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New Legal Subcommittee Determines its Priorities for 2018 and Beyond

Tom Swinnen, Executive Director M&A/Transaction Law, HVG Advocaten-Avocats

On Monday, January 22, 2018, the Legal Subcommittee, part of the wider Legal & Taxation Committee, had its first meeting, during which it determined its main objectives and the legal priorities for 2018 and beyond.

The Legal Subcommittee will monitor and share knowledge about significant legal developments in Belgium (and, subsidiarily, in the EU) and attempt to influence, in a constructive way, legislative and administrative decisions to promote the best interests of the US and international business community in Belgium.

The following priorities, relevant for US multinational corporations, were discussed:

  • GDPR – The entry into force of the General Data Protection Regulation is coming up soon and is without doubt the hottest topic on the agenda. It appears that some companies are already well prepared while others are yet to start.
  • Brexit – The impact of the UK leaving the European Union is high on the agenda as well. However, the consequences of Brexit for businesses inside and outside of the UK are not yet clear, resulting in little enthusiasm for taking actions so far.
  • New technologies – New technologies (e.g. artificial intelligence, blockchain, social media, big data…) are considered a game changer potentially reshaping the (legal) world companies operate in. Legal departments fear losing pace with these disruptive new technologies.
Further, a number of major anticipated legal developments affecting US and other international companies were discussed:
  • New Belgian Company Code – The upcoming new Belgian Company Code is expected to result in a major simplification and, hopefully, will increase Belgium’s attractiveness for foreign investors. Specific attention was drawn to the fact that, as promised by the Minister of Justice, the changes should be tax neutral.  A special working group in the Legal Subcommittee will follow up on this, as well as any impact resulting from the US Tax Reform.
  • Brussels International Business Court (BIBC) – The Draft Bill introducing an international commercial court operating in English in Brussels was applauded as well. The creation of an international jurisdiction meets the important need for Brussels, host to many international companies’ headquarters, to have a specialized state court, able to settle cross-border commercial disputes in English.

From a broader and mainly investor’s perspective, innovation definitely is considered to be one of the most important factors for US or other international companies considering to invest in Belgium. Innovation is not limited to strictly legal issues only, but also relates to taxation (incl. tax incentives), employment law, social security and immigration, as well as intellectual property. The Legal Subcommittee agreed that further attention will be given to emphasize Belgium’s unique position with respect to innovation.

Finally, for the sake of completeness, it is also worth mentioning the recent entry into force of the New Pledge Law, facilitating the taking of security over movable assets, as well as the upcoming entry into force of the New Insolvency Law. Although the first law introduced a significant change in the current legal system, and the second law substantially broadens the scope of the Insolvency Law, both developments are considered less relevant for US multinational corporations. Nevertheless, the ongoing codification and modernization of Belgian business law is considered an important step forward.

The Legal Subcommittee will meet on a quarterly basis. In case you would like to participate in future meetings and/or would like to stay informed, please contact the Legal & Taxation Committee’s Staff Liaison, Sue Wheeler, or the Legal Subcommittee’s Chair, Tom Swinnen.

Photo credit: flickr / fabonthemoon