Through the voice of their President, Mr André Michielsens, the Notaries of Europe presented their 2020 Plan to the public as part of European SME Week. To do so, they chose to organise an event in their offices on the subject ‘Rebuilding Trust in the European SME Market’.
The Notaries of Europe thus inaugurated a series of events that will take place throughout 2014 and 2015 and during which the participants will discuss the proposals in the 2020 Plan, based around five commitments:
- Bringing new solutions for the daily lives of citizens
- Supporting business development in Europe
- Strengthening cross-border cooperation between notaries
- Making justice more efficient thanks to the authentic instrument
- Working alongside the national administrations.
The 2020 Plan is available in eight languages (Croatian, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish) and can be consulted at the following address: www.notariesofeurope.eu/plan2020.
For Mr Michielsens, the Notaries of Europe demonstrate through the 2020 Plan “their wish to build a European justice policy that rises to the current socio-economic challenges. It fits in perfectly with the Europe 2020 strategy, in which the European Commission is relying on the Member States to conduct reforms in line with its recommendations. ”
The event provided the opportunity to present one of the Notaries of Europe’s commitments: ‘supporting the development of SMEs’. Two discussion panels were organised to this end, one on the notary’s role alongside SMEs and the other on the proposal for a directive on the single-member private limited company.
Keen to demonstrate that the Notaries of Europe were not making empty promises, Mr Michielsens also presented a first draft of a ‘company passport’, a concrete proposal included in the 2020 Plan. This new instrument, available in English and French, would be available to SMEs to facilitate their movement.
The SME world was well represented in the first panel with the participation of Gerhard Huemer, Director of Economic and Fiscal Policy at UEAPME, Stephanie Mitchell, Deputy Head of the Unit for Entrepreneurship at the European Commission’s DG Enterprise and Industry and Karel Van Eetvelt, CEO of UNIZO. The debates were moderated by Timm Starke, President of the Bundesnotarkammer.
The speakers were unanimous: notaries can and must play a role providing advice and legal support for business people wishing to launch an activity. For Ms Mitchell, “business people need a pilot to guide them” and notaries can respond effectively to these expectations. “Business people need a guarantee that notaries can see further then them, protecting and helping them even if they don’t know they need it,” she stressed.
Mr Huemer contributed his experience gained within his European organisation representing the interests of craft, small and medium-sized enterprises. He clearly differentiated between two opposing cultures, in his words, within the EU: “In certain regions of Europe, things must be done quickly. In others, to start a business, emphasis is on the need for credibility and guarantees. At the UEAPME, we follow this second model (…). We want to ensure that certain standards are respected and this is why we are not happy with certain legislation such as the SUP”.
Then going on to talk about the help given to business people by notaries, he insisted on the role as a ‘one-stop-shop’ played by notaries: “Notaries do not only have a role as certifiers. They give advice on legal form, liability, preparing articles of association, access to finance (…). They are in regular contact with the various administrative authorities”.
But although notaries can help business people effectively, in order to do so business people need to be aware of this possibility. Mr Van Eetvelt elaborated on the results of a survey conducted jointly by UNIZO and the Royal Federation of the Belgian Notariat. The results are self-explanatory: 65% of business people questioned had had dealings at least once with a notary and this percentage rose to 78% if these businesses employed staff or worked internationally. However, a minority of those surveyed considered notaries to be the first adviser to contact, far behind other legal advisers or accountants. Let us note all the same that the satisfaction levels with notaries’ services were above 80%. For Mr Van Eetvelt, there were two lessons to be learned here: “the notary should be the first adviser and businesses do not know it” and “notaries must explain the benefit of their work more”.
Echoing these views, Ms Mitchell invited the notaries to get involved in the education of young entrepreneurs, particularly through the Erasmus+ programme. Mr Michielsens welcomed this proposal, committing to implement an exchange programme to enable young legal professionals to do internships abroad.
The second panel, moderated by Corrado Malberti, an Italian notary, focused on the proposal for a directive on the single-member private limited liability company. This proposal seeks to harmonise the requirements to create single-member companies. It raises numerous questions and fears, as underlined by Séverine Picard, legal adviser for the ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation) and Alexander Schopper from the University of Innsbruck.
Ms Picard raised the possibility of fraud with respect to employee protection rules resulting from such a directive, which would enable companies to set up in countries where the costs were lower. On a different note, the Notaries of Europe consider this proposal for a directive to be dangerous for the European economy. The registration procedure for SUPs by electronic means, without the physical presence of the founder in the country of registration, will not allow a true verification to be conducted of the founders’ identities, among other aspects. And yet this check is an obligation imposed by the international and European anti-money laundering rules.
However, for Mr Bartłomiej Kurcz, head of the Company Law sector for the European Commission’s DG Internal Market, this text would not be a problem but an “opportunity” for businesses. The European Commission hopes that such legislation will make it possible to create a business more easily in another Member State, as in its view, “at the moment, only 2% of businesses invest abroad”. This reticence could be explained by the “diversity of national rules that can be difficult to overcome for entrepreneurs. This is not the case for big businesses that have the necessary legal resources”. According to Mr Kurcz, the proposal echoes a tendency within the EU: the possibility to register a company online and without the obligation to have a minimum capital. In this context, In this context and in his view, it would be inappropriate to judge which is the better system, but to “leave it up to entrepreneurs to choose”.
Coming back to the issue of minimum capital, Mr Schopper mentioned the recent reform in Austria relating to private limited liability companies. The minimum capital required to set up has been reduced from EUR 35,000 to EUR 10,000. For Mr Schopper, the Austrian legislator’s approach is to “protect creditors, to have serious companies able to assume their responsibilities”. And yet, with the SUP proposal, the Commission introduces a ‘Trojan horse’ that will ultimately compete with the different types of company in the EU.
The differing views were therefore clear on the legislation’s consequences. Forthcoming negotiations with the Council and the European Parliament will provide an opportunity to try to bridge the differences and make sure the European notariat’s voice is heard.