In April 2013, two further Bills containing additional parts of the new Commercial Code were submitted to the Chamber of Representatives. Moreover, the first parts of the new Commercial Code have been adopted by Parliament and published in the Official Journal (Belgisch Staatsblad/Moniteur belge). The new Commercial Code will ultimately include a total of 17 Books, aimed at codifying and modernising the present heterogeneous, and sometimes contradictory, commercial legislation (See, VBB on Belgian Business Law, Volume 2012, No. 9, p. 3 and No. 12, p. 2 and Volume 2013, No. 3, p. 17, available at www.vbb.com).
Bill to insert Book III in new Commercial Code
On 8 April 2013, a Bill to insert a Book III entitled “Freedom of establishment, freedom to provide services and general obligations of undertakings” in the new Commercial Code was submitted to the Chamber of Representatives (Wetsontwerp van 8 april 2013 houdende invoeging van Boek III “Vrijheid van vestiging, dienstverlening en algemene verplichtingen van de ondernemingen”, in het Wetboek van economisch recht en houdende invoeging van de definities eigen aan boek III en van de rechtshandhavingsbepalingen eigen aan boek III, in boeken I en XV van het Wetboek van economisch recht/Proposition de loi du 8 avril 2013 portant insertion du Livre III “Liberté d’établissement, de prestation de service et obligations générales des entreprises”, dans le Code de droit économique et portant insertion des définitions propres au livre III et des dispositions d’application de la loi propres au livre III, dans les livres I et XV du Code de droit économique – the “Bill Book III”). In addition to inserting Book III in the new Commercial Code, Bill Book III will also insert definitions and law enforcement provisions that are specific to Book III in Books I and XV of the new Commercial Code.
Bill Book III introduces no major changes to Belgian commercial law. It largely compiles and structures the following existing rules:
- the Law of 26 March 2010 relating to services (Dienstenwet van 26 maart 2010/Loi sur les services du 26 mars 2010), which partially implemented Directive 2006/123/EC of 12 December 2006 on services in the internal market into Belgian law (“Directive 2006/123/EC”);
- various specific laws in relation to transparency, information and non-discrimination, as introduced in Belgian law to implement Directive 2006/123/EC;
- the Law of 16 January 2003 regarding the establishment of the Central Commercial Registry, the modernisation of the trade registry, the establishment of authorised registration offices and containing miscellaneous provisions (Wet van 16 januari 2003 tot oprichting van een Kruispuntbank van Ondernemingen, tot modernisering van het handelsregister, tot oprichting van erkende ondernemingsloketten en houdende diverse bepalingen/Loi du 16 janvier 2003 portant création d'une Banque-Carrefour des Entreprises, modernisation du registre de commerce, création de guichets-entreprises agréés et portant diverses dispositions);
- the Law of 17 July 1975 on the accountancy of companies (Wet van 17 juli 1975 met betrekking tot de boekhouding van de ondernemingen/Loi du 17 juillet 1975 relative à la comptabilité des enterprises).
In addition, Bill Book III introduces some cosmetic changes which mostly involve linguistic issues or aim to ensure consistency of existing definitions.
Bill to insert Title 2 in Book XII in new Commercial Code
On 15 April 2013, a Bill was submitted to the Chamber of Representatives aimed at amending the legislation in relation to the electronic economy (Wetsvoorstel van 15 april 2013 tot wijziging van de wetgeving wat de invoering van het recht van de elektronische economie betreft/Proposition de loi du 15 avril 2013 modifiant la legislation en ce qui concerne l’instauration du droit de l’économie électronique – the “Electronic Economy Bill”). The Electronic Economy Bill will insert a Title 2 in Book XII of the new Commercial Code dealing with the electronic economy. Further, it will also introduce definitions and law enforcement provisions that are specific to this new section of Book XII in Books I and XV of the new Commercial Code.
The Electronic Economy Bill pursues two objectives. First, it intends to introduce in the new Commercial Code an unamended version of the Law of 9 July 2001 establishing certain rules in relation to the legal framework for electronic signatures and certification services (Wet van 9 juli 2001 houdende vaststelling van bepaalde regels in verband met het juridisch kader voor elektronische handtekeningen en certificatiediensten/Loi du 9 juillet 2001 fixant certaines règles relatives au cadre juridique pour les signatures électroniques et les services de certification – the “Electronic Signature and Certification Law”).
Second, the Electronic Economy Bill will create new rules in relation to (i) electronic archiving; (ii) electronic registered letters; and (iii) electronic time registration (elektronische tijdsregistratie/horodatage électronique).
(i) Electronic archiving: the current rules on evidence provide that only the original paper version of a document has the highest evidentiary value. In order to enable the electronic archiving of paper documents without keeping a paper copy, the Electronic Economy Bill amends these rules, bringing the legislation up to date with the current practice of keeping only an electronic copy of important documents. There will be two types of archiving:
- Qualified archiving: electronic documents that are archived by qualified companies will be presumed to be identical to the original paper document, and will have the same evidentiary value. In order to be qualified, archiving companies will have to comply with specific regulations and register themselves with a governmental regulating body.
- Non-qualified archiving: electronic documents that are not archived by qualified companies will not be presumed to be identical to the original paper document. However, if certain – as yet unspecified – criteria regarding the legibility, reliability and durability of the document are satisfied, the archived document will benefit from a higher evidentiary value than a document which does not meet these criteria.
(ii) Electronic registered letters: currently, when Belgian law requires that a registered letter be sent, this must be in a paper format. The Electronic Economy Bill intends to allow for the use of electronic registered letters. This service will be provided by certified companies that will have to comply with specific requirements.
(iii) Electronic time registration: the Electronic Economy Bill also provides for a system of electronic time registration of data, independent of the two services mentioned above. As with the system of electronic archiving, there will be a system of qualified electronic time registration and a system of non-qualified electronic time registration. Companies planning to offer services of qualified electronic time registration will have to comply with the same set of rules as companies providing qualified archiving services.
Publication of Book VIII of new Commercial Code
On 29 March 2013, the Law of 28 February 2013 introducing the new Commercial Code was published in the Official Journal (Wet van 28 februari 2013 tot invoering van het Wetboek van economisch recht/Loi du 28 février 2013 introduisant le Code de droit économique – the “Law of 28 February 2013”). The Law of 28 February 2013 is the first law adopted and published in view of establishing the new Commercial Code.
The Law of 28 February 2013 contains Book VIII of the new Commercial Code, which compiles several existing laws regarding the quality of products and services into one volume (See, VBB on Belgian Business Law, Volume 2012, No. 12, p. 2, available at www.vbb.com). The Law of 28 February 2013 also introduces definitions that are specific to Book VIII in Book I of the new Commercial Code. Further, it sets forth the general principles of the new Commercial Code in Book II.
Current status of various Books of new Commercial Code
Here follows an overview of the current status of the various Books making up the new Commercial Code.
(i) The following Books have been published in the Official Journal:
- Books IV and V containing new competition and price control rules, which were published in the Official Journal on 26 April 2013 (See below).
- Book VIII, which, as noted, contains rules on the quality of products and services (See, VBB on Belgian Business Law, Volume 2012, No. 12, p. 2, available at www.vbb.com) .
(ii) The following Book has been adopted by Parliament but has not yet published in the Official Journal:
- Book IX which contains rules on the safety of products and services (Wetsontwerp van 18 januari 2013 houdende invoeging van boek IX. “Veiligheid van producten en diensten” in het Wetboek van economisch recht en houdende invoeging van de definities eigen aan boek IX in boek I van het Wetboek van economisch recht/Projet de loi portant insertion du livre IX. “Sécurité des produits et des services” dans le Code de droit économique et portant insertion des définitions propres au livre IX dans le livre Ier du Code de droit économique) (See, VBB on Belgian Business Law, Volume 2012, No. 9, p. 3, available at www.vbb.com).
(iii) The following Books are currently pending before Parliament:
- Book III which concerns the freedom of establishment, the freedom to provide services and sets forth general obligations of undertakings (See above, Bill Book III).
- Book XII, Title 2 which relates to the electronic economy (See above, Electronic Economy Bill).
(iv) The following Books have not yet been submitted to Parliament:
Book VI concerning market practices and consumer protection, which was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 14 March 2013 (See, VBB on Belgian Business Law, Volume 2013, No. 3, p. 17, available at www.vbb.com).
- Book VII regarding the protection of the consumer in the financial sector.
- Book X regarding particular economic agreements.
- Book XI regarding intellectual property.
- Book XIII regarding consultation mechanisms.
- Book XIV regarding measures for crisis management.
- Book XVI regarding the extrajudicial resolution of consumer disputes.
- Book XVII regarding special legal procedures (injunction proceedings and collective recovery proceedings).
Books I (definitions), II (general principles) and XV (enforcement) of the new Commercial Code are adopted together with the substantive Books dealing with specific topics.
The date of entry into force of the new Commercial Code is to be determined by Royal Decree.