The European Court of Justice recently confirmed that the Belgian reorganisation framework infringes the EU Transfer of Undertakings Directive with regard to the transfer of personnel. This judgment looks set to have a significant impact on reorganisation proceedings, with parties more likely to be reluctant to organise a transfer of assets leading to bankruptcies and redundancies.
In an insolvency situation, the fate of ongoing contracts is something to be discussed. Such contracts are often closely linked to the essence of a company's business. For example, for (commercial) leases, a lessor's bankruptcy or a tenant's judicial reorganisation will probably result in discussions about the agreement, its (forced) execution and rental payments. If a company's activities are based on patent or software licences, the effect on these agreements will also be of crucial importance.
The European Court of Justice appears likely to rule that the Belgian reorganisation framework infringes the EU Transfer of Undertakings Directive with regard to the transfer of personnel. If the option to transfer only a portion of staff is no longer available in Belgian reorganisation proceedings, companies will have no choice but to formally file for bankruptcy, which is exactly the issue that the legislature and the labour unions had hoped to avoid when introducing this mechanism into Belgian law.
The former Bankruptcy Statute of 1997 included a principle that a natural person could be discharged of their remaining and outstanding debts – a so-called 'waiver' – at the moment of a bankruptcy's closure. The discharge's beneficial effects were extended to the bankrupt person's spouse. However, for bankruptcies that have happened since 1 May 2018, and so fall under the new legal framework, this situation has changed.
The legislature recently took steps to improve the follow-up monitoring of companies in financial difficulty and strengthen the fight against inactive companies. To determine whether companies are in financial difficulty, the courts gather information from various (digital) sources. However, the focus remains on preventive mechanisms – namely, identifying companies in financial difficulty and following up with court action.