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2018-05-doc1 19th IEEI Colloquium 16-18 May 2018 in Athens

From 16-18 May the 19th IEEI-Colloquium will be held in Athens, Greece. The International Exchange of Experiences between Insolvency experts (IEEI) has been a German Initiative from the Bundesstaat of Nord-Rhein Westphalen. Its goal is certainly expressed in the abbreviation IEEI. So far more than 30 colleagues from 16 countries all over the globe have registered. I was invited to speak about the report prof. Stephan Madaus and I delivered last September to the European Law Institute (ELI). We were able to present and discuss parts of our study at the IEEI conference in 2016 in Lisbon and 2017 in Chicago. On IEEI, see http://www.insolvenzrecht.jura.uni-koeln.de/16366.html?&L=1.
My presentation relates to the report ‘Rescue of Business in Insolvency Law’, consisting of 115 recommendations (explained on more than 375 pages) on a variety of themes affected by the rescue of financially distressed businesses. The Report’s ten chapters cover: (1) Actors and procedural design, (2) Financing a rescue, (3) Executory contracts, (4) Ranking of creditor claims; governance role of creditors, (5) Labour, benefit and pension issues, (6) Avoidance transactions in out-of-court workouts and pre-insolvency procedures and possible safe harbours, (7) Sales on a going-concern basis, (8) Rescue plan issues: procedure and structure; distributional issues, (9) Corporate group issues, and (10) Special arrangements for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) including natural persons (but not consumers). The Report also includes a glossary of terms and expressions commonly used in restructuring and insolvency matters. See: Wessels, Bob and Madaus, Stephan, Business Rescue in Insolvency Law - an Instrument of the European Law Institute (September 6, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3032309, or - alternatively - Wessels, Bob and Madaus, Stephan, Business Rescue in Insolvency Law - an Instrument of the European Law Institute (September 2017). Available at http://www.europeanlawinstitute.eu/fileadmin/user_upload/p_eli/Publications/Instrument_INSOLVENCY.pdf. To contact the reporters use for Stephan Madaus the address: stephan.madaus@jura.uni-halle.de, and for me: info@bobwessels.nl. Picture: Bob Wessels, Stephan Madaus and Gert-Jan Boon. See also http://www.bobwessels.nl/blog/2017-09-doc3-eli-business-rescue-report-published/

2018-04-doc3 Harmonising security rights in the EU?

The EU Insolvency Regulation (Recast) (848/2015) applies since June 2016 to 26 member states (all, except Denmark). In these states more than 100 different collective insolvency proceedings can be used, by natural persons or by companies. Some countries only provide for one such insolvency proceeding (Bulgaria, Croatia), in other countries two proceedings can be opened (Estonia) or three (The Netherlands, Finland, Sweden)), four (Spain, Germany), five (France, United Kingdom, Greece), six (Austria, Malta), seven (Italy), eight (Belgium) or even ten (!) (Ireland) are available. Categorising these proceedings requires, in addition to language skills, a solid understanding about these proceedings’ goals and requirements and the way they function in the respective general national law system (including its contract, company and labour laws). Evidently, the European Parliament’s call in 2011 for harmonisation of national corporate insolvency law has triggered more focused comparative studies. Insolvency law, however, has been regarded until recently as untouchable. In the field of national rules relating to restructuring and insolvency there is hardly any comparative tradition. In conversations the use of the H-word (for ‘harmonisation’) was a crudeness. It’s only since some seven years that in this area of law comparative research has been commenced and gradually has gained in depth, but the number of studies is still rather limited. The book of Gerard McCormack and Reinhard Bork (Eds.), Security Rights and the European Insolvency Regulation, Cambridge: Intersentia, 2017 (700 pages; ISBN: 9781780683171) The book at hand is a welcome addition to the still rather empty shelf.

The book is welcome too, as it does not focus on an insolvency technicality, but it goes right to the heart of the inherent conflicts in insolvency law, the place of security rights and their nearly sacrosanct position in relation to unsecured rights (many times these are the rights of ‘small’ business creditors). That’s the legal perspective. The economic reality is that security rights are of fundamental importance to the granting of credit. A security right for a creditor (e.g. a bank) generally lowers the cost for business to finance operations. The study, the results of which are presented in the book, assesses the concept of security rights according to the different European legal traditions. The book, furthermore, evaluates the appropriateness of the protection given to security rights in the light of the objective of the Insolvency Regulation to facilitate the more effective administration of cross-border insolvency cases as well as the position of these rights in the context of the basic principles of ensuring fairness between creditors.

The book is split in two parts. The first part contains four chapters with comparative analysis and the second part, covering two/third of the book, presents national reports providing answers to a questionnaire of 28 (!) questions. Surprisingly, as the title of the book does not disclose so, the analysis and the national reports also cover avoidance laws (faillissementspauliana, Insolvenzanfechtung, transaction avoidance, nullité), as the editors wish to cover advantages gained by creditors in the period immediately before formal insolvency proceedings are instituted. Indeed, it touches upon the area of potential unfairness to other creditors who may be forced into taking enforcement proceedings against the debtor. An avoidance action, however, is not limited to security rights and their meaning may be rather different within a restructuring taken place outside formal insolvency proceedings. The results of the study in the book augment to the very many suggestions and options presented in literature during the last decade. The attractiveness of the book lays in the theme of security rights.  

In the first part, the first chapter covers security rights under Article 5 of the original Insolvency Regulation (1346/2000) and the nearly similar Article 8 of the Recast. It is a fine piece of some 40 pages using cases and literature from around seven jurisdictions and it suggests options for reform also based on important soft laws, such as the UNCITRAL Legislative Guide and model laws related to secured transactions. Chapter 2 does the same for transaction avoidance, although the use of soft laws seems more limited here. Chapter 3 (‘Security rights, national laws and possible reforms’) brings into play the aforementioned national reports. It is noted here that the national reports date from around the midst of 2016. The editors do not take these reports themselves into account, rather develop on their basis a classification or an arrangement of legal families, resulting in four of these, the Germanic Legal System (Germany and Austria), the Common Law System (England and Ireland), the Roman Legal System (Spain, Italy and France) and the Central and Eastern European Systems (Hungary, Poland and Lithuania). This approach has at least three flaws. To have a view on the EU, it loses out on the Nordic, the South-East and the Low Countries region. Combining or mixing national laws into families many times does not take into account differences which may exist in such hardcore themes as security rights and transaction avoidance. By doing so the result necessarily ends in a rather abstract norm, insufficiently connected to the nitty gritty detail, always so important in creating and executing security rights or applying transaction rules, including its inherent rules of evidence. Thirdly, the mere fact of insolvency is the litmus test of any civil law system. The domestic civil law systems may in one way or the other belong to a family, the response to the incident of insolvency and how to allocate financial loses to the interested parties involved (secured creditors, unsecured creditors, the tax authorities) may well lead to another categorisation.

This 60-pages chapter also takes into account World Bank’s policy indicators in ‘getting credit’, soft laws on secured transactions and possible convergence between laws of the member states, more specifically the provisions on proprietary securities in the Draft academic European Common Frame of Reference (DCFR) on European private law. The editors have so much on their plate that they do not provide clear cut answers, rather develop analysis and evaluation of certain themes in the light of mainstream traditions.

This very broad comparative study includes analysis and evaluation of the laws on secured rights demonstrating rather divergent views across the EU regarding the extent to which it should be possible to create security rights over assets. It presents a broad array of options and solutions which might spark further thoughts and innovations. It deeply goes into the meaning of Article 5 of the EU Insolvency Regulation 1346/2000, now nearly similar Article 8 Recast. It analyses also the many differences countries have when defining a ‘right in rem’ and its effects. The full study may assist members states in enhancing their domestic laws or possible law reform. It should be read by representatives of the banking industry and economists, many times confusing insolvency with pure asset liquidation. In the academic world it will allow for discussion and circulation of ideas. A next step in the area of security rights and insolvency could be to discuss and formulate certain recommendations of principles in this field, as such principles will make the debate and the use of its results more precise. In this regard it is to be regretted that the editors’ views have not been presented (at least not explicitly, the book is from May 2016) and connected to the ‘predecessor’ of the November 2016 European Commission Proposal for preventive insolvency frameworks, the Recommendation on this topic from March 2014.

Any harmonisation confronts us with a decision on the content of such a harmonised rule and therefore with the necessity of developing a common understanding about the goals of such rules and therefore a European debate on insolvency, including restructuring, theory. Who would ever have thought insolvency would be enthusiastically welcomed? European law has an impact on cross-border business and it will have more so in the imminent future. The book is especially important in where it marks a shift in the debate from the question of the feasibility of further harmonisation of insolvency laws to the elaboration of proposals for possible harmonisations.  

This is the draft text of a book review, forthcoming in Common Market Law Review, Kluwer Law International, probably the June 2018 issue, by Professor em. Bob Wessels, University of Leiden

2018-04-doc1 Experimenteren met rechtspleging

Vorige week introduceerde Minister voor Rechtsbescherming, Dekker, voor consultatie een 'Experimentenwet rechtspleging' om via lagere regelgeving (amvb) te kunnen afwijken van een aantal wetten, zoals het Wetboek van Burgerlijke Rechtsvordering, de Wet RO, de Wet griffierechten burgerlijke zaken, de Wet op de rechtsbijstand en ook de Faillissementswet. Het wetsvoorstel dient ertoe een wettelijke grondslag te bieden om te experimenteren met innovatieve gerechtelijke procedures. Bij amvb zal bij wijze van experiment kunnen worden afgeweken van de genoemde wetgeving die tot kern heeft de de toegang tot en de rechtspraak door de burgerlijke rechter. Het spreek voor zich dat dit solide geregeld moet worden. De Faillissementswet (Fw) is in het experiment opgenomen onder andere met het oog op experimenten in het kader van de zogenoemde brede aanpak van de schuldenproblematiek, die ook de procesrechtelijke aspecten van deze wet raken. Dit was aangekondigd in het regeerakkoord (een schuldenrechter die alle zaken van een schuldenaar geconcentreerd behandelt) en misschien kan de minister de vragen meenemen die ik daarbij opwierp, zie http://www.bobwessels.nl/blog/2017-10-doc5-regeerakkoord-2017-2021-over-aanpak-schulden/
In de Experimentenwet rechtspleging worden als afwijkingen van de Fw ook genoemd:
- afwijkingen van Titel III Fw (schuldsaneringsregeling natuurlijke personen), zonder nadere specificatie;
- een landelijke kamer waarin een bepaalde categorie zaken geconcentreerd wordt behandeld door een team van rechters afkomstig uit de verschillende arrondissementen. Dit sluit aan bij de suggesties uit de praktijk (gedaan gedurende de consultatie over het voorontwerp voor een Wet homologatie onderhands akkoord (WHOA) om verzoeken voor homologatie van een akkoord (met gevolg dat het akkoord verbindend is voor alle bij het akkoord betrokken schuldeisers en aandeelhouders en dus ook voor degenen die niet met het akkoord hebben ingestemd) ter behandeling bij één gespecialiseerde rechtbank onder te brengen.
Vooralsnog kiest de minister er echter voor om op dit punt alle rechtbanken bevoegd te maken om over een dergelijk verzoek te oordelen. Mocht het aantal
van dit soort zaken beperkt blijken te zijn, dan is er zijns inziens ruimte om te experimenteren met een gespecialiseerde landelijke kamer, hetgeen natuurlijk een afwijking van de wettelijke regeling vergt.
Zelf heb ik, een jaar of 5 geleden, bepleit om geconcentreerde behandeling van grensoverschrijdende insolventiezaken (die buiten het bereik van de EU Insolventieverordening (herijking) vallen bij één kamer te concentreren.   
De experimenten die worden opgezet zijn van tijdelijke aard en worden geëvalueerd. Op basis van de uitkomst van de evaluatie zal worden besloten of het experiment aanleiding geeft tot definitieve aanpassing van de wetgeving. Door te experimenteren met innovatieve procedures kan in de praktijk worden onderzocht hoe de procesvoering voor de burgerlijke rechter, inclusief de regelgeving rond griffierechten en rechtsbijstand, kan worden verbeterd met het oog op de behoefte van rechtzoekende burgers en bedrijven aan meer eenvoud, snelheid, flexibiliteit en effectiviteit bij gerechtelijke procedures, aldus de minister, zie https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/actueel/nieuws/2018/04/20/experimenteerruimte-stimuleert-vernieuwingskracht-rechterlijke-macht.

2018-04-doc2 Pluraliteitsvereiste gehandhaafd; zwak beargumenteerd

HR 24 maart 2017, ECLI:NL:HR:2017:488 (Säkaphen GmbH/Carrecon-Piguillet B.V.) vast aan het pluraliteitsvereise. Ik stem daarmee in, maar hij gebruikt wel 2 zwakke argumenten, overwegend: 'In dit verband is mede van belang dat voornoemd doel [handhaving pluraliteit, Wess.] ook in het wetgevingsprogramma Herijking Faillissementsrecht tot uitgangspunt wordt genomen, en dat het pluraliteitsvereiste hierin niet ter discussie wordt gesteld. Dat de wetgever het pluraliteitsvereiste onderschrijft, blijkt ook uit de wetsgeschiedenis van het in 2012 ingevoerde art. 212ha Fw.’ Op eerste argument (wetgevingsprogramma Herijking Faillissementsrecht) is het nodige af te dingen. Het wetgevingsprogramma is in een zestal onderdelen uitgesplitst. Het pluraliteitsvereiste is een meer dan een eeuw oud principieel beginsel dat met het doel van het faillissement te maken heeft. Een discussie over doelstellingen van insolventiemaatregelen heeft wel plaatsgevonden c.q. vindt plaats naar aanleiding van de voorstellen voor wetgeving inzake continuïteit van ondernemingen, zij vindt echter niet plaats in samenhang met doelstellingen van andere insolventiemaatregelen (surseance, schuldsaneringsregeling). Coherentie in de gehele systematiek van de insolventiewetgeving, waarom nagenoeg eensluidend door de literatuur wordt verzocht, zou tot een herwaardering (waaronder ook expliciete vastlegging in de wet) van het pluraliteitsvereiste kunnen leiden. Ook  het tweede argument (wetsgeschiedenis van het in 2012 ingevoerde art. 212ha Fw) is zwak. In de door de A-G in haar conclusie aangehaalde toelichting bij de invoering van art. 212ha (MvT, Kamerstukken II, 33 059, nr. 3) komt het woord ‘pluraliteit’ of ‘pluraliteitsvereiste’ niet voor. In deze MvT geeft de wetgever er evenmin blijk van te hebben nagedacht over pluraliteit. Dat was ook niet nodig omdat art. 212ha (i) onderdeel uitmaakt van een geheel eigen stelsel, namelijk het faillissement van een bank, (ii) de bepaling de uitdrukking is van bijzondere interventiewetgeving ten aanzien van financiële ondernemingen, (iii) waarbij de faillissements-test ten aanzien van de schuldenaar (een bank) ook een andere is, en (iv) ook de summierlijke toets afwijkt van die bij een gewoon faillissement. Hoe dit zij, de praktijk zal voorlopig met pluraliteit moeten leven.

2018-03-doc4 Insolvency Law and Corporate Restrcuturing Yearbook 2018

Once again, I think for the 11th time, the German Schultze & Braun's law firm published its Insolvency Law and Corporate Restructuring Yearbook, now Yearbook 2018. It is free downloadable via www.schubra.de/yearbook. There are also German and French versions. The Yearbook touches upon interesting topics, such as 'Danish Insolvency Law: Recent developments and international aspects' from prof. Ulrik Rammeskow Bang-Pedersen. It is not easy to find information re Danish international insolvency law (opted out of the Insolvency Regulation), so this piece is welcome. Other topics, written by partners and others of the firm's Cross-border team, include the future of corporate insolvency tourism to London (after Brexit), multinational group insolvency in Europe and beyond, gains of restructuring and remarks regarding preventive restructuring proceedings, an overview of consumer insolvency proceedings and proceedings relating to the estate of a deceased (which in the Netherlands is not an insolvency proceeding rather a proceeding under the laws of inheritence). Thus, some recent insolvency information, as support for practice or study.