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Toutefois, vous pouvez retrouver l’expertise professionnelle en droit des affaires français, européen et international de son auteur, avocat, sur https://blatzavocat.com.
Ce blog n’est plus mis à jour.
Toutefois, vous pouvez retrouver l’expertise professionnelle en droit des affaires français, européen et international de son auteur, avocat, sur https://blatzavocat.com.
The Directive 2017/828 of 17 May 2017: the enhancement of the Directive 2007/36 to encourage shareholder long-term engagement
The 11th July 2007, the Directive 2007/36 on the exercise of rights of shareholders in listed companies has been adopted. [i]
This Directive has been adopted as the result of a common expression of the Parliament and the Commission to strengthen the rights of the shareholders, through the extension of transparency, the voting rights attached to proxies, the participation to general meetings through electronic means and to ensure the effectiveness of cross-border voting.[ii]
Thus, the Directive aims to introduce provisions to protect investors, to promote the smooth and effective exercise of shareholder rights attached to voting shares as minimum standards for Member States.[iii]
The 17th May 2017, a directive amending the Directive of 2007 has been adopted in order to encourage shareholder long-term engagement, the Directive 2017/828.[iv]
The provisions of the Directive 2017/828 must enter in force with the implementation of the Directive by Member States by 10 June 2019.[v]
The Directive 2017/828 facilitates the exercise of SH’s rights[vi], strengthens the non-discrimination principle between shareholders[vii] and ensures transparency in the activities of the intermediaries[viii], proxy advisors[ix], institutional investors[x] and asset managers[xi].
Furthermore, the Directive 2017/828 strengthens the right of shareholders to decide directors’ remuneration.[xii]
More generally and among its goals, the Directive 2017/828 intends to tackle issues such as excessive short-term risks took by managers and the related information of shareholders and the inadequate level of monitoring investee companies by institutional investors and asset managers.[xv]
Moreover, the Directive 2017/828 also tackles the issues of complex chains of intermediaries and of the inability for companies in many cases to identify their shareholders.[xvi]
Thus, the Directive 2017/828 aims to enhance the level of protection of shareholders, companies and investors in amending the current provisions and in adding new provisions to the Directive 2007/36.
The substance of the Directives
The provisions of the Directive 2007/36
The provisions of the Directive 2007/36 are focused on the rights of the shareholders regarding participation to the general meeting and voting procedures in listed companies.
Every relevant provisions of the Directive are subject to the principle of equal treatment between shareholders, in particular regarding the participation and the exercise of voting rights in the general meeting[xvii].
More particularly, the Directive establishes provisions concerning the convocation of the general meeting (i), the participation to the general meeting (ii), the voting procedures (iii) and the proxy regulation (iv).
(i) The convocation of the general meeting
The convocation of the general meeting must be issued no later than 21 days before the day of the meeting[xviii].
Member States may provide that, where a company allows shareholders to vote by electronic means, the general meeting can decide that the convocation to a general meeting, which is not an annual general meeting, must be issued no later than 14 days before the day of the meeting[xix].
In case of second or subsequent convocation issued for a lack of quorum, the convocation must be issued no later than 10 days before the day of the meeting if the first convocation has been issued no later than 21 days or 14 days and if no new item has been added[xx].
The convocation must be issued in a fast access and non-discriminatory manner which may not be restricted by a Member State to media established on the territory of the Member State[xxi].
The company cannot charge any specific costs if the convocation is issued according to the provisions of the Directive[xxii].
The convocation must indicate[xxiii]:
– the place, the date and the agenda proposed for the general meeting[xxiv];
– clearly and precisely the procedures to participate and to cast a vote in the general meeting[xxv], including the rights available for shareholders and deadlines to exercise these rights[xxvi], a form and the procedure for voting by proxy[xxvii] and the procedure if applicable for casting votes by correspondence or by electronic means[xxviii];
– the date from which shareholders must own the shares to be able to exercise the rights attached to these shares to participate and to vote in the general meeting[xxix];
– where the full documents and draft resolutions may be obtained[xxx];
– the address of the website on which relevant information is available[xxxi].
Besides, for at least 21 days before the general meeting, the company must make available for shareholders on its website the following information[xxxii]:
– the convocation[xxxiii];
– the total number of shares and voting rights at the date of the convocation[xxxiv];
– the documents to be submitted to the general meeting[xxxv];
– a draft resolution or in absence of resolution a comment from a competent body for each item of the agenda[xxxvi];
– forms used to vote by proxy and to vote by correspondence[xxxvii].
If documents cannot be made available on the website, the website must provide information regarding the way to obtain the documents on paper, free of charge.[xxxviii]
Moreover, the period is shortened each time the period of convocation is less than 21 days, for a number of days equal to the reduced number of days provided for the relevant period of convocation.[xxxix]
Shareholders must have the right to put an item on the agenda of the general meeting accompanied with a justification or with a draft resolution to be adopted in the general meeting.[xl]
Furthermore, shareholders must have the right to table draft resolutions for items included or to be included on the agenda of the general meeting.[xli]
Member States may restrict the right to put an item on the agenda of the annual general meeting, as long as shareholders may require the company to call a general meeting with an agenda including their items.[xlii]
Member States may provide that those rights are exercised in writing, either by postal services or electronic means.[xliii]
Member States may also limit the right to put an item or to submit a draft to shareholders holding a minimum stake in the company, which should not exceed 5 % of the share capital.[xliv]
The deadline to exercise the right to put items on the agenda or to table draft resolutions must be set by Member States.[xlv]
Member States must transmit any agenda modified with additional items sufficiently in advance of the record date, which is the date on which the company determines the number of shares held by shareholders, or sufficiently in advance to allow shareholders to cast their vote by correspondence or to appoint a proxy.[xlvi]
The rights of a shareholder to sell or to transfer his shares during the period between the record date and the general meeting cannot be subject to any restrictions different from restrictions applicable at other times.[xlvii]
The rights of a shareholder must be determined with respect to the shares held by the shareholder at the record date, which is a specified date prior to the general meeting[xlviii].
The record date may not be applicable to companies that are able to identify the names and addresses of their shareholders from a current register of shareholders on the day of the general meeting[xlix].
A single record date applies to all companies of a Member State.[l]
A record date may be set for companies that have issued bearer shares and another one for companies that have issued registered shares, as long as that there is a single record date for a company which have issued both types of shares.[li]
The record date cannot lie more than 30 days before the general meeting. [lii]
At least 8 days must elapse between the latest permissible date for the convocation of the general meeting and the record date (those two dates are not included in the calculation). [liii]
In case of second or subsequent convocation, at least 6 days must elapse between the latest permissible date for the second or subsequent convocation and the record date (those two dates are not included in the calculation). [liv]
(ii) The participation to the general meeting
The Directive provides that Member States must allow companies to offer participation to the general meeting by electronic means, in particular in the three following forms[lv]:
– real-time transmission of the general meeting[lvi];
– real-time two-way communication, allowing shareholders to address the general meeting from a remote location[lvii];
– a voting mechanism whether before or during the general meeting without the need to appoint a proxy[lviii].
The use of electronic means in such a way may be subject to constraints only to ensure in a proportionate way the identification of the shareholders and the security of the communication.[lix]
Every shareholder has the right to ask questions regarding items on the agenda of the general meeting and the company must answer the questions of the shareholder.[lx]
The right to ask questions and the obligation to answer them may only be restricted by Member States for the following purposes:
– the identification of shareholders;
– the good order of the general meeting;
– the protection of confidentiality;
– the protection of business interests of companies. [lxi]
Member States may provide that a question no longer requires an answer where the relevant information is available on the website of the company in the adequate format.[lxii]
The rights of shareholders to participate and to vote in a general meeting cannot be subject to the requirement of shares deposit or transfer of shares or share registration in the name of another legal or natural person.[lxiii]
(iii) The voting procedures
Member States must allow companies to offer the possibility to shareholders to vote by correspondence in advance of the general meeting.
Voting by correspondence should be subject to constraints only to ensure in a proportionate way the identification of shareholders.[lxiv]
If a shareholder acts in the course of a business on behalf of another natural or legal person, the client, the exercise of voting rights may only be subject to the requirement of disclosure to the company of a list composed of the identity of each client and the number of shares voted on his behalf.[lxv]
Further requirements imposed by law must not go beyond the necessity to identify the client and the possibility of verifying the content of voting instructions, in a proportionate way.[lxvi]
A shareholder must be allowed to cast distinct votes depending to which shares righting votes are attached when the shareholder acts on behalf of his clients.[lxvii]
If a regulation limits the number of proxy holders for one shareholder, this limitation cannot prevent a shareholder to grant a proxy to each of his clients.[lxviii]
A company must establish for each resolution:
– the number of shares for which votes have been validly cast;
– the proportion of capital represented by those votes;
– the total number of votes validly cast;
– the number of votes cast in favor of and against each resolution;
– the number of abstention if applicable.[lxix]
Member States may, if no shareholder requests a full account of the voting, provide that companies may establish the voting results only to the extent required to ensure the necessary majority is reached for each resolution.[lxx]
The results of the vote must be published on the website of the company no later than 15 days after the general meeting.[lxxi]
(iv) Proxy regulation
A shareholder has the right to appoint any other natural or legal person to attend and vote at a general meeting in his name as a proxy holder.
The proxy holder enjoys the same rights to speak and ask questions in the general meeting as would be entitled any other representative of the shareholder. [lxxii]
Legal capacity is the only requirement permitted to restrict the eligibility of persons to be appointed as proxy holders.[lxxiii]
The proxy holder appointment may be limited to a single meeting or to meetings held during a specific period.[lxxiv]
Member States may limit the number of persons whom a shareholder may appoint as proxy holder for one general meeting.
Such limitation does not prevent a shareholder, if the shareholder holds shares in more than one securities account, to appoint a separate proxy holder for each securities account for one general meeting. In this latest case, the rule prohibiting casting different votes in respect for shares held by one and the same shareholder is still applying.[lxxv]
Companies cannot restrict the exercise of the rights of a shareholder through proxy holders for any other purpose than to address potential conflicts of interest between the proxy holder and the shareholder. Restrictions can only consist in the following requirements:[lxxvi]
– disclosure of certain specified facts in order to assess any risk of pursuing interests other than the interests of the shareholder[lxxvii];
– exclusion of voting rights in absence of specific voting instructions for each resolution[lxxviii];
– exclusion of the transfer of the proxy to another person (members of administrative or management body and employees are not concerned by the exclusion)[lxxix];
A conflict of interest may arise in particular where the proxy holder:
– is a shareholder of the company[lxxx];
– is a member of the administrative, management or supervisory body of the company (or of a controlling shareholder or controlled entity)[lxxxi];
– is an employee or an auditor of the company (or of a controlling shareholder or of a controlled entity)[lxxxii];
– has a family relationship with a natural person referred to in this paragraph[lxxxiii].
The proxy holder must vote in accordance with the instruction issued by the shareholder.[lxxxiv]
Member States may require from proxy to keep records of voting instructions for a defined minimum period and to answer requests in order to confirm that the voting instructions have been carrying out.[lxxxv]
There is no limitation as to the number of shareholders represented by one proxy holder, that must be able to cast votes for a certain shareholder differently from votes cast for another shareholder.[lxxxvi]
Member States must allow the appointment of a proxy holder by electronic means and allow the notification of this appointment by electronic means.[lxxxvii]
The appointment and the notification can only be made in writing. [lxxxviii]
Any other formal requirement must be imposed in a proportionate way by Member States only to ensure the identification of the shareholder and of the proxy holder and to ensure the possibility of verifying the content of voting instructions.[lxxxix]
These provisions are applicable for the revocation mutatis mutandis.[xc]
The provisions of the Directive 2007/36 remain in force. However, the Directive 2017/828 establishes significant additional provisions and enlarges the scope of application of the regulation to encourage the long-term shareholder engagement.
The provisions of the Directive 2017/828
The Directive 2017/828 establishes, as provided in the article 1 of the Directive 2017/36 as amended by the Directive 2017/828, specific requirements in order to encourage shareholder engagement, in particular in the long term.[xci]
The Directive provides in particular provisions regarding the identification of shareholders (i), the transmission of information from the company to shareholders and from shareholders to the company (ii), the facilitation of the exercise of the rights of the shareholders to vote and to participate in general meetings (iii), the non-discrimination duty of intermediaries (iv), the engagement policy and transparency of institutional investors and asset managers (v), transparency duties of proxy advisors (vi), the remuneration report (vii), the approval of related party transactions (viii).
(i) The identification of shareholders
Companies have the right to identify their shareholders. Member States may provide that the identification of shareholders may be requested only for shareholders holding more than a certain percentage of shares or voting rights, which may not be lower than 0.5 % of shares or voting rights.[xcii]
The intermediaries have to communicate without delay to the company the information regarding shareholder identity.[xciii]
In a chain of intermediaries, the request of information must be transmitted between intermediaries without delay. The intermediary that has the information regarding the shareholder identity must transmit the relevant information to the company.[xciv]
The intermediary must also transmit without delay the identity of the next intermediary in the chain of intermediaries to the company at its request.[xcv]
Member States may allow companies to collect information through central securities depository.[xcvi]
The personal data of shareholders transmitted to the company or to intermediaries must not be stored for a period longer than 12 months after the company or intermediaries have become aware that the person concerned has ceased to be a shareholder[xcvii]. Legal persons have a right of rectification of incomplete or inaccurate information regarding their shareholder identity[xcviii].
This provision is without prejudice to any longer storage period provided by any sector-specific regulation of the European Union[xcix].
(ii) The transmission of information from the company to shareholders and from shareholders to the company regarding the exercise of the rights of the shareholders
The intermediaries are required to transmit, from the company to the shareholder, the following information[c]:
– the information required from the company to enable the shareholder to exercise its rights and which is directed to all shareholders in shares of that class[ci];
– if this information is available on the website of the company, a notice indicating where the information may be found on the website of the company[cii].
Companies must provide intermediaries with the same information, in a standardized and timely manner.[ciii]
Companies are however not required to provide the information to intermediaries where companies send that information directly to all their shareholders[civ].
Intermediaries must transmit to the company information received from shareholders related to the exercise of the rights attached to their shares, without delay and according to their instructions.[cv]
In a chain of intermediaries, the information must be transmitted between intermediaries without delay unless the information can be directly transmitted to the company or to the shareholder.[cvi]
(iii) The facilitation of the exercise of the rights of shareholders to vote and to participate in general meetings
Member States must ensure that intermediaries facilitate the exercise of the rights of shareholders including the right to participate and the right to vote in general meetings, which include at least one of the following[cvii]:
– the intermediary makes the necessary arrangements for the shareholder to allow him to exercise himself his rights[cviii];
– the intermediary exercises the rights on the behalf of the shareholder, upon the explicit authorization and instruction of the shareholder and for the shareholder’s benefit[cix].
In case of a vote casted electronically, an electronic confirmation of receipt of the vote must be sent to the person that have casted the vote.[cx]
Shareholders must be able to get a confirmation that their votes have been validly recorded and counted by the company, on their request, unless that information is already available to them.
A deadline to request such a confirmation may be established, and cannot be longer than 3 months from the date of the vote.[cxi]
If the intermediary receives the confirmation, he must transmit the confirmation to the relevant shareholder without delay. In case of a chain of intermediaries, the confirmation must be transmitted between intermediaries without delay unless the confirmation can be transmitted directly to the relevant shareholder.[cxii]
(iv) The non-discrimination duty of intermediaries
The intermediaries must disclose publicly any applicable charges for services provided for under the provisions of the Directive 2017/828, separately for each service.[cxiii]
The costs must be non-discriminatory and proportionate.
Any differences of charges between domestic and cross-border exercise of rights must be permitted only where duly justified.[cxiv]
This duty of non-discrimination and proportionality is also applicable to intermediaries which have neither their registered office nor their head office in the Union.[cxv]
(v) The engagement policy and transparency of institutional investors and asset managers
The Directive imposes specific rules upon institutional investors and asset managers.
The Directive defines the institutional investor either as an undertaking carrying out activities of life assurance and of reinsurance according to the definition provided by the Directive 2009/138 or as an institution for occupation retirement provision failing within the scope of Directive 2016/2341.[cxvi]
The Directive defines the asset manager as an investment firm that provides portfolio management services to investors as defined by the Directive 2014/65, an AIFM as defined by the Directive 2011/61 that does not benefit from an exemption according to the same Directive or an investment company authorized in accordance with Directive 2009/65.[cxvii]
Institutional investors and asset managers must establish and publicly disclose an engagement policy that describes how they integrate shareholder engagement in their investment strategy.
The engagement policy must describe how they:
– monitor investee companies on relevant matters including strategy, financial and non-financial performance and risk, capital structure, social and environmental impact and corporate governance;
– conduct dialogues with investee companies;
– exercise voting rights and other rights attached to shares;
– cooperate with other shareholders;
– communicate with relevant stakeholders of the investee companies;
– manage actual and potential conflicts of interest in relation to their engagement.[cxviii]
Institutional investors and asset managers must publicly disclose on an annual basis how their engagement policy has been implemented including:
– a general description of voting behavior;
– an explanation of the most significant votes;
– an explanation of the potential use of the services of proxy advisors;
– an explanation of their votes in general meetings of companies in which they hold shares.
Such disclosure may exclude votes that are insignificant due to the subject matter of the vote or the number of shares held in the company.[cxix]
The information must be published free of charge on the website of the company. Member States may allow companies to publish the information by other means easily accessible online and free of charge.[cxx]
Rules regarding conflicts of interest applicable to institutional investors and asset managers established by the Directives 2011/61, 2009/65 and Directive 2014/65 are applicable to the activities of engagement.[cxxi]
Institutional investors must publicly disclose how the main elements of their equity investment strategy are consistent with the profile and duration of their liabilities, in particular long-term liabilities, and how they contribute to the medium to long-term performance of their assets.[cxxii]
Where an asset manager invests on behalf of an institutional investor, the institutional investor must publicly disclose the following information regarding its arrangement with the asset manager[cxxiii]:
– how the arrangement with the asset manager incentivizes the asset manager to align its investment strategy with the strategy of the institutional investor[cxxiv];
– how the arrangement incentivizes to make investment decisions based on medium and long-term performance of investee companies and to improve their performance in the medium to long-term[cxxv];
– how the method and time horizon of the evaluation of the asset managers’ performance and remuneration are in line with the strategy of the institutional investor and take long-term performance into account[cxxvi];
– how the institutional investor defines a targeted portfolio turnover and monitors portfolio turnover costs incurred by the asset manager[cxxvii];
– the duration of the arrangement with the asset manager[cxxviii].
The institutional investor must give a clear and reasoned explanation why one or more information is not contained in the public disclosure if it is the case.[cxxix]
The information must be available, free of charge, on the website of the institutional investor and must be updated on an annual basis. Member States may allow the delivery of the information through other means that are easily accessible online and free of charge.[cxxx]
Asset managers must disclose, on an annual basis, to the institutional investor, their investment strategy and its implementation including reporting on:
– the key material medium to long-term risks associated with the investments;
– portfolio composition, turnover and turnover costs;
– the use of proxy advisors and policy on securities lending for the purpose of the engagement activities. [cxxxi]
Such disclosure must also include information about investment decisions based on the evaluation of medium to long-term performance of the investee company and information about conflicts of interest that may have arisen in connection with the engagements activities.[cxxxii]
If the information is already publicly available, the asset manager does not need to provide the information to the institutional investor directly.[cxxxiii]
Where a single asset manager manages assets for several investors belonging to the same fund, the asset manager must disclose the information to all investors, at least upon request.
(vi) Transparency duties of proxy advisors
The Directive defines the proxy advisor as a legal person that analyses on a professional and commercial basis, the corporate disclosure and other information of listed companies with a view to inform investors regarding their voting decisions by providing research, advice or voting recommendations in relation with the exercise of voting rights.[cxxxiv]
Proxy advisors must publicly disclose reference to a code of conduct. [cxxxv] The information must be publicly available on the website of proxy advisors, be free of charge, and be updated on an annual basis.[cxxxvi]
In case of non-application of the code of conduct, proxy advisors must provide a clear and reasoned explanation why they have departed from the code of conduct.[cxxxvii]
Proxy advisors must publicly disclose on an annual basis the following information[cxxxviii]:
– essential features of the methodologies and models applied[cxxxix];
– main information sources used[cxl];
– procedures put in place to ensure the quality of the research, advice and voting recommendations and of the qualifications of the staff involved[cxli];
– how they take in account national market, legal, regulatory and company-specific conditions[cxlii];
– essential features of the voting policies[cxliii];
– potential dialogues with companies which are the object of the research, advice and voting recommendations and their stakeholders[cxliv];
– the policy of prevention and management of potential conflicts of interest put in place by the proxy advisor[cxlv].
The information must be kept available free of charge on the website of the proxy advisor at least 3 years from the date of publication.[cxlvi]
Proxy advisors have to identify and to disclose to their clients without delay any actual or potential conflicts of interest that may influence their activities for their clients.[cxlvii]
(vii) The remuneration report
Companies must establish a remuneration policy as regards directors. Shareholders have the right to vote on the remuneration policy of directors at the general meeting.[cxlviii]
The vote on the remuneration policy at the general meeting is binding for the company and the company must pay the remuneration to its directors in accordance with the remuneration policy.[cxlix]
If no remuneration policy has been adopted and if the general meeting does not approve the new policy proposed, a revised policy must be submitted for approval at the following general meeting. The remuneration of directors is paid according to the existing practices.[cl]
If a remuneration policy has been adopted but the general meeting does not approve the proposed new policy, a revised policy must be submitted for approval at the following general meeting. The remuneration of directors is paid according the existing approved policy.[cli]
Member States may provide that the vote at the general meeting on the remuneration policy is advisory. In that case, the company may only pay remuneration to directors in accordance with a remuneration policy that has been submitted to a vote at the general meeting. In case of rejection of the proposed remuneration policy, the company must submit a revised policy to the vote of shareholders at the next general meeting.[clii]
Member States may allow companies to depart from the remuneration policy but only in the following limited situations:
– the necessity to serve the long-term interests and sustainability of the company;
– the necessity to assure the viability of the company. [cliii]
A remuneration policy must be submitted to a vote by the general meeting at every material change and at least every four years.[cliv]
The remuneration policy must contribute to the business strategy, long-term interests and sustainability of the company.
The remuneration policy must clearly and understandably describe the different components of fixed and variable remuneration, including bonuses and other benefits for directors.[clv]
The remuneration policy must expose how the pay and employment conditions of other employees have been taken in account.[clvi]
If a variable remuneration is awarded, the company must state the criteria for the award of the remuneration, including financial and non-financial performance and corporate social responsibility criteria.[clvii]
If a shared-based remuneration is awarded, the remuneration policy must specify vesting periods and if applicable retention of shares after vesting.[clviii]
Furthermore, the remuneration policy must state the duration of contracts and arrangements with directors, the notice periods applicable, the characteristics of supplementary pension or early retirement schemes and the terms of termination and payments linked to termination.[clix]
Finally, the remuneration policy must explain the decision-making process followed for the determination of the remuneration policy, including process to avoid conflicts of interests and the role of the remuneration committee.
In case of revision of the policy, the revised policy must explain all significant changes and how votes, views of shareholders and reports have been taken in account.[clx]
The policy approved by the general meeting is made public with the date and the result of the vote without delay on the website of the company and must remain available free of charge at least as long as it is applicable.[clxi]
Companies must establish a clear and understandable remuneration report including all benefits of any kind awarded or due during the most recent financial year to individual directors.[clxii]
The remuneration report must contain the following information:
– the total remuneration and its fixed and variable parts and explanation on the contribution of the remuneration on the long-term performance of the company[clxiii];
– the annual change of remuneration and of the performance of the company and the annual change of average remuneration of other employees of the company during the last financial years[clxiv];
– any remuneration from an undertaking belonging to the same group[clxv];
– the number of shares and share options granted or offered, and the conditions for the exercise of the rights related to these shares[clxvi];
– information on the use of the possibility to reclaim variable remuneration[clxvii];
– information on potential deviations or derogations with an explanation of the exceptional circumstances justifying their application[clxviii].
Companies must exclude from the report special categories of personal data concerning directors, including the family situation of individual directors.[clxix]
Companies must make no longer available personal data included in the remuneration report after 10 years from the publication of the remuneration report.[clxx]
The general meeting must have the right to hold an advisory vote on the remuneration report.[clxxi]
For small and medium-sized companies (SME) as defined in the Directive 2013/34, Member States may provide, as an alternative to a vote, a discussion on the remuneration report in the annual general meeting.[clxxii]
Companies must make the remuneration report available 10 years on their website and may keep it available longer.[clxxiii]
The directors have collective responsibility for the publication of the remuneration report in accordance with the requirements of the Directive.[clxxiv]
(viii) The approval of related party transactions
The related party transactions are subject to some provisions of the Directive.
The Directive defines related party with the same meaning as in the international accounting standards adopted in accord with Regulation 1606/2002.[clxxv]
Member States must define material transactions to qualify a related party transaction in taking in account the following elements[clxxvi]:
– the influence of the information about the transaction on the economic decisions of shareholders of the company[clxxvii];
– the risk created by the transaction for the company and its shareholders[clxxviii].
When defining material transactions, Member States must set one or more quantitative ratios based on the impact of the transaction on:
– the financial position of the company;
– revenues of the company;
– assets of the company;
– the capitalization including equity or,
– the turnover of the company or,
– the nature of transaction and the position of the related party.[clxxix]
Member States may adopt different materiality definitions, in particular according to the company size.[clxxx]
Companies must publicly announce material transactions with related party at latest at the time of the conclusion of the transaction accompanied with at least the following information:
– the nature of the related party relationship;
– the name of the related party;
– the date of the transaction;
– the value of the transaction;
– other information in order to ensure that the transaction is fair and reasonable for the company and other shareholders.[clxxxi]
Member States may provide that a report must accompany the public announcement. In this case, the report must be produced by an independent third party, the administrative or the supervisory body of the company or the audit committee without the participation of the related parties.[clxxxii]
Material transactions must be approved by the general meeting or by the administrative or supervisory body of the company.[clxxxiii]
Member States may provide the right for shareholders to vote on material transactions with related parties which have been approved by the appropriate body of the company.[clxxxiv]
The provisions are not in principle applicable to transactions entered into the ordinary course of business and concluded on normal market terms[clxxxv].
However, Member States may require from companies to apply requirements of the Directive to such transactions[clxxxvi].
Member States may exclude from the requirements of the Directive the following transactions[clxxxvii]:
– transactions entered into between the company and its wholly owned subsidiaries or subsidiaries in which no other related party has an interest or for which national laws provide adequate protection of the interests of the company[clxxxviii];
– transactions clearly defined which are required by law to be approved by the general meeting[clxxxix];
– transactions regarding the remuneration of directors[cxc];
– transactions entered into by credit institutions and adopted by the competent authority in charge of the prudential supervision[cxci];
– transactions offered to all shareholders on the same terms with an equal treatment[cxcii].
Companies must publicly announce material transactions concluded between the related party of the company and that company’s subsidiary.[cxciii]
The transactions with the same related parties, that have been concluded in the last 12 months or in the same financial year must be aggregated for the purpose of the requirements provided by the Directive.[cxciv]
The implementation of the Directive 2017/828
The Commission empowerment and reports
The Directive 2017/828 grants the Commission with implementing powers and requires from the Commission to publish reports on the implementation of provisions of the Directive.
Thus, the Directive establishes general implementing powers conferred upon the Commission (i), implementing powers conferred for the identification of shareholders (ii) implementing powers conferred for the transmission of information (iii), implementing powers to facilitate the exercise of the rights of shareholders (iv) and the Directive imposes on the Commission a duty of publication of a report on the implementation of provisions regarding shareholder rights (v) and of a publication of a report on the implementation of provisions related to transparency (vi).
(i) General implementing powers conferred upon the Commission
The Directive 2017/828 grants the Commission with general implementing powers in order to ensure a harmonized implementation under uniform conditions of the provisions on shareholder identification, transmission of information and facilitation of the exercise of the rights of shareholders.[cxcv]
The implementing acts of the Commission must specify minimum standardization requirements such as formats to be used and deadlines.[cxcvi]
The Commission must take in account the relevant market developments, including self-regulatory initiatives, and must encourage the use of modern technologies of communication between companies and their shareholders including through intermediaries.[cxcvii]
The Commission must also adopt guidelines to specify the standardized presentation of the remuneration report, that must be established after consultation of the Member States.[cxcviii]
(ii) Implementing powers conferred for the identification of shareholders
The Commission must be empowered to adopt specific implementing acts regarding the identification of shareholders. Such acts must state minimum requirements such as the format of information to be transmitted, the format of the request, including security and interoperability requirements and the deadlines for the transmission of the information for the identification of shareholders.[cxcix]
The implementing acts must be adopted by 10 September 2018.[cc]
(iii) Implementing powers conferred for the transmission of information
The Commission must be empowered to adopt implementing acts regarding the transmission of information related to the exercise of rights flowing from their shares from the company to shareholders and from shareholders to the company.[cci]
The Commission must specify the minimum requirements for the transmission of the relevant information, especially the types and format of information, including security and interoperability requirements and the deadlines to transmit the information.[ccii]
The implementing acts must be adopted by 10 September 2018.[cciii]
(iv) Implementing powers to facilitate the exercise of the rights of shareholders
The Commission must be empowered in order to adopt implementing acts regarding the facilitation of the exercise of the rights of shareholders as provided within the Directive.[cciv]
The implementing acts must specify minimum requirements such as the types of facilitation, the format of the electronic confirmation of receipt of the votes, the format for the transmission of the confirmation that the votes have been validly recorded and counted through the chain of intermediaries, including their security and interoperability and finally the deadlines.[ccv]
The implementing acts must be adopted by 10 September 2018.[ccvi]
(v) Publication of a report regarding shareholder rights
Member States must inform the Commission in case of difficulty to enforce provisions related to identification of shareholders, transmission of information and facilitation of the exercise of shareholder rights.[ccvii]
The Commission must establish a report on the implementation of these provisions including their effectiveness, difficulties in practical application and enforcement in taking in account the application of the provisions to third-country intermediaries.[ccviii]
The report must be published by 10 June 2023.[ccix]
(vi) Publication of a report regarding transparency provisions
The Commission must publish a report on the implementation of provisions related to the engagement policy and to the transparency rules applicable to institutional investors and asset managers.[ccx]
The report must be published by 10 June 2022.[ccxi]
The Commission must publish a report on the implementation of provisions related to the requirements for proxy advisors.[ccxii]
The report must be published by 10 June 2023.[ccxiii]
Member States must implement and bring into force the provisions of the Directive 2017/828 by 10 June 2019.[ccxiv]
Member States must lay down the rules on measures and penalties applicable to infringements of national provisions that these Member States have taken to implement the provisions of the Directive.
The measures and penalties must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive.[ccxv]
Member States must provide the European Securities and Market Authority (ESMA) with the information on whether they have limited shareholder identification to shareholders holding more than a certain percentage of the shares or voting rights, which may not exceed 0.5 %.[ccxvi]
The information must be provided by 10 June 2019.[ccxvii]
The information is then published on the website of the ESMA.[ccxviii]
At the date of this paper, no implementation regulation has been either adopted or entered in force by Member States.
The Directive 2017/828 is the latest directive adopted in the field of corporate law at the European Union level.
The Commission is however holding consultations in this area through the “informal expert group on company law” (ICLEG) which hold meetings on a regular basis.
The “informal expert group on company law” has drawn possible future areas of regulation regarding corporate law during its latest meetings.
One element of discussion of the group is the digitalization of company which includes the scope and rules and conditions regarding online registration of companies.[ccxix]
Other aspects of registration of branches, in particular for branches of third-country companies, such as language requirements, costs of documents, true copies, publication, disclosure of documents and cross-border search of disclosed information are also discussed by the group[ccxx].
Another important topic of discussion at meetings is cross-border mergers, which includes the scope and the content of draft terms of cross-border mergers.[ccxxi]
The group has in particular discussed the potential enlargement of the scope of the existing directive on cross-border mergers, the economic rationale and possible regulatory framework of the share exchange[ccxxii].
The “informal expert group on company law” has also discussed issues related to the protection of minority shareholders and creditors’ protection in general, and the issue of protection of creditors’ and minority shareholders’ in the context of conversions.[ccxxiii]
Besides, the Commission has conducted a public consultation regarding several issues of corporate law. The consultation aims to prepare a legislative regulation by the end of 2017.[ccxxiv]
Legal issues of cross-border mergers, costs of mergers and the protection of shareholders are issues very discussed in the field of corporate law[ccxxv]. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that further regulation intended to harmonize new areas of corporate law will be proposed for inclusion in the European Union law in the future.
[i] Directive 2007/36/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 July 2007 on the exercise of certain rights of shareholders in listed companies, OJEU 14 July 2007, L.184/17
[ii] Ibid., (2)
[iii] Ibid. 1, (4)
[iv] Directive 2017/828/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 May 2017 amending Directive 2007/36/EC as regards the encouragement of long-term shareholder engagement, OJEU 20 May 2017, L.132/1
[v] Ibid., Article 14b, subpara. 2
[vi] Ibid. 4, (11)
[viii] Ibid. 4, (8)
[ix] Ibid. 4, (26)
[x] Ibid. 4, (17)
[xi] Ibid. 4, (20)
[xii] Ibid. 4, (29)
[xiii] Ibid. 4, (7)
[xiv] Ibid. 4, (37)
[xv] Ibid. 4, (2)
[xvi] Ibid. 4, (4)
[xvii] Ibid. 1, Article 4
[xviii] Ibid. 1, Article 5, para. 1., subpara.1
[xix] Ibid. 1, Article 5, para. 1., subpara. 2
[xx] Ibid. 1, Article 5, para. 1., subpara. 3
[xxi] Ibid. 1, Article 5, para. 2., subpara. 1
[xxii] Ibid. 1, Article 5, para. 2., subpara. 3
[xxiii] Ibid. 1, Article 5, para. 3.
[xxiv] Ibid., (a)
[xxv] Ibid. 22, (b)
[xxvi] Ibid., (i)
[xxvii] Ibid. 24, (ii)
[xxviii] Ibid. 24, (iii)
[xxix] Ibid. 22, (c)
[xxx] Ibid. 22, (d)
[xxxi] Ibid. 22, (e)
[xxxii] Ibid. 1, Article 5, para. 4.
[xxxiii] Ibid., (a)
[xxxiv] Ibid. 32, (b)
[xxxv] Ibid. 32, (c)
[xxxvi] Ibid. 32, (d)
[xxxvii] Ibid. 32, (e)
[xxxviii] Ibid. 32, subpara. 6
[xxxix] Ibid. 32, subpara. 7
[xl] Ibid. 1, Article 6 para. 1., (a)
[xli] Ibid. 1, Article 6, para. 1., (b)
[xlii] Ibid. 1, Article 6, para. 1., subpara. 4
[xliii] Ibid. 1, Article 6, para. 1., subpara. 5
[xliv] Ibid. 1, Article 6, para. 2.
[xlv] Ibid. 1, Article 6, para. 3.
[xlvi] Ibid. 1, Article 6, para. 4.
[xlvii] Ibid. 1, Article 7, para. 1., (b)
[xlviii] Ibid. 1, Article 7, para. 2.
[xlix] Ibid., subpara. 2
[l] Ibid. 1, Article 7, para. 3.
[lv] Ibid. 1, Article 8, para. 1.
[lvi] Ibid., (a)
[lvii] Ibid. 55, (b)
[lviii] Ibid. 55, (c)
[lix] Ibid. 1, Article 8, para. 2.
[lx] Ibid. 1, Article 9, para. 1.
[lxi] Ibid. 1, Article 9, para. 2.
[lxii] Ibid., subpara. 2
[lxiii] Ibid. 1, Article 7, para. 1., (a)
[lxiv] Ibid. 1, Article 12
[lxv] Ibid. 1, Article 13, para. 1. & 2.
[lxvi] Ibid. 1, Article 13, para. 3.
[lxvii] Ibid. 1, Article 13, para. 4.
[lxviii] Ibid. 1, Article 13, para. 5.
[lxix] Ibid. 1, Article 14, para. 1.
[lxx] Ibid., subpara. 2
[lxxi] Ibid. 1, Article 14, para. 2.
[lxxii] Ibid. 1, Article 10, para. 1.
[lxxiii] Ibid., subpara. 2
[lxxiv] Ibid. 1, Article 10, para. 2.
[lxxv] Ibid., subpara. 2
[lxxvi] Ibid. 1, Article 10, para. 3.
[lxxvii] Ibid., (a)
[lxxviii] Ibid. 76, (b)
[lxxix] Ibid. 76, (c)
[lxxx] Ibid. 76, subpara. 5, (i)
[lxxxi] Ibid. 76, subpara. 5, (ii)
[lxxxii] Ibid. 76, subpara. 5, (iii)
[lxxxiii] Ibid. 76, subpara. 5, (iv)
[lxxxiv] Ibid. 1, Article 10, para. 4.
[lxxxv] Ibid., subpara. 2
[lxxxvi] Ibid. 1, Article 10, para. 5.
[lxxxvii] Ibid. 1, Article 11, para. 1.
[lxxxviii] Ibid. 1, Article 11, para. 2.
[xc] Ibid. 1, Article 11, para. 3.
[xci] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (1), (a), para. 1.
[xcii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3a, para. 1.
[xciii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3a, para. 2.
[xciv] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3a, para. 3.
[xcv] Ibid., subpara. 3
[xcvi] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3a, para. 3., subpara. 2
[xcvii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3a, para. 4., subpara. 2
[xcviii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3a, para. 5.
[xcix] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3a, para. 4.
[c] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3b, para. 1.
[ci] Ibid., (a)
[cii] Ibid. 100, (b)
[ciii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3b, para. 2.
[civ] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3b, para. 3.
[cv] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3b, para. 4.
[cvi] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3b, para. 5.
[cvii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3c, para. 1.
[cviii] Ibid., (a)
[cix] Ibid. 107, (b)
[cx] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3c, para. 2.
[cxi] Ibid., subpara. 2
[cxii] Ibid. 110, subpara. 3
[cxiii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3d, para. 1.
[cxiv] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3d, para. 2.
[cxv] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3e
[cxvi] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (2), (b), (e)
[cxvii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (2), (b), (f)
[cxviii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3g, para. 1., (a)
[cxix] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3g, para. 1., (b)
[cxx] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3g, para. 2.
[cxxi] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3g, para. 3.
[cxxii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3h, para. 1.
[cxxiii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3h, para. 2.
[cxxiv] Ibid., (a)
[cxxv] Ibid. 123, (b)
[cxxvi] Ibid. 123, (c)
[cxxvii] Ibid. 123, (d)
[cxxviii] Ibid. 123, (e)
[cxxix] Ibid. 123, subpara. 7
[cxxx] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3h, para. 3.
[cxxxi] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3i, para. 1.
[cxxxiii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3i, para. 2., subpara. 2
[cxxxiv] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (2), (b), (g)
[cxxxv] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3j, para. 1.
[cxxxvi] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3j, para. 1., subpara. 3
[cxxxvii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3j, para. 1., subpara. 2
[cxxxviii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3j, para. 2.
[cxxxix] Ibid., (a)
[cxl] Ibid. 138, (b)
[cxli] Ibid. 138, (c)
[cxlii] Ibid. 138, (d)
[cxliii] Ibid. 138, (e)
[cxliv] Ibid. 138, (f)
[cxlv] Ibid. 138, (g)
[cxlvi] Ibid. 138, subpara. 9
[cxlvii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3j, para. 3.
[cxlviii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9a, para. 1.
[cxlix] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9a, para. 2.
[cl] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9a, para. 2., subpara. 2
[cli] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9a, para. 2., subpara. 3
[clii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9a, para. 3.
[cliii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9a, para. 4.
[cliv] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9a, para. 5.
[clv] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9a, para. 6.
[clvi] Ibid., subpara. 2
[clvii] Ibid. 155, subpara. 3
[clviii] Ibid. 155, subpara. 4
[clix] Ibid. 155, subpara. 5
[clx] Ibid. 155, subpara. 6
[clxi] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9a, para. 7.
[clxii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9b, para. 1.
[clxiii] Ibid., (a)
[clxiv] Ibid. 162, (b)
[clxv] Ibid. 162, (c)
[clxvi] Ibid. 162, (d)
[clxvii] Ibid. 162, (e)
[clxviii] Ibid. 162, (f)
[clxix] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9b, para. 2.
[clxx] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9b, para. 3., subpara. 2
[clxxi] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9b, para. 4.
[clxxii] Ibid., subpara. 2
[clxxiii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9b, para. 5.
[clxxiv] Ibid., subpara. 2
[clxxv] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (2), (b) (h)
[clxxvi] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9c, para. 1.
[clxxvii] Ibid., (a)
[clxxviii] Ibid. 176, (b)
[clxxix] Ibid. 176, subpara. 4
[clxxx] Ibid. 176, subpara. 5
[clxxxi] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9c, para. 2.
[clxxxii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9c, para. 3.
[clxxxiii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9c, para. 4.
[clxxxiv] Ibid., subpara. 2
[clxxxv] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9c, para. 5.
[clxxxvi] Ibid., subpara. 2
[clxxxvii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9c, para. 6.
[clxxxviii] Ibid., (a)
[clxxxix] Ibid. 187, (b)
[cxc] Ibid. 187, (c)
[cxci] Ibid. 187, (d)
[cxcii] Ibid. 187, (e)
[cxciii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9c, para. 7.
[cxciv] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4), Article 9c, para. 8.
[cxcv] Ibid. 4, (46)
[cxcvi] Ibid. 4, (47)
[cxcvii] Ibid. 4, (48)
[cxcviii] Ibid. 4, (49)
[cxcix] Above, The provisions of the Directive 2017/828, (i) The identification of shareholders; Directive 2017/828/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 May 2017 amending Directive 2007/36/EC as regards the encouragement of long-term shareholder engagement, Article 1, (3), Article 3a, para. 8.
[cci] Above, The provisions of the Directive 2017/828, (vi) Transparency duties of proxy advisors; Directive 2017/828/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 May 2017 amending Directive 2007/36/EC as regards the encouragement of long-term shareholder engagement, Article 1, (3), Article 3b, para. 1. to 5. and para. 6.
[ccii] Directive 2017/828/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 May 2017 amending Directive 2007/36/EC as regards the encouragement of long-term shareholder engagement, Article 1, (3), Article 3b, para. 6.
[cciv] Above, The provisions of the Directive 2017/828, (iii) The facilitation of the exercise of the rights of the shareholders in voting and participating to the general meeting; Directive 2017/828/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 May 2017 amending Directive 2007/36/EC as regards the encouragement of long-term shareholder engagement, Article 1, (3), Article 3c, para. 1. and 2. and para. 3.
[ccv] Directive 2017/828/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 May 2017 amending Directive 2007/36/EC as regards the encouragement of long-term shareholder engagement, Article 1, (3), Article 3c, para. 3.
[ccvii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3f, para. 1.
[ccviii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3f, para. 2.
[ccx] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3k, para. 1.
[ccxii] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (3), Article 3k, para. 2.
[ccxiv] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (5), Article 14b
[ccxv] Ibid., para. 2.
[ccxvi] Ibid. 4, Article 1, (4) Article 3a, para. 7.
[ccxviii] Ibid 216.
[ccxix] Commission, “Informal expert group on company law ” (ICLEG), Minutes, Brussels, 30 March 2017
[ccxxi] Commission, “Informal expert group on company law ” (ICLEG), Minutes, Brussels, 23 February 2017
[ccxxiv] Commission, “EU Company law upgraded: Rules on digital solutions and efficient cross-border operations”, 10 May 2017
[ccxxv] Commission, Summary, Conference « Company Law in the Digital Age », 2 October 2015
En décembre 2016, le fond européen d’investissement (EIF) a publié son plan opérationnel de soutien (Corporate Operational Plan) aux entreprises pour les années 2017, 2018 et 20191.
Ce plan prévoit les objectifs et priorités d’investissement pour le fond européen d’investissement. Le plan opérationnel 2017-2019 de l’EIF a pour objectif principal l’implantation du fond européen pour les investissements stratégiques (FEIS).
L’EIF et le FEIS ont pour objet le soutien aux petites et moyennes entreprises européennes, mais également de soutenir les efforts d’investissement des Etats Membres, ainsi que de renforcer l’effet de levier des investissements sur la croissance et le développement économique des Etats Membres.2
Le Corporate Operational Plan prévoit un volume total de fonds stable pour la période 2017-2019 par rapport au volume investi en 2016, qui a déjà connu une augmentation de 67 % par rapport à 2014.
Le volume de fonds investis attendu pour 2016 a été estimé à 9,314 milliards d’euros pour un effet levier total estimé à 35,220 milliards d’euros.3
Ce plan s’ajoute à plusieurs fonds d’investissement ciblés déjà existant, pour soutenir l’innovation et le développement d’entreprises low/mid-cap.4
En 2017, l’EIF prévoit de lancer cinq nouveaux programmes de co-investissement5.
En outre, le FEIS, dans sa partie destinée aux petites et moyennes entreprises, connaît une forte croissance du volume de ses ressources qui doit lui permettre d’être doté d’un volume d’investissement total de 157.5 milliards d’euros d’ici 20206.
Le FEIS, dans sa partie destinée aux petites et moyennes entreprises, devrait ainsi représenter en 2020, 31,5 % du volume total mobilisé par le FEIS7.
Le montant total des investissements en titres de participation détenus par l’EIF, tel que représenté dans le Corporate Operational Plan, doit augmenter progressivement d’ici 2019 pour atteindre 4,4 milliards d’euros. Le montant d’effet de levier sera d’ici 2019 de 18,513 milliards d’euros.
En outre, le nombre annuel de transactions relatives aux titres de participations et autres valeurs mobilières d’« equity » devrait s’élever à 203 d’ici 2019.8
Le Corporate Operational Plan prévoit enfin la mise en place dès 2017 d’un fonds « EFSI 2 » devant soutenir l’investissement dans les fonds InnovFin, COSME, EaSI, dans des fonds à destination des petites et moyennes entreprises et enfin dans de nouveaux fonds.9
Les actions de l’EFSI se concrétisent par la conclusion de partenariats avec des organismes des Etats Membres afin de cibler les investissements qui auront le retour le plus bénéfique pour les entreprises, la croissance et l’économie des Etats Membres.
Ainsi, par exemple, le 5 avril 2017, l’EFSI et microlux, une institution de microfinance au Luxembourg, ont conclu un partenariat prévoyant des investissements dans 400 petites entreprises luxembourgeoises de 2017 à 201910.
In 2013, the merger project between TNT and UPS has been rejected by the Commission on the ground that the entity that would have resulted from the merger would have reduce competition on the market of small package delivery in the EU. The decision has been taken according to article 8(3) of the merger regulation 139/2004.1
Remedies proposed by TNT and UPS were considered as not sufficient by the Commission. Amongst these remedies, TNT and UPS proposed to cede the subsidiaries of TNT in 15 Member States of the European Union.2
In particular the schemes of transportation for international package delivery require a transportation organization by airplane and by road which may prevent potentital competitors to enter into the market of express deliveries in the absence of a sufficient flow of package deliveries.3
This case presents an interest for five main reasons : (i) The low rate of merger refusals by the Commission (ii) the significant size of the merger hypothezised, (iii) the legal issues and commitments involved by the facts of the case, (iv) the due process issue of the case (v) some companies conducting an activity on the market of express package delivery in the Economic European Area (EEA) have eventually recently merged.
(i) The low rate of merger refusals by the Commission
On a total of 6493 cases examined by the Commission from 1990 to 2017, 136 cases were withdrew during the phase I of examination and 41 during the phase II of the processing.4
Only 25 mergers have been refused on the basis of article 8.3 of the regulation and 4 decisions have been taken on the basis of article 8.4 in order to ensure the restoration of competition on the market after a merger.5
Even in the case of the acceptation of a merger subject to the respect of commitments taken in accordance with article 6.1(b), which has occured in 275 cases, only 10 fining decisions in application of article 14 have been taken and only 1 decision of revokation in application of article 6.3 has been issued by the Commission.6
A large majority of mergers are not prevented by the Commission. In consequence, the few cases of merger refusals are particularly interesting in order to understand the application of the criteria by the Commission under regulation 139/2004.
(ii) The significant size of the merger hypothezised
The sector of parcelling, shipping, and package transportation was at the time of the considered merger composed of 4 operators, called the integrators : TNT, UPS, Fedex and DHL.7
The so-called integrators are companies that control a comprehensive air and road small package delivery network and are capable of offering a broad portfolio of reliable delivery services8
The project of merger involved two major companies in the sector of express package shipping.
The Commission proceeded to an analysis of the market impacted by the proposed merger9.
The Commission concluded that the cargo market would not be impeded by the merger, mainly for the reason that the main barrier to access the market is the capacity to own a flying network, while the road cargo represents around 99 % of the transportation of cargo. Therefore, in the overall cargo market, the market share of TNT and UPS is not able to impede competition after the merger.10
Conerning air freight transportation, both companies, taken together, do not own more than 10 to 20 % of market shares within the Member States in which the companies are conducting their activities11 On this ground, the Commission considered that the competition would not be impeded on the market of air freight transportation12
Concerning contract logistics services, both companies taken together do not own more than 10 to 20 % of market shares within the EEA13. Therefore, the Commission considered that the competition would not be impeded on the market of contract logistics services14.
Amongst the express delivery services, which must be distinguished from the deferred delivery services, the integrators UPS, TNT, DHL and Fedex own between 90 and 95 % of the market shares, while other competitors own a much smaller market share. The companies DPD and GLS own only 0 to 5 %, national postal operators 0 to 5 % and other companies own 0 to 5 % of the market shares.
An actor owning between 0 and 5 % of market shares cannot be assumed to exercise any constraint on competition.15
In regard to the shares of revenues of the integrators, the most important company is DHL with a market share of 40 to 50 %, followed by TNT that owns a market share of 10 to 20 %, then by UPS that owns a market share of 20 to 30 % (40 to 50 % combined) and eventually by Fedex that owns a market share comprised between 5 and 10 %.16
The post-merger repartition of revenues would therefore be :
DHL : 40-50%
TNT/UPS : 40-50 %
Fedex : 5-10 %
Fedex is thus by far the smallest company operating on the relevant market and the two main companies share 90 to 95 % of the whole market17.
The following table resume market shares of each company in each Member States of the European Union.
Table 6: Integrators’ 2011 revenue share in International intra-EEA small package delivery by country18
See the table on :
The Commission estimated that the merger would result in an average price increase between 0 and 20 % depending the country concerned.
The merging parties have estimated that the average price decrease would be comprised between 0 and 20 % depending the Member States in which the companies are conducting their activities19.
(iii) The legal issues and commitments of the case
Commitments were proposed on 29 November 2012 by UPS/TNT in order to remedy to the assessment of risks of restricting competition on the relevant markets as following :
– The sale of TNT subsidiaries in 5 Member States, on a total of subsidiaries in 15 Member States to another operator.
– An access remedy to the air network of UPS.20
The Commission considered that the commitments were not sufficient, in particular in regard to the cost for competitors to establish the air network required to be able to compete on the market21.
Further commitments were submitted on 16 December 2012 providing an access to the air network of UPS/TNT for 5 years and providing the sale of the subsidiaries of TNT in 15 countries, instead of the subsidiaries in 5 countries as provided by the commitments submitted the 29th November 2012)22.
The commitments were considered by the Commission as not sufficient, even if the proposal represents an improvement in comparison with the commitments submitted the 29th November 2012.23
In particular, the purchaser of the subsidiaries of TNT must have a presence in both local and receiving countries to carry out the activity. Only Fedex and La Poste in combination with DPD are interested in the purchase of some subsidiaries of TNT and are in capacity to proceed to such purchases.24
However, UPS was not able to submit a viable plan to demonstrate every points of the possible purchase of the subsidiaries of TNT by La Poste/DPD. 25
The Commission stated that without a fix-it-first or an up-front buyer plan, the commitments would not be sufficient to respond to the risks of impediment of the competition.26
To respond to the statement of the Commission regarding the weaknesses of the first commitments, UPS submitted the 3rd January 2013 new commitments.27
These commitments provided only one potential purchaser of the subsidiaries of TNT in 15 countries, in La Poste/DHL.28
The Commission refused to market test the 3rd commitments set because of the very few improvments brought by the commitments and the timelimit fixed by the merger regulation. The expiry date was supposed to be on the day 65, and the Commission allowed the submission of new commitments on the day 83.29
However, the Commission adressed two requests of information to La Poste/DPD. After the examination of the responses, the Commission considered the plans, in particular the business plan established by La Poste/DPD as still unsatisfactory.30
Following the proposal of commitments by UPS, the Commission concluded that the merger would be only possible in the event of the actual sale of the subsidiaries of TNT in 15 countries.31
However, according to the merger regulation, the Commission can only accept the merger plan if the commitments provide sufficient certainty in the capacity for the purchaser to have the ability and the willingness to continue the operations of the divested subsidiaries in the EEA.32
The purchase of the subsidiaries of TNT by an integrator, DHL or fedex, that already conducts a strong activity of international package delivery, would limit the risks.33
In particular, non-integrators risk to use the subsidiaries after the acquisition for domestic markets or for international deferred services only and not for their basic purpose of international expresse deliveries.34
Moreover, the international operations of the TNT divested susbsidiaries are not viable on their own and the activity rely on the domestic activities, which implies that the TNT international subsidiaries require the support of the overall network of the company.35
UPS submitted a temporary solution in providing access to its air network for a period of 5 years. After this period however, the purchaser of the divested subisidiaries shall have established its own suitable solution or find an alternative suitable solution.36
The possibility for an operator to provide a suitable air solution is unlikely because of the cost of establishing such a solution at the expiry of the period of 5 years and the lack of incentives for the integrator to provide access to its own air network to a direct competitor.37
An access for a period of 10 years to the air network of UPS should be required to allow competitors to establish their own air network.38
An alternative involving a partnership to grant access to the network was proposed by UPS. However, by the most active competitors in the international package delivery sector, DHL, FedEx, La Poste and Royal Mail were opposed to the proposal.39
Besides, some companies stated that national networks were not intended to support efficiently the international express deliveries.40
Finally, neither Fedex nor DHL expressed willingness to acquire the divested subsidiaries, while they were the only two other integrators conducting an activity present on the market of express shipping delivery at the time of the proposed merger.41
Some non-integrator companies have expressed willingness to acquire the divested subsidiaries, however their capacity to establish an air network at the expiry of the 5 year period of access to the network of UPS is unlikely.42
Furthermore, according to the Commission « the divested countries of the subsidiaries are mostly low volume, high cost markets, largely on the periphery of Europe. »43
La Poste is the only company which has expressed interest and has the capacity to sustain an air transportation solution after the expiry of the period of 5 years.44
UPS indicated the 3rd January 2013 that the agreements of purchase of the divested subsidiaries and of access to its air network (ATSA) with La Poste/DPD were in negotiation.45
The Commission considered that at the time of the decision, and regarding the delay-related issues discussed previously, in the absence of a definitive comprehensive agreement between La Poste/DPD and UPS concerning both the purchase of the subsidiaries and the access to the air network (ATSA) and in the absence of enough credible alternatives, the commitments submitted by UPS were not sufficient.46
The lack of legally-binding agreement, at the deadline set for the decision, the 5th February 2013 ensuring that the divesture with La Poste or any other company would actually take place, and the great uncertainty that this absence was casting on the future capacity to continue the activity of the TNT divested subsidiaries after the 5 year-period access allowed by UPS, is the key element of the opposition of the Commission to the merger.47
La Poste issued responses to the two demands of information delivered by the Commission, including a business plan for the intended activity of the divested subsidiaries after the acquisition. The two answers contained figures regarding the additional international outbound deliveries necessary to justify the adaptation of the domestic network and the technical measures required to adapt the network of La Poste / DPD48.
In the response to the Commission’s demands, La Poste asserted that with the additional flow of international shipping deliveries, the company will be able to set up its own air network in allowing La Poste to negotiate agreements at favorable conditions.49
La Poste stated that it would need between 3000 to 5000 additional international daily package deliveries. However, the figure given by La Poste tend to show that the additional deliveries package necessary to ensure profitability of the activity of the divested subsidiaries would not be reached.50
However, La Poste did provide only very few internal documents to support its explanations.
Moreover, even after the acquisition of the divested subsidiaries by La Poste/DPD, La Poste would still have a smaller international shipping activity than Fedex.
The Commission considered that the evidence given did not provide enough guarantees to ensure the enforcement of the commitments, in particular regarding the continuity of the activity of the divested subsidiaries of TNT at the expiry of the 5-year period of access to the air network of UPS.
(iv) Due process issue of the case
The decision of the Commission has been appealed before the General Court. The General Court rendered its judgment the 7th March 2017 in which the General Court annuled the decision of the Commission.51
The legal basis of the judgement was the infringement of the rights of defence and in particular the right of UPS of being heard.
According to UPS, the analysis of the merger in terms of prices in the final decision is different in its substance from the previous versions that UPS was able to consult during the administrative procedure.52
The Commission considered that its approach regarding the rights the defence is in accordance with the case-law.
The final decision need not be a copy of the statement of obligations, therefore the Commission is entitled to revise or supplement the elements of facts in support of its objections as long as the objectives of the statements are the same as the objectives of the final decision, which is the case here.53
The Commission argued furthermore that the econometric approaches used in the statement of objections and in the final decision are not substantially different.54
UPS however argued that the econometric method used in the final decision differs from the method used in the statement of objections. In consequence, UPS has not been able to exercice fully its rights of defence and in particular its rights of being heard, because UPS was not in a position to contest the econometric method of calculation of the merger in terms of price. Indeed, the method has not been notified to UPS prior the final decision.
According to UPS, the shift in the choice of the economectric method used by the Commission is very important because the economectric method used by the Commission for its decision was intended to counterweight the positive effects of the merger, in particular the benefits for the efficiency gains and the Fedex’s expansion plan to the Commission55.
The Court ruled « that the right to a fair hearing, which forms part of the rights of the defence, requires that the undertaking concerned must have been afforded the opportunity, during the administrative procedure, to make known its views on the truth and relevance of the facts and circumstances alleged and on the documents used by the Commission to support its claim »(see judgment of 10 July 2008, Bertelsmann and Sony Corporation of America v Impala, C-413/06 P, EU:C:2008:392, paragraph 61 and the case-law cited).56
In the case, the Commission adopted the final version of the economectric model on 21 November 2012, more than two months prior to the adoption of the final decision, which has been adopted on 30 January 2013 as evidenced by the documents submitted by the Commission.57
According to the Court, the final version of the economectric model has not been communicated to the claimant since, according to the Commission, it was unnecessary to make such a communication because the numerous exchanges between the Commission and the claimant during the administrative procedure were clear enough.58
The Commission argued that the final economectric method differs only marginally from the methods discussed during the administrative procedure.59
The Court found that the Commission hold at the estimation stage a discrete variable method while the Commission hold at the prediction stage a continuous variable.60
According to the Court, the Commission brought no evidence that the continuous variable has not been discussed by the parties before the release of the final decision of merger refusal.
The Court ruled that the notification of the claimant in due time could have allowed it to submit different results on the effects of the merger on prices, which might have altered the information taken into consideration by the Commission and accordingly would may have lead to a reduction of the territories concerned by the merger.61
The Court found moreover that the Commission acknowledged, according to written evidence submitted by the Commission that the economectric analysis was very stable on 20 Novembre 2012, two months before the final decision, on 30 January 2013. Moreover, the Commission was free, at the very least, to communicate the essential elements of the econometric method chosen after the statement of objections.62
The Court ruled eventually that the Commission infringed the applicant’s rights of defence by failing to communicate the final version of its economectric model to the applicant.63
(iv) Post UPS-TNT case
The merger between UPS and TNT was eventually not carried out.
The 8th January 2016, the Commission approved however the acquisition of the company TNT Express by Fedex.64
The Commission opened an in-depth investigation in July 2015 because the Commission had serious concerns regarding the risk to lessen competition on the market of international small package express deliveries in regard to the two last remaining competitors DHL and UPS.65
The Commission concluded that both companies are not particularly close competitors and that in any case, the merged entity will face sufficient competition from its rivals on the market.
Thus, the Commission considered such a merger as not impeding competition on the market of package shipping and could even brings some benefits for the consumer with the reduction of the costs because of the mutualisation of some facilities and eventually reduce prices for the final consumer.66
The Commission concluded that the merger would not impede significantly competition on the relevant market and therefore authorized the merger between UPS and TNT to be implemented.
La version française de l’article est disponible sur le site village-justice.com sous le titre « La conclusion de l’affaire du cartel des cires de paraffine et de gatsch – Arrêt ChemPharm du 16 janvier 2017 (CJUE) ».
In a judgement of the 16th February 20171, the Court of Justice dismissed the appeal filed by H&R ChemPharm against a judgment of the General Court of the 12th December 20142 in which the General Court imposed a fine of an amount of 22 000 000 euros for the participation of H&R ChemPharm to a continuing agreement and/or a concerted practice in the paraffin waxes sector. This judgement was rendered following an appeal filed against a decision of the Commission of the 1st October 20083 that has sentenced a cartel in the sector of the production, marketing and distribution of paraffin and gatsch waxes. H&R ChemPharm was a participant to this infringement4.
The concerned practice was composed of two aspects, the main one concerned an agreement related to price-fixing and disclosure of business sensitive information, the second one concerned customer-sharing or market-sharing5.
H&R ChemPharm was fined by the Commission only for the main aspect of the infringement concerning an agreement regarding price-fixing and disclosure of business sensitive information6.
Two other appeals were filed against the same decision of the Commission by two other participants to the infringement in its main aspect. The Commission fined Tudapetrol, a company responsible for the distribution and the marketing of paraffin and gatsch waxes for an amount of 12 000 000 euros7. The Commission fined Hans & Rosenthal for an amount of 24 000 000 euros (including 22 000 000 euros jointly and severally with H&R ChemPharm)8.
The Group H&R is active in the oil products sector. The three companies are part of the same group of companies and are linked by personal, business and capital ties, in particular in relation with the facts of the case9.
H&R ChemPharm brought an appeal before the Court of Justice against the judgment of the General Court for several reasons.
1 – Regarding the issue of the autonomy of the entities and the separate liability of the companies concerned
H&R ChemPharm company argued that the Commission had considered that the participants to the infringements, H&R ChemPharm and Tudapetrol, were independent companies in order to impose separate fines to each participant to the infringement. However, at the same time, the Commission considered the companies concerned as a « common entity »10.
H&R ChemPharm stated that the companies H&R ChemPharm and Tudapetrol were constituting only one common economic entity. Thus, the companies of the group involved in the infringement should be sentenced only once as an economic entity11.
The Court ruled on this question that the General Court did not considered that the companies concerned were part of an economic unity within the meaning of the European Law.
At the point 13 of the judgement, object of the appeal, the General Court agreed with the point of view of the Commission that stated: « The investigation shows that Hansen & Rosenthal and Tudapetrol are two separate and independent undertakings. »12
Moreover, the Court ruled that the General Court had rightly found that the Commission has described the functioning of the infringement to which H&R ChemPharm was a participant relatively to paraffin and gatsch waxes. The General Court has in particular rightly found that the Commission has described the duration of the participation of H&R ChemPharm to the infringement, has identified the persons attending to the meetings during which the anticompetitive practices were discussed and their tasks. According to the General Court, the Commission has also described the affectation of these persons in the company for the period of the anticompetitive practices13.
Therefore, the General Court has sufficiently identified the separate responsibility of H&R ChemPharm in the performance of the infringement14.
The courts of the European Union rule according to a constant case law that the companies which belong to the same group of companies are constituting an economic unity as long as they do not determine their own behaviour independently on the market15.
The absence of an independent behaviour on the market is presumed where a subsidiary company is wholly owned by the parent company and therefore where an economic unity exists16.
Thus, the Commission examines the behaviour of the economic entity within the meaning of the European law to sanction an anticompetitive practice and not the behaviour of the companies taken separately17.
In this case, the Commission found an economic unity comprising subsidiary companies owned at 100 % by Hansen & Rosenthal and the company Hansen & Rosenthal itself18. The economic entity was composed by the subsidiary companies wholly owned by Hansen & Rosenthal and the company Hansen & Rosenthal itself taken together, but the economic entity was not considered regarding the companies composing the economic entity taken individually19.
The companies H&R ChemPharm and Tudapetrol were not owned at 100 % by the same company. The presumption of absence of an independent behaviour was therefore not applicable to the companies even if they were bound together by strong ties.
The Commission has thus considered that the two companies were independent and separate20. Therefore, the two companies were fined separately, respectively within the limits of the responsibility of each one in the performance of the infringement.
2 – Regarding the erroneous imputability of the infringement to H&R ChemPharm
H&R ChemPharm reproached to the General Court to have taken in account elements of imputability of the infringement prior to the hiring of an employee directly involved in the anticompetitive practices of the company. The Commission found that this employee was participating to the meetings during which the anticompetitive practices were discussed. Thus, according to the Commission and the General Court, the company was liable for the behaviour of the employee prior to his hiring. The principle of the individual nature of penalties has therefore been allegedly breached.
The Court refused to reassess the facts of the case because the General Court has « exclusive jurisdiction to find and appraise the relevant facts and to assess the evidence. »21
The Court might however still reassess the facts and evidence of a case subject to the condition that the facts or evidence of the case are distorted.22 In another case, the Court ruled that « the distortion must be obvious from the documents in the Court’s file, without there being any need to carry out a new assessment of the facts and the evidence ».23]
The Court recalled that the Commission may establish an anticompetitive practice with a number of coincidences and indicia which taken together may in the absence of another plausible explanation, constitute sufficient elements to prove the infringement24.
According to the Court, the Commission does not have the duty to establish direct evidence of the concerted practice on the whole period concerned by such a practice as long as the Commission establishes a set of indicia sufficiently specific, precise and consistent to allow to establish the practice for the period without direct evidence25.
Thus, the Court upheld the precedents of the General Court26.
Since then, facts prior to the date of the hiring of the employee, which was also the date assessed as being the beginning of the infringement might serve as evidence because these facts were constituting a set of indicia and coincidences allowing to establish the infringement.
3 – Regarding the disproportionated amount of the fine imposed in regard to the turnover achieved by the subsidiary company Klaus Dahleke KG
H&R ChemPharm argued that the Commission should not have taken in account the turnover achieved by Klaus Dahleke KG because the company did not take part to the infringement and because the two companies did not form an economic unity within the meaning of the European Law27.
In confirming the reasoning of the Commission, the General Court has allegedly violated the principle of the individual nature of penalties28.
The Court ruled that if the Commission had given evidence that the parent company was liable for the anticompetitive practices of the subsidiary company, then the Commission did not have to give evidence of the absence of autonomous behaviour on the market of each of the subsidiaries of the group of companies29.
The company concerned has in this case according to the precedents of the Court to demonstrate that the consolidated turnover of the group of companies taken in account by the Commission is irrelevant for the calculation of the amount of the fine. In any case, the fine cannot be more important than 10 % of the turnover achieved by the company concerned30.
In this case, H&R ChemPharm did not give any evidence of the absence of power of control on the subsidiary company Klaus Dahleke KG. Instead, H&R ChemPharm included several times the turnover of Klaus Dahleke KG in the documents notified to the Commission.
The company did not give any evidence of the absence of relevance of the inclusion of the consolidated turnover of the group of companies in the calculation of the amount of the fine31.
Thus, the Court considered that the principle of individual nature of penalties had not been not breached and that the amount of the fine was not disproportionate in regard to the turnover achieved by Klaus Dahleke KG.
4 – Regarding the erroneous inclusion of the turnover achieved by foreign subsidiaries
H&R ChemPharm argued that the turnover achieved by foreign subsidiaries had been wrongly taken in account by the Commission to calculate the value of sales concerned by the infringement. In particular, the Commission has taken in account the turnover achieved by companies acquired in 2004 to calculate the average value of sales for the period 2002-200432.
Thus, the average value of sales taken in account by the Commission to assess the damages resulting from the infringement for the period between 2002 and 2004 has been extrapolated from turnover only partially achieved on this period.
The Court ruled on this question on the basis of the Guidelines 2006. These guidelines provide that « the combination of the value of sales to which the infringement relates and of the duration of the infringement is regarded as providing an appropriate proxy to reflect the economic importance of the infringement as well as the relative weight of each undertaking in the infringement » and « reference to these factors provides a good indication of the order of magnitude of the fine and should not be regarded as the basis for an automatic and arithmetical calculation method ».33
The Court stated that, according to the guidelines, the Commission must retain a value of sales regarded as an appropriate proxy to reflect the economic importance of the infringement as well as the relative weight of each undertaking in the infringement for the whole duration of participation to the infringement.34
The Commission is not bound however by an automatic and arithmetical calculation of the value of sales according to the changes in the value of sales during the period of the infringement.35
Thus, the argument of H&R ChemPharm was rejected by the Court.
The Court dismissed the argument taken from the Esso case, which provided that the Commission had determined a disproportionate basic amount of fine36. In the Esso case, the turnover retained by the Commission was the turnover prior to the merger with the company responsible of the anticompetitive behaviour. The General Court ruled that the basic amount of the fine calculated on the basis of this turnover and the average value of sales retained by the Commission was disproportionate in regard to the gravity of the infringement.37
The Court ruled that the facts of the present case were not similar to the facts of the Esso case,
because the basic amount of the fine is not disproportionate to the gravity of the infringement concerning H&R ChemPharm.38
This precedent is therefore not applicable to the present issue and the Court rejected the argument.
5 – Regarding the disproportionate amount of the fine
H&R ChemPharm stated that the amount of the fine imposed on the company was disproportionated for several reasons.
Firstly, the Commission applied a coefficient of 17 % of the average value of sales to increase the amount of the fine imposed on H&R ChemPharm while the Commission applied a coefficient of 18 % of the average value of sales to increase the amount of the fines imposed on the other companies having participated to the prohibited practice.39
These other companies have been fined for having participated to the two aspects of the infringement, while the participation of H&R ChemPharm was limited to the practices involving price-fixing and disclosure of business sensitive information.
H&R ChemPharm claimed that the amount of the fine imposed on a participant to an agreement must be calculated regarding the amount of the fines inflicted to the other participants and not independently, in order to avoid discrimination amongst the companies that have been fined.
Thus, the Commission should have taken in account the amount of the fines imposed on the other participants to the infringement to calculate the amount of the fine of H&R ChemPharm.40
Secondly, H&R ChemPharm claimed that the customer-sharing or market-sharing practices were more serious infringements than price-fixing and disclosure of information because customer-sharing and market-sharing were a cause of isolation of the markets and might be implemented in a particularly sustainable and efficient way.41
Thirdly, H&R ChemPharm stated that the amount of the fine imposed on the company by the Commission was disproportionate in regard to the size of H&R ChemPharm. The fine imposed in 2007 on another participant to the anticompetitive behaviour, ExxonMobil, represented 0.04 % of the turnover of the company while the fine imposed on H&R ChemPharm represented 2.5 % of its turnover.42
The Court ruled in the same way it had done before43 in stating that « only inasmuch as the Court of Justice considers that the level of the penalty is not merely inappropriate, but also excessive to the point of being disproportionate, would it have to find that the General Court erred in law, on account of the inappropriateness of the amount of a fine ».44
The Court also stated that the General Court had effectively compared separately the coefficients applied to the fines for companies which have only participated to the main aspect of the infringement, as it is the case for H&R ChemPharm and the coefficients applied to the fines for companies which have participated to the both aspects of the infringement.45
The Court ruled that « the Commission is not required, when determining the amount of fines, to ensure, where such fines are imposed on a number of undertakings involved in the same infringement, that the final amounts of the fines reflect any distinction between the undertakings concerned in terms of their overall turnover ».46
The Court judged in the continuity of its own precedents on the issue.47
The Court considered eventually that « the difference in rates between the basic amount and the total turnover of the group of companies, so far as ExxonMobil and H&R are concerned, is solely the consequence of the fact that the revenues accounted for by the goods belonging to the markets affected by the cartel represent an incomparably lower percentage of ExxonMobil’s turnover than in the case of H&R ».48
In the absence of a disproportionate amount of fine, the argument of H&R ChemPharm has been dismissed.
6 – Regarding the question of the costs of the procedure
H&R ChemPharm challenged the ruling of the General Court on the ground that the judgement declared H&R ChemPharm liable to cover the costs of the procedure for an amount of 10 000 euros, while the procedure before the General Court is in principle free.49
The Court considered that, while the procedure before the General Court is free, according to the article 90 a) of the rules of procedure of the General Court, if the General Court has to incur expenses that may have been avoided, the General Court may condemn the party which is responsible for the expenses to reimburse them.50
However, the Court did not rule on the substance of the question raised by H&R ChemPharm, because according to constant precedents, when every other questions of an appeal have been dismissed, the Court must reject any claim grounded on the alleged irregularity of the decision of the General Court ruling on the issue of liability for the expenses incurred for the procedure.51
Thus, the Court dismissed the appeal in its entirety and closed eventually the paraffin wax cartel case.
Par un arrêt rendu le 1er février 2017, la Cour de justice a rejeté le pourvoi formé contre un arrêt du Tribunal, rejetant lui-même le recours formé contre une décision rendue par la Commission et condamnant l’Etat italien a récupéré une aide accordée, notamment à la société Portovesme, auteur du pourvoi1
Sur le contexte
Une décision du Comité interministériel des prix d’Italie en date du 14 décembre 1993 2 , abrogée par un décret du 19 décembre 1995 3, a fixé une surtaxe thermique intégrée au tarif de l’électricité, dite « tarif pré-Alumix ».
Lors de la privatisation d’Almunix, société ayant une activité dans le secteur de l’aluminium, le gouvernement italien a adopté des mesures visant à réduire les tarifs d’électricité applicables aux fonderies d’aluminium de Portovesme et de Fusina.
Dans sa décision Alumix, la Commission a considéré que le tarif « pré-Alumix » appliqué de 1993 à 1995 constituait une aide d’Etat en ce qu’elle aboutissait à ce qu’Alumix, pour le site Portovesme bénéficiait d’une réduction de ses coûts de production par la réduction de la surtaxe thermique alors que d’autres industries du reste de l’Italie n’en bénéficiaient pas.4
La Commission a toutefois conclu que cette aide relevait de l’article 92§3 du traité CE prévoyant des dérogations pour la poursuite de l’objectif de développement régional. 5
Un décret du 6 février 2004 a étendu les conditions tarifaires prévues par le décret du 19 décembre 1995. Cette extension devait en principe prendre fin au plus tard le 30 juin 2007. 6
Portovesme, devenue société productrice de métaux non ferreux suite à la privatisation d’Alumix a été bénéficiaire de cette extension pour ses usines situées à Portocuso et à San Gavino. 7
Le 14 mars 2005, un décret-loi a été adoptée, converti en une loi n°80/2005, prorogeant le tarif préférentiel accordé à Portovesme. 8
Le 29 octobre 2008, la Commission, suite à plusieurs échanges d’informations entre celle-ci et la République italienne, a décidé d’examiner le tarif préférentiel en distinguant la situation des acteurs du secteur, dont Portovesme qui a bénéficié d’un tarif préférentiel et la société Alcoa Trasformazioni dont le tarif relevait d’un autre texte. 9
Le 23 février 2011, la Commission a adopté une décision constant que l’aide accordée par la loi n°80/2005 était incompatible avec le marché intérieur et interdit à la République italienne de la mettre à exécution. 10
La Commission a d’autre part considéré que l’aide issue du décret du 6 février 2004 était incompatible avec le marché intérieur et a ordonné la récupération des aides accordées, notamment auprès de Portovesme, pour un montant total de 12 845 892,82 euros. 11
Le 16 octobre 2014, le Tribunal a rendu un arrêt suite à un recours formé par la société Portovesme contre la décision de la Commission, rejetant les prétentions de la société Portovesme.
Le 23 décembre 2014 , la société Portovesme a formé un pourvoi contre l’arrêt rendu par le Tribunal de l’Union européenne en invoquant notamment la violation du principe d’égalité et de l’article 108 TFUE
Le 1er février 2017, la Cour de justice a rendu son arrêt déclarant la mesure d’aide incompatible avec le marché intérieur.
Sur les principaux moyens de la société Portovesme
– La société Portovesme soutenait que le principe d’égalité de traitement a été violé en ce que l’aide accordée à la société Portovesme était analogue à celle acordée à Alcoa Trasformazioni. Par conséquent, ayant été placée dans une situation comparable à la société Alcoa Trasformazioni, elle aurait dû être traitée de manière analogue.
Selon elle, l’aide accordée à Portovesme par le décret du 6 février 2004 serait la même que celle dont a bénéficié Alcoa Transformazioni jusqu’au 31 décembre 2005.
Le Tribunal aurait considéré a tort que l’aide instaurée par le décret du 6 février 2004 constituait une aide nouvelle, devant être notifiée à la Commission (alors qu’elle ne l’était pas).12
La Cour a rejeté les arguments de la société Portovesme en ce qu’elle n’expliquait pas en quoi le Tribunal avait commis une erreur de droit et n’avançait que des arguments identiques à ceux présentés devant le Tribunal. Ce moyen constituait ainsi non pas un pourvoi mais une demande de réexamen de la requête devant le Tribunal, compétence qui n’est pas celle de la Cour. 13
– La société Portovesme reprochait également au Tribunal de ne pas avoir pris en compte l’objectif des aides accordées aux fins d’examiner leur légalité. 14
La Cour a jugé que l’objectif de rapprochement des conditions de concurrence existant dans un secteur économique de celles prévalant dans d’autres Etats membres et les mesures destinées à compenser d’éventuels désavantages auxquels les entreprises installées dans certaines régions d’un Etat membre sont exposées n’enlèvent pas le caractère d’aides d’Etat aux mesures.15
L’objectif de la mesure n’avait donc pas à être pris en compte pour caractériser le caractère d’avantage sélectif de l’aide accordée.16
La Cour a par conséquent rejeté intégralement le pourvoi visant à faire annuler la récupération de l’aide accordée par l’Etat italien.17
Par un arrêt du 9 juin 20161, la Cour de justice a rejeté le pourvoi formé contre un arrêt du Tribunal de l’Union européenne du 16 septembre 2013 par trois sociétés, Repsol Lubricantes y Especialidades SA (ci-après « Repsol Lubricantes »), Repsol Petróleo SA et Repsol SA 2.
Le Tribunal avait lui-même rejeté un recours formé contre une décision de la Commission en date du 3 octobre 2007 dans laquelle celle-ci avait prononcé une sanction d’un montant de 80 496 000 euros contre les trois sociétés qui doivent s’acquitter solidairement de l’amende pour avoir participé à un ensemble d’accords de répartition du marché et de coordination des prix du bitume de pénétration routier en Espagne 3.
Les trois sociétés contestaient l’arrêt du Tribunal en se fondant notamment sur une erreur d’appréciation de l’absence d’autonomie de la société fille (I), sur une erreur de droit en refusant une immunité partielle de sanction (II) et sur une violation du principe de proportionnalité de la sanction (III).
I) L’erreur alléguée d’appréciation de l’absence d’autonomie de la société fille
Les requérantes soutiennent que, malgré un contrôle capitalistique à hauteur de 100%, elles ont rapporté la preuve de l’absence de contrôle effectif des sociétés mères (Repsol Peotroleo SA et Repsol SA) sur leur filiale (Repsol Lubricantes).
En effet, le contrôle à 100% du capital d’une filiale par la société mère crée une présomption de contrôle de cette dernière sur la première et ainsi rend responsable la société mère pour les pratiques anticoncurrentielles de la filiale. Cette présomption est une présomption simple, qui peut être renversée par les requérantes.
Les requérantes soutiennent en outre que le Tribunal a opéré une appréciation « excessivement individualisée » des éléments de preuve apportés, sans effectuer d’appréciation d’ensemble.
La Cour a rejeté ce moyen, se refusant à apprécier des éléments de faits, qui ressortent de l’analyse souveraine du Tribunal.
La Cour a toutefois précisé que l’analyse détaillée de chacun des éléments de preuve par le Tribunal n’avait pas pour conséquence une absence d’appréciation d’ensemble de ces éléments.
De plus, la Cour a rejeté toute violation par le Tribunal de son obligation de motivation en ce qu’il a estimé que les requérantes ne démontraient pas l’autonomie de comportement de la filiale.
II ) La prétendue erreur dans le refus de l’immunité partielle de sanction
Les requérantes ont ensuite soutenu que le Tribunal a effectué une appréciation erronée du rejet de la demande d’immunité partielle de sanction par la Commission. Le Tribunal aurait retenu « que c’était à tort qu’elles prétendaient que c’était Repsol qui avait produit, dans sa déclaration au titre de cette communication, les informations ayant permis à la Commission d’avoir connaissance du fait que l’entente s’était poursuivie pendant la période correspondant aux années 1998 à 2002 » (point 53 de l’arrêt de la Cour).
Les informations en question étaient selon les requérantes ignorées par la Commission et ont permis de déterminer la durée de l’infraction.
Le Tribunal aurait ainsi mal interprété le point 23, sous b), dernier alinéa, de la communication sur la coopération de 2002.
La Cour a rappelé que « les termes « faits […] ignorés de la Commission » sont dénués d’ambiguïté et autorisent à retenir une interprétation restrictive du point 23, sous b), dernier alinéa, de la communication sur la coopération de 2002, en le limitant aux cas où une société partie à une entente fournit une information nouvelle à la Commission, relative à la gravité ou à la durée de l’infraction, comme elle l’a déjà jugé 4.
Or, le Tribunal a souverainement retenu que la Commission disposait déjà, antérieurement à la communication faite par les requérantes au titre de la communication de 2002, des éléments de preuve suffisant pour établir la pratique sur la période de 1998 à 2002 obtenus au cours des vérifications effectuées les 1er et 2 octobre 2002.
La Cour a jugé que le Tribunal était par conséquent fondé à ne pas prendre en considération les éléments de preuve des requérantes pour revenir sur le refus de la Commission d’accorder une immunité partielle de sanction pour les pratiques sur la période concernée.
III) La violation du principe de proportionnalité
Les requérantes soutenaient enfin que le Tribunal a violé l’article 261 TFUE et le principe de proportionnalité en n’effectuant pas un « contrôle autonome et exhaustif » de la décision de la Commission en ce qui concerne le montant de base de la sanction.
Les lignes directrices de 1998 sur la fixation du montant des amendes impose selon les requérantes une limite à titre indicatif de 20 000 000 euros pour les infractions qualifiées de « très graves ». Or la Commission a fixé en l’espèce une amende d’un montant de 40 000 000 euros, soit le double du montant qu’aurait dû fixer la Commission au regard des éléments de faits de l’infraction.
La Cour n’opère un contrôle du montant de la sanction que dans la mesure où celui serait disproportionné, et constituerait par conséquent une erreur de droit (4. Cour de justice, 30 mai 2013, Quinn Barlo e.a./Commission, C‑70/12 P).
La Cour a relevé que les lignes directrices de 1998 prévoyaient à leur point 1, A, que « le montant de base de l’amende envisageable en cas d’infractions très graves est situé au-delà de 20 millions d’euros ».
Le montant de 20 000 000 d’euros est ainsi un montant de base, à partir duquel la Commission fixe le montant de l’amende. La Commission était ainsi fondée à fixer un montant supérieur à la limite invoquée par les requérantes.
La Cour rejette ainsi ce dernier moyen et finalement rejette le pourvoi.
Les sociétés Repsol Lubricantes, Repsol Petróleo SA et Repsol SA voient ainsi leur condamnation solidaire au paiement d’une amende d’un montant de 80 496 000 euros.
La Cour de justice a rendu un arrêt le 16 juin 20161 par lequel elle rejetait le pourvoi formé par les sociétés Evonik Degussa GmbH (ci-après « Degussa ») et AlzChem AG (ci-après « AlzChem ») contre un arrêt du Tribunal du 23 janvier 2014 2.
Par une décision du 22 juillet 2009, la Commission a infligé une amende à des sociétés dans le domaine de la production de réactifs à base de carbure de calcium et de magnésium destinés aux secteurs sidérurgique et gazier.
Les sociétés Degussa et AlzChem ont été condamnées solidairement avec la société SKW, cette dernière étant détenue à 100 % par les deux premières au moment des faits.
Le Tribunal a partiellement confirmé la décision prononcée par la Commission. Le Tribunal a en effet considéré que la Commission avait illégalement accordé une réduction d’amende à la société SKW au titre de la clémence.
Les sociétés Degussa et AlzChem ont formé un pourvoi contre l’arrêt du Tribunal.
La société Degussa contestait en particulier, d’une part l’imputabilité de l’amende à la société mère pour les agissements de sa société fille et d’autre part, le refus de libérer la société du paiement total de l’amende de 3,47 millions d’euros, se fondant sur le principe d’égalité de traitement.
La société Degussa soutenait que le Tribunal n’avait retenu, pour établir l’imputabilité de la sanction à la société mère Degussa pour les agissements de sa filiale SKW, qu’une influence potentielle ou théorique.
Or, la filiale SKW était détenu à 100 % par les sociétés Degussa et AlzChem. Par conséquent, avec un tel taux de détention, il existe une présomption d’exercice d’influence déterminante sur les décisions de la filiale par la société mère, comme l’a régulièrement jugé la Cour 3.
Cette présomption peut toutefois être renversée lorsque les requérants démontrent l’absence d’exercice effectif d’une influence déterminante par la société mère.
La société Degussa soutenait qu’elle avait adressé des consignes à sa filiale pour lui interdire de participer aux pratiques concernées, que cette dernière n’a pas respecté.
Dans cet arrêt, la Cour a retenu que le fait qu’une filiale « ne se conforme pas à une instruction donnée par sa société mère ne saurait suffire, à lui seul, à établir l’absence d’exercice effectif d’une influence déterminante par celle-ci sur celle-là, dès lors que la Cour a eu l’occasion de préciser qu’il n’est pas nécessaire que la filiale applique toutes les instructions de sa société mère pour démontrer l’existence d’une influence déterminante, sous réserve de ce que le non‑respect de ces instructions ne soit pas la règle » 4.
La Cour a jugé qu’en l’espèce, le Tribunal a simplement constaté que les requérantes ne démontraient pas l’absence d’exercice effectif d’une influence déterminante par celles-ci sur SKW et, partant, ne suffisaient pas pour renverser la présomption de détention du capital.
La société Degussa soutenait par ailleurs qu’elle devait être libérée du paiement total de la sanction, pour un montant de 3,47M€ et non seulement pour les 2,49M€ accordés par le Tribunal.
En effet, en l’absence de la réduction illégale de sanction accordée à la société SKW, accordée illégitimement par la Commission, les paiements effectués par SKW, ayant un effet extinctif sur l’amende solidairement prononcée, auraient atteint 3,47M€, libérant la société Degussa d’un paiement jusqu’à ce montant. Le montant réclamé à la société Degussa devait donc être réduit,au titre du principe d’égalité de traitement.
La Cour a rappelé qu« [‘il]est de jurisprudence constante de la Cour que le principe d’égalité de traitement, invoqué par les requérantes, doit se concilier avec le respect de la légalité, selon lequel nul ne peut invoquer, à son profit, une illégalité commise en faveur d’autrui »5.
La société Dégussa ne peut ainsi pas se prévaloir du principe d’égalité de traitement pour obtenir une réduction du montant de l’amende.
La Cour a constaté que la société SKW a déjà libéré les requérantes du paiement de la sanction solidairement infligée pour un montant de 2,49M€.
Selon la Cour, le montant restant dû par la société Degussa, de 1,24M€ « a été imposé exclusivement à Degussa en raison de la récidive et, partant, ne sera pas affecté par les paiements éventuellement effectués par SKW pour s’acquitter de l’amende mise à la charge de cette dernière ».
C’est ainsi que la Cour a rejeté les arguments de la société Degussa sur l’imputabilité de la sanction à la société mère pour les agissements de sa filiale et concernant le montant de la sanction réclamé à la société Degussa. La Cour a par conséquent rejeté le pourvoir formé par les sociétés Degussa et AlzChem.
Dans quatre arrêts du 10 mars 2016, la Cour de justice a annulé les décisions de la Commission relatives aux demandes de renseignements adressées aux cimentiers au motif que ces décisions n’étaient pas suffisamment motivées 1.
En décembre 2010, la Commission avait ouvert une enquête à l’encontre de plusieurs entreprises du secteur de la cimenterie.
Ces infractions consistaient, selon la Commission, en « des restrictions des flux commerciaux, y compris des restrictions d’importations en provenance d’Etats extérieurs à l’EEE, des répartitions de marchés, des coordinations des prix et des pratiques anticoncurrentielles connexes sur le marché du ciment et les marchés des produits connexes ».
Par décisions du 30 mars 2011, la Commission a demandé aux entreprises concernées de répondre à un questionnaire portant sur les soupçons d’infraction.
Plusieurs sociétés ont alors formé un recours devant le Tribunal de l’Union européenne, au motif que la Commission n’aurait pas suffisamment motivé et expliqué les infractions présumées et de leur avoir imposé une charge de travail disproportionnée par rapport au volume des renseignements demandés et au format de réponse particulièrement contraignant qui leur avait été imposé.
Le Tribunal, par un arrêt du 14 mars 2014, a confirmé la validité des demandes de renseignement formulées par la Commission.
Dans ces arrêts du 10 mars 2016, la Cour a constaté que le Tribunal a commis une erreur de droit en considérant que les décisions de la Commission étaient suffisamment motivées.
Selon le droit de l’Union, la motivation des actes des institutions doit être adaptée à la nature de l’acte en cause et doit faire apparaître de façon claire et non équivoque le raisonnement de l’auteur de l’acte, de manière à permettre aux intéressés de connaître les justifications de la mesure prise et à la juridiction compétente d’exercer son contrôle. L’exigence de motivation doit être appréciée en fonction de toutes les circonstances de l’espèce et au regard non seulement du libellé de l’acte, mais aussi de son contexte et de l’ensemble des règles juridiques régissant la matière concernée.
S’agissant, en particulier, de la motivation d’une décision de demande de renseignements, la Commission doit notamment indiquer la base juridique et le but de la demande. Elle doit également préciser les renseignements demandés et fixer le délai dans lequel ils doivent être fournis. Cette obligation de motivation spécifique constitue une exigence fondamentale en vue non seulement de faire apparaître le caractère justifié de la demande de renseignements, mais aussi de mettre les entreprises concernées en mesure de saisir la portée de leur devoir de collaboration tout en préservant en même temps leurs droits de la défense.
En l’espèce, la Cour a constaté que les décisions de la Commission ne faisaient pas apparaître, de manière claire et non équivoque, les soupçons d’infraction qui justifiaient leur adoption et ne permettaient pas de déterminer si les renseignements étaient nécessaires aux fins de l’enquête. En effet, la motivation était excessivement succincte, vague et générique, eu égard en particulier à l’ampleur considérable des questions posées.
La Cour a relevé qu’une demande de renseignements constitue, à l’instar d’une décision d’inspection, une mesure d’enquête qui est généralement utilisée dans la phase d’instruction de l’affaire. La Cour a déjà considéré, s’agissant de décisions d’inspection, qu’il n’était pas indispensable de délimiter avec précision le marché en cause, de fournir une qualification juridique exacte des infractions présumées ou d’indiquer la période au cours de laquelle ces infractions auraient été commises, dès lors que les inspections interviennent au début de l’enquête, à une période au cours de laquelle la Commission ne dispose pas encore d’informations précises.
Une motivation excessivement succincte, vague et générique ne peut néanmoins pas justifier des demandes de renseignements intervenues, comme dans les présentes affaires, plusieurs mois après l’ouverture de la procédure et plus de deux ans après les premières inspections alors que la Commission avait déjà adressé plusieurs demandes de renseignements aux entreprises soupçonnées d’avoir participé à l’infraction concernée. La Cour constate que les décisions ont été adoptées à une date où la Commission disposait déjà d’informations qui lui auraient permis d’exposer avec davantage de précision les soupçons d’infraction qui pesaient sur les entreprises en cause.
Par conséquent, la Cour a conclu que les décisions de la Commission n’étaient pas suffisamment motivées à suffisance de droit.
Dans un arrêt rendu le 8 mars 20161, la Cour de justice a confirmé l’obligation pour l’État grec de récupérer auprès des agriculteurs grecs l’aide d’État illégale de 425 millions d’euros versée à la suite de mauvaises conditions climatiques.
Au cours de l’année 2009, l’Etat grec, au travers de l’organisme public grec d’assurances agricoles (ELGA) a versé des compensations à des agriculteurs pour un montant total de 425 millions d’euros pour des dommages survenus en 2008 à la suite de mauvaises conditions climatiques.
Par décision du 7 décembre 20111, la Commission a, compte tenu notamment des règles de conduite contenues dans le Cadre communautaire temporaire pour les aides d’État destinées à favoriser l’accès au financement, qualifié ces mesures d’aides d’État illégales et incompatibles avec le marché intérieur. Elle a alors ordonné aux autorités helléniques de les récupérer auprès des bénéficiaires.
La Grèce a demandé au Tribunal de l’Union européenne d’annuler cette décision et de suspendre son exécution jusqu’au prononcé de l’arrêt au fond.
En 2012, le président du Tribunal a suspendu l’exécution de la décision, dans la mesure où celle-ci obligeait la Grèce à récupérer les aides incompatibles auprès de leurs bénéficiaires.
Néanmoins, en 2014, le Tribunal a rejeté le recours sur le fond.
La Grèce a alors introduit un pourvoi devant la Cour de justice, demandant tant l’annulation de l’arrêt du Tribunal que la suspension de l’exécution de la décision de la Commission jusqu’à l’issue du pourvoi. La Cour a rejeté la demande de suspension au motif que le pourvoi ne paraissait pas, de prime abord, fondé.
Dans l’arrêt du 8 mars 2016, la Cour a jugé que les versements effectués par l’ELGA ayant été, en outre, indépendants des cotisations acquittées par les agriculteurs, ces versements constituaient un avantage que les bénéficiaires n’auraient pas pu obtenir dans des conditions normales de marché et qui affectaient ainsi la concurrence.
la Commission peut être tenue de s’écarter des règles de conduite du Cadre communautaire temporaire pour les aides d’État et apprécier la compatibilité des aides concernées en appliquant directement la disposition pertinente du Traité, notamment lorsqu’un État membre invoque des circonstances exceptionnelles qui caractérisent un secteur donné de l’économie d’un État membre et qui se distinguent de celles visées par de tels encadrements.
Or, la Cour constate que, en l’espèce, la Grèce n’a pas fait valoir devant le Tribunal qu’il existait de telles circonstances spécifiques exceptionnelles dans le secteur agricole grec, qui se seraient distinguées de celles prévalant, dans le même secteur, dans autres États membres similairement affectés par la crise économique et qui auraient donc pu imposer à la Commission de s’écarter du cadre communautaire temporaire.
Ainsi, l’Etat grec a l’obligation de récupérer l’aide versée aux agriculteurs