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Koen Geens: “Extensive reforms of economic laws are well under way”

On January 16, Minister of Justice Koen Geens addressed AmCham Belgium members at our New Year Reception, hosted by AXA at their brand new offices on place du Trône/Troonplein. More than 120 guests attended, including representatives from the federal and regional governments, parliaments and administrations.

In his keynote speech, Minister Geens shared his vision and mission to make Belgium more attractive for business. The Minister and his cabinet have been working on several reforms to create an updated economic and legal framework to strengthen Belgium’s position as a hub for investments. The three main areas targeted by the reforms are insolvency law, business law and company law.

Insolvency law

A new chapter for insolvency law in Belgium enters into force on May 1, 2018. It will codify two existing laws and incorporate new and equally important features. It’s area of application will change considerably, with the introduction of a new concept of enterprises, interpreted more broadly. Another important element of this reform is the encouragement of ‘second chance entrepreneurship’. Until now, ‘failing’ entrepreneurs have been penalized and were not given the opportunity to start a new business.

Business Law

The Belgian Commercial Code dates back to 1808 and has been dismantled over the years. This reform aims to transfer all remaining provisions to the Code of Economic Law.  A new concept of ‘undertaking’ is introduced, which will include liberal professions, the non-profit sector and the agricultural sector. In that regard, the ‘Commercial Court is transformed into an ‘Enterprise Court’, which will recruit commercial court judges to reflect the new power of the court.

Company Law and Law of Associations

On an international level, countries are competing to offer the most attractive company form in order to attract investments. In light of this, and for the sake of simplification, the upcoming reform brings the number of company forms down to four: the partnership, the private limited company, the public limited company and the cooperative society. The introduction of the doctrine of registered office brings much-needed flexibility to attract foreign branches. All relevant provisions will be integrated in a single Code of Companies and Associations. 

The Brussels International Business Court

The current lack of a specialized top-level public court capable of settling cross-border commercial disputes in English has been a stumbling block to attract foreign companies. To address this need, the Brussels International Business Court (BIBC) was established. Minister Geens stressed that “given the role that Brussels plays and must continue to play, the presence of such a public court is crucial”, highlighting that you cannot develop a truly international business environment for companies in Belgium, without giving the interested parties access to a public court which is able to settle cross-border commercial disputes – in English.

Belgium’s attractiveness is not merely judged by tax rates, but also its economic laws, and AmCham Belgium applauds the Minister’s efforts to modernize Belgium’s Economic Law, improve the country’s appeal in international litigation and ultimately, to increase international investment and Belgium’s reputation as a good place to do business.