Cross-Border Mergers and Acquisitions - The Mobility Directive
On 1 September 2023, the Implementation Act for the European Mobility Directive comes into effect. This new law contributes to a more integrated and dynamic European market. In an era of increasing globalization and international business activities, companies are increasingly faced with the challenge of operating across borders and expanding their operations. Cross-border mergers, conversions, and splits play a crucial role in facilitating this business mobility and promoting collaboration between companies from different countries.
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Despite the fact that cross-border mergers were already allowed according to jurisprudence of the EU Court of Justice, there is still a need for legislation and regulation. From this need, the European Mobility Directive (2019/2121/EU) emerged with the aim of facilitating and promoting cross-border mobility of companies within the European Union. This directive follows earlier M&A directives such as the Merger Directive (2009/133/EC), as a consequence many terms and processes are already familiar and already in use for national mergers and splits. The Dutch legislature has adopted the Implementation Act for Cross-Border Conversion, Mergers, and Splits to implement this EU directive, making it easier for companies to convert their legal form to the law of another EU member state. At the same time, the law introduces additional protection mechanisms for stakeholders and a mandatory fraud check by the notary. The Act should have been implemented on 1 January 2023 but now officially comes into effect on 1 September 2023.
The directive only applies to capital companies of EU member states. In the Netherlands, this means exclusively the B.V. and the N.V. Due to Brexit, this directive does not apply to any British companies such as the LLP. The law applies only to the transactions mentioned in the directive for which the proposal was filed with the Chamber of Commerce after 1 September 2023. These transactions include conversion, splitting, and merger, collectively referred to as "transactions."
The law divides these transactions into three different phases: (1) the preparation phase, (2) the decision-making phase, and (3) the implementation phase.
During the preparation phase, each company must take preparatory steps in accordance with the national laws of the respective member state. For mergers, this includes, among other things, preparing and disclosing a (joint) merger proposal. The directive specifies the minimum required contents to be included in this proposal.
After the formal proposal to merge, the decision-making phase begins. According to the directive, the competent authority in the country of departure provides a written declaration - the so-called pre-merger certificate - to the competent authority in the country of destination, confirming that the merger has been carried out legally. In the Netherlands, this role is assigned to the notary, who must determine whether the transaction has fraudulent or unlawful purposes. If the notary does not provide such a certificate, the cross-border transaction will not proceed.
Finally, there is the implementation phase, during which the transaction is carried out in accordance with the rules of the country of destination. During this phase, the deed is notarized, and a final certificate is issued. This final certificate allows the involved companies to update their registrations in the trade register of both the destination country and the country of departure.
Protection of the Stakeholders
In addition to the introduction of the procedural phases, the law also provides protection additional protective measures for shareholders, creditors, and employees in every cross-border transaction. In the future, information should be provided quicker and more extensive. Shareholders for instance will need to be informed about the consequences of a transaction and the possible rights and remedies at their disposal.
The law further protects shareholders through exit rights and introduces procedures for determining the exchange ratios and cash compensation for the shares. The rights of employees based on statutory employee participation schemes are not explicitly extended but are further codified for all cross-border transactions.
With regard to the protection of creditors, they will have the option to enforce certain safeguards, such as a bank guarantee or a right of pledge if they are not satisfied with the securities offered in the proposal. However, creditors must act within three months of the transaction proposal having been made public, in the Netherlands this period was previously just one month.
The Implementation Law for Cross-Border Conversion, Mergers, and Splits was introduced in response to the growing need for regulated business mobility within the EU. The law follows a three-phase approach for cross-border transactions, ensuring compliance with national legislation and specific directives: the preparation, decision-making, and implementation phases. It also introduces additional protection measures for shareholders, creditors, and employees. Overall, the new law promotes business mobility, facilitates cross-border cooperation, and strengthens the European market. It also ensures important protection mechanisms through a fraud check and additional information provision for stakeholders.
The (Dutch) text of the law can be accessed through this link.
Author: Reinoud van Ginkel