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Editorial

Legal market overview

Belgium’s GDP grew 1.5% in 2015, although national unemployment stands at a sobering 7.9%.

Against this backdrop, the Belgian corporate and M&A market has been doing surprisingly well. Following a rather sluggish start to the year, the level of activity increased during the second half of 2016. Alongside many mid-market deals, the country has witnessed a number of high-profile international transactions that kept many law firms busy.

Belgium is attracting an increasing number of foreign investors and remains an attractive country for (mostly US- and UK-based) private equity players. The capital markets arena also has become dynamic.

In the area of intellectual property law, the circumstances surrounding impending Brexit gave rise to a number of queries from worried international clients regarding possible changes to IP legislation. What is more, following the formation of the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in March 2016, European trade mark law has faced its biggest reform in 20 years, resulting in notable changes to the criteria related to trade mark registration, among other things. On the patent side, the EU is preparing to establish the Unified Patent Court (UPC) and a related unitary patent for 25 of its member states, including Belgium. As the new rules will coexist alongside national laws and conventional European patents, it is expected that international clients will be affected by the possible changes.

Tax advice is high on the agenda as well, due to the increasingly aggressive stance taken by the authorities. The Anti Tax Avoidance Package, a set of proposals presented by the EU in early 2016, is part of a plan to combat corporate tax avoidance in EU member states. The ensuing changes are in line with the measures taken by the Belgian federal government to intensify the fight against tax fraud.

The EU’s recent adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation, and replacement of the Safe Harbour agreement with the EU-US Privacy Shield, fuelled an uptick in privacy and data protection instructions across the Belgian legal market. Work included regulatory compliance advice, assistance with cross-border data transfers, crisis management (arising from data breaches) and litigation. In January 2016, European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager announced that there would be increased scrutiny of companies with big data collections (and associated competition law issues) during merger investigations.

Elsewhere, in the international trade arena, there are ongoing concerns over the long-term future of the European steel industry, which is suffering from an oversupply of steel from countries such as China and Russia. China’s attempts to obtain WTO market economy recognition is another source of discussion.

Peeters Law Firm
www.peeters-law.be

Peeters Advocaten-Avocats is a full service corporate boutique with extensive national and international experience, that takes its share in the strategic planning of its clients, and offers sustainable solutions based on a realistic and pragmatic approach. High quality business services to enterprises.

Altius
www.altius.com

ALTIUS is one of the largest Belgian independent law firms, consisting of approximatively 65 lawyers. Established in Brussels, Antwerp, and Louvain-la-Neuve, we advise Belgian and international companies on the legal aspects of their transactions and disputes. Our teams are all hands-on, thorough and approachable. We have a collective drive for excellence and innovation in servicing your legal needs. Feel free to contact us and find out. We would be pleased to meet you.

The In-House Lawyer

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