The Potential to Rise: The European Union's Attempts at a 2014 Rebound

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"The recession is behind us, and there is finally some recovery going on," said Freddy Van den Spiegel, chief economist and director of public affairs at BNP Paribas Fortis and FCIB Europe Economic Advisor. Indeed, the passing of the worst of the economic storms affecting the European Union is one of the few topics on which the multinational bloc comes close to having a consensus opinion. Left for analysis and assessment now is what's next. Is there going to be growth, stability, stagnation or the potential for another dip?

Berry Van Hoof, group credit manager for Europe at Allnex Belgium SA, believes most countries are showing stability or some improvement as seen in the payment and solvency behaviors of Allnex s customers. "The companies that were in a weak financial position at the beginning of the crisis, those companies collapsed or are still struggling to get enough cash to survive. But, importantly, what I do not see is a massive group of new customers getting into trouble," he said.

David Vermylen, global credit manager of petrochemicals with BP Chemicals Limited, sees increased stability as well, but not much in the way of growth, a situation he doesn't find particularly positive or comforting. "Two years ago, stable would have been good news, but we're not really finding enough of an uptick in growth again," said Vermylen, who is also vice chairperson of FCIB's European Advisory Council. "We're coming to grips that Europe has not been investing enough in R&D. It's starting to show up in statistics."

Michael Andreasen, ICCE, corporate working capital process manager at TNT Express, said whether a time of growth or stability, things have moved into a more favorable direction than previous years, but an ongoing problem in his, as well as Van Hoof's, estimation is the level of uncertainty still within the zone. From the volatility of Italy's ability to rebound as one of the EU's biggest economies to the obstacles in the path of new EU-wide laws or international partnerships to a lack of uniformity between the member states, clarity remains a fast-moving target when looking at the 28-country bloc.

"I think there should be a more uniform approach to the economy in Europe," Van Hoof said. It appears, if nothing else, the EU is trying.

Parliament and Commission Addressing Insolvency, Payment

The European Parliament voted early this year to support a tentative European Commission plan to change insolvency laws, which would shift to allow for business restructuring and recovery during financial troubles instead of the current system where liquidation is the usual outcome. The new, EU-wide mandate, if agreed upon, would be more akin to the US Chapter 11 process. Key provisions of the new laws would include extending the rules that cover rescue proceedings, creating an EU-wide insolvency registry, reducing the opening of multiple insolvency proceedings against one company and clarifying the rules for dealing with the insolvency of groups of companies. European Commission Vice President and EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding noted that "the first option for viable businesses should be to stay afloat rather than liquidating."

Thomas Voller, attorney with the Germany-based Voller Rechtsanwalte, is among those optimistic about the prospects. He also believes the insolvency changes could be on the books within a couple of years once a finalized proposal clears the EU Council and is worked into each member states existing laws. He also believes concerns on the latter are exaggerated. "Unification of the rules has worked in Europe before, and it will work again," Voller said. "The countries normally do take these rules. For instance, we have unified money laundering rules in this space. It just takes time."

Either way, Voller argued the insolvency reform would be positive for businesses and creditors alike, because a new insolvency system could help eliminate todays common problem of unnecessarily liquidating businesses that could realistically rebound. …