamde brievenbusvennootschap tot stand.

In deze Working Paper maakt Floris Mertens duidelijk dat België, Nederland, Duitsland, het Verenigd Koninkrijk en Zwitserland eerder wantrouwig staan tegenover het fenomeen van de brievenbusvennootschap. Hoewel dit vehikel een onvermijdelijk product van de incorporatieleer is, zou het ogenschijnlijk diverse misbruiken in de hand kunnen werken. Voormelde Europese landen trachten hier via tal van privaatrechtelijke antimisbruikmaatregelen aan tegemoet te komen. Dit lappendeken van maatregelen mist evenwel een zekere uniformiteit, gaat uit van een foutief misbruikbegrip, en is reeds talloze malen door het Hof van Justitie als onverenigbaar bevonden met de vrijheid van vestiging.

Floris Mertens

Oprichtersaansprakelijkheid wegens kennelijk ontoereikend aanvangsvermogen: kan de cijferberoeper als zondebok dienen?

WP 2022-10

In deze Working Paper annoteert Floris Mertens een vonnis van de ondernemingsrechtbank te Gent (afd. Dendermonde) van 18 oktober 2021.

Indien een vennootschap met beperkte aansprakelijkheid binnen de drie jaar na de oprichting failliet wordt verklaard, lopen de oprichters het gevaar om hoofdelijk aansprakelijk gesteld te worden voor een deel of het geheel van het netto-passief van de gefailleerde vennootschap. Hun aansprakelijkheid komt in het gedrang wanneer zij een kennelijk ontoereikend aanvangsvermogen voorzien hebben bij de oprichting, wat voornamelijk kan blijken uit het bewaarde financieel plan. De praktijk leert dat oprichters voor de opstelling van dit plan vaak een beroep doen op de beoefenaar van een cijferberoep. Bijgevolg rijst de vraag in welke mate deze cijferberoeper ook aansprakelijkheid kan dragen voor het kennelijk ontoereikend aanvangsvermogen dat mogelijks uit het financieel plan naar voren komt. Deze bijdrage toont aan dat de professionele zorgvuldigheidsplicht de cijferberoeper ertoe dwingt om enerzijds de door de oprichters aangereikte cijfergegevens in beperkte mate te controleren, en anderzijds een waarschuwing te verstrekken wanneer duidelijk blijkt dat de in het financieel plan voorziene middelen ontoereikend zijn om de beoogde activiteiten te verwezenlijken.

Hans De Wulf, Louise Van Marcke

Duurzaamheid en vennootschapsrecht: ESG-aansprakelijkheid en de invloed van institutionele aandeelhouders

WP 2022-09

In deze Working Paper focussen Hans De Wulf en Louise Van Marcke op drie thema’s binnen het vennootschapsrechtelijke duurzaamheidsdebat. Ten eerste wordt geargumenteerd dat men nauwelijks enig effect mag verwachten van “stakeholderism” in de betekenis van het herformuleren van bestuurdersplichten of herdefiniëren van het vennootschapsbelang in de ijdele hoop bestuurders zo te dwingen meer aandacht te hebben voor andere stakeholders dan aandeelhouders. Ten tweede worden de verschillende technieken beschreven die institutionele aandeelhouders hanteren om duurzaamheidsthema’s bij ondernemingen op de agenda te plaatsen. Tot slot wordt ingegaan op het gebruik van het onrechtmatigedaadsrecht.

Simon Geiregat

Unfair terms in non-consumer contracts – comparative analysis

WP 2022-08

In this Working Paper Simon Geiregat provides a scheme comparing the legal framework on unfair terms in non-consumer contracts in Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands. A comparison with harmonized EU law has also been added.

When applicable, comparisons with the rules on consumer contracts are marked. 

Hans De Wulf

Controle van het bestuur op de kwaliteit van een overnemer en diens debt push down in leveraged buy-outs?

WP 2022-07

Dit is de tekst van Hans De Wulf zijn bijdrage aan het Liber Amicorum Jean-Pierre Blumberg, dat in de herfst van 2021 bij Intersentia verscheen.

De tekst gaat uit van twee ophefmakende buitenlandse gerechtelijke uitspraken inzake debt push downs, de Amerikaanse Nine West-zaak en de Nederlandse Estro- zaak. Beide uitspraken hebben gemeen dat zij “standaarden” inzake behoorlijk vennootschapsbestuur gebruiken om bestuurders te wijzen op hun verantwoordelijkheden bij een overname van de vennootschap (bv. door een private equity-speler), ook wanneer zijzelf naar aanleiding van de overname uit het bestuur zullen verdwijnen, en met name wat de schuldenlast die op de schouders van de vennootschap wordt gelegd betreft. Hans De Wulf onderzoekt op essayistische wijze in welke mate zulke rechtspraak ook in België mogelijk zou zijn, als aanvulling op de technische wettelijke regels inzake financial assistance.

Hans De Wulf

Zijn blijvende verschillen tussen NV en BV gerechtvaardigd?

WP 2022-06

Deze bijdrage zal in de eerste helft van 2022 verschijnen in TRV-RPS, in een nummer waarin een vijftal bestuurders van het Belgisch Centrum voor vennootschapsrecht hun mening geven over de vraag op welke punten het WVV misschien minder opportune keuzes heeft gemaakt/reeds voor wijziging in aanmerking zou komen. Elke auteur heeft een verschillend thema uitgekozen, in Hans De Wulf zijn geval de vraag of de verschillen in wetgeving tussen BV en NV gerechtvaardigd zijn.

Hans De Wulf argumenteert dat de verschillen in de winstuitkeringsregels voor BV en NV niet gerechtvaardigd zijn, en dat men met name ook voor de NV een schriftelijke liquiditeitstest in de wet had moeten inschrijven. Daarnaast bespreekt Hans De Wulf enkele kleinere ongerechtvaardigde verschillen (bv. waarom geen duaal bestuur toelaten in de BV ?) en stelt hij vragen bij de afbakening tussen de vennootschapsvormen, waarbij hij bijvoorbeeld ook kritiek heeft op het eenhoofdig bestuur bij de NV.

Eddy Wymeersch

Proposal for a Directive on gender equality – An initial analysis

WP 2022-05

The final and updated version of this draft paper will be published elsewhere.

Hans De Wulf

De maatschap : catch me if you can – Hoe rechtstheorie legitimeert maar niet fundeert

WP 2022-04

In de bijdrage wordt vastgesteld dat ook de maatschap, ondanks haar gebrek aan rechtspersoonlijkheid, een eigen vermogen heeft, maar in geen enkel opzicht een afgescheiden vermogen heeft.  

Verder wordt geargumenteerd dat de wetgever iets te ver is gegaan door ook voor stille maatschappen te bepalen dat het maatschapsvermogen niet kan uitgewonnen worden door de persoonlijke schuldeiser van een vennoot. 

Tot slot wordt verdedigd dat de wetgever beter de hervorming van het maatschapsrecht had gebruikt om de maatschap volledige rechtspersoonlijkheid te geven, met de transparantieverplichtingen die daarbij horen, maar met tegelijk de mogelijkheid, voor de oprichters, om de maatschap-rechtspersoon toch te onderwerpen aan een regime van fiscale transparantie. 

Reinhard Steennot

Onrechtmatige bedingen in B2B-contracten: algemene en bijzondere regelen beperken wilsautonomie (steeds meer)

WP 2022-03

Bepalingen inzake onrechtmatige bedingen begrenzen de wilsautonomie waarover ondernemingen in beginsel beschikken bij het sluiten van een overeenkomst. Waar deze autonomie aanvankelijk enkel werd ingeperkt in de verhouding tot consumenten, stelt men vast dat sedert 1 december 2020 ook in de verhouding tussen ondernemingen onderling rekening moet worden gehouden met dwingende regelen ter bescherming van de zwakkere partij.

In de nabije toekomst zullen ook bepalingen die ogenschijnlijk betrekking hebben op oneerlijke marktpraktijken de wilsautonomie van ondernemingen verder beperken. Het is opvallend dat al deze bepalingen in het WER vervat liggen en niet in het (nieuw) BW. Meer en meer beïnvloedt het WER het verbintenissenrecht, zodanig dat experten verbintenissenrecht het niet meer zonder Boek VI van het WER kunnen stellen.

Hans De Wulf

ESG en vennootschapsrecht: innig verbonden, maar ook duurzaam?

WP 2022-02

De tekst biedt een algemeen overzicht van de belangrijkste ontwikkelingen binnen Europa in de periode 2019-2021 op het snijvlak van ondernemingsrecht en environmental, social en governance-thema’s. Hans De Wulf had de eer de tekst te mogen voorstellen op de jaarvergadering te Amsterdam, in november 2021, van de Nederlandse Koninklijke Vereeniging Handelsrecht, en aldaar in debat te mogen gaan met Vino Timmerman en het publiek.

Na een uitgebreide inleiding gaat de tekst in op het 'corporate purpose'-debat, ESG-aandeelhoudersactivisme, de EU-initiatieven om openbaarmakingsverplichtingen rond duurzaamheid en verwante thema’s op een nieuwe leest te schoeien, due diligence van de waardeketen (ook bekend als human rights due diligence) en de evolutie naar 'ESG-aansprakelijkheid', uitmondend ineen fusie tussen mensenrechten en het onrechtmatigedaadsrecht, zoals geïllustreerd door het Haagse vonnis in de Shell Milieudefensie-zaak.

Inhoudelijk maakt Hans De Wulf onder nogal wat meer het punt dat het een onvruchtbare aanpak is te pogen ondernemingen tot meer aandacht voor andere stakeholders dan aandeelhouders te bewegen via een herformulering van bestuursplichten of invulling van het concept vennootschapsbelang of corporate purpose-verklaringen; dat het wel zinvol is aan ondernemingen human rights due diligence verplichtingen op te leggen, maar dat men dat dan via technisch behoorlijk geformuleerde, tot rechtszekerheid leidende wetgeving moet doen, kenmerken die ontbreken bij het ontwerp van Europese Richtlijn van het Europese Parlement van 10 maart 2021; en dat terwijl de Britse 'Vedanta'-rechtspraak te begroeten is (aansprakelijkheid van de Europese moeder voor eigen onrechtmatige daad die begaan wordt via de activa van een buitenlandse dochter), de Nederlandse Shell Milieudefensie-uitspraak vele bruggen te ver gaat, onder meer omdat zij uit niet-bindende normen een bindende gedragsnorm afleidt en op die manier de grens tussen het toepassen en afdwingen van het recht en het uitvinden van nieuwe rechtsregels, wat een prerogatief van de politiek is, ver overschrijdt.

Dominique Blommaert

Brève histoire du droit européen du crédit à la consommation : évolutions et perspectives

WP 2022-01

EU regulation of consumer credit has evolved considerably in past decades. New developments in this branch of the law can be expected, with the ongoing discussion of a proposed new directive on consumer credit by EU lawmakers.  

In a new Working Paper FLI-member Dominique Blommaert and Prescillia Algrain discuss past and future trends in consumer credit law.

After an overview of the evolution of the EU legal framework towards consumer credit, the authors emphasize three significant trends : the clustering of EU litigation around issues related to the compliance of stricter national law with EU Law, movements in the legal scope of consumer credit and an enrichment of substantive law aimed at introducing consumer protection measures. 

For earlier papers visit our Archive.