Legal market overview
Belgium’s marginal improvement in economic performance has created an atmosphere of cautious optimism: growth in 2014 amounted to 1.1% and the Federal Planning Bureau predicted a slight improvement for 2015. In this context, there is considerable deal activity in the Belgian market, not least due to the fact that the country is becoming an attractive location for foreign investors, most notably US and Chinese companies. The number of M&A transactions increased significantly and private equity investors have become more active as well, providing substantial volumes of work for local and international law firms. The takeover of British brewery SABMiller by Budweiser owner AB InBev, the third-largest business takeover ever, is a case in point – and one that kept busy various large law firms in Belgium and elsewhere. Public-private partnership (PPP) projects continue to be a driving force of real estate work.
Challenging the negative effects of early retirement, the centre-right government has started to tackle the tricky subject of pension reforms, taking measures to narrow the gap between the effective and the statutory retirement age, with an intention to increase the latter in the longer term. Steps have been taken to reform the country’s wage-setting system and the resulting changes of the above are expected to generate a considerable workload for employment lawyers; employment advice related to restructurings as well as enquiries regarding the harmonisation of the dismissal law between blue-collar and white-collar employees make for the majority of new mandates currently.
In the area of competition law, firms reported a significant uptick in merger control mandates, with state aid concerns being a notable driver of instructions. Also noteworthy is Margrethe Vestager’s appointment in 2014 as the EU’s competition commissioner which, coupled with high-profile antitrust investigations, has generated debate on the European Commission’s rigorous approach to enforcement. In April 2015, the EC issued a statement of objections charging Google with abuse of dominance in online searching and also announced that it would open an investigation into Google’s Android platform.
Another issue grabbing the market’s attention is the likely impact of the EU Damages Directive, which was adopted in November 2014, and seeks to harmonise procedures across the EU for bringing private damages actions.
In the trade sphere, China’s ongoing efforts to achieve market economy status is being monitored; if it succeeds, this will have major repercussions on the EU’s ability to protect European industry from Chinese competition.
In a relatively quiet year in terms of changes to law firms, one notable development was De Wolf & Partners splitting into three: DALDEWOLF, Crosslaw and AB Legal.
Firms in the spotlight
Strelia started its activities on 1 January 2013. It was formed by experienced partners and their teams coming from various firms, including international firms (Stibbe, Nauta, White & Case, Linklaters), to bring together their expertise and strengths and provide their clients with a new offering. The firm combines the advantages of a small and flexible firm with a professional service delivered in accordance with international standards. Its team currently comprises about 25 lawyers, most of them with an international experience.
Peeters Law Firm
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.
Curia was established in 2006. The main areas since its formation have been corporate, commercial, employment and not-for-profit law. Curia is one of the fastest growing firms on the Belgian market, currently employing 27 lawyers and expanding. Since its formation, the firm has expanded in the areas of real estate, insurance, intellectual property and finance law.
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