Digesting Insolvency Law in CEE
The Handbook on Central and Eastern Europe Insolvency and Restructuring Laws, edited by Christian Hoenig and Christian Hammerl, and recently published by Wolf Theiss, is an introduction into the local insolvency and restructuring laws of 14 CEE countries. CEE Legal Matters spoke with Hoenig about the challenges involved in putting together such a survey of this size and scope.
Addressing a “White Spot”
Hoenig believes that the Handbook was prepared to address what he describes as a “white spot” in coverage of the region. In his opinion, the critical element in filling this gap was providing a similar level of analysis and insight in all markets. He explained: “One of the most important aspects for us was consistency. Specifically, we tried to make sure we provide the same structure across all chapters [each of which address one jurisdiction] and attempted to develop a standardized terminology. The goal for this was to offer a guide which, if, for an example, an Austrian insolvency practitioner would look at the Austrian chapter, he/she could then easily understand the logic and structure of each chapter and much more easily digest the briefing on any other jurisdiction. The basic assumption was that it is easier to follow if you see familiar concepts and are able to use them to create a structural map for analyzing other jurisdictions.”
Hoenig also believes that the topic – insolvency and restructuring law – “is at the crossroads between the legal field and general economic issues.” According to him, what really drives insolvency law is the same everywhere: striking the right balance between being fair towards creditors and making sure that businesses can survive. Drawing a comparison with tax law, which “can make or break a great economy,” Hoenig explained: “In the case of insolvency law, the bottom-line questions are how to best distinguish between viable businesses and artificially propped up businesses – no one wants economic zombies roaming around – and how to create a system that is both not too harsh on creditors to cause a backlash and doesn’t drive viable companies into liquidation proceedings.” Because the handbook addresses issues that are particularly relevant in current market conditions, this was a prime period to undertake the project, according to the Wolf Theiss Partner.
Ensuring Quality Control
When asked how the editors ensured quality control over the accuracy of the information in the Handbook, as neither had much regular interaction with rapidly evolving insolvency codes across the variety of CEE jurisdictions the guide covers, Hoenig said it was “not easy” – especially, as he pointed out, because the many contributing authors had different expertise and backgrounds.
In some markets, the practice of insolvency law “hardly exists.” To illustrate he pointed to Albania, which “has a full code comparable with any Western country, but the legislative/administrative bodies have not passed regulations for some reason (the law is designed to come into force with the issue of its implementing regulations).” Another example he gave was Serbia, where insolvency is very much dependent on solving things out of court since court proceedings tend to not yield the best results, meaning that, where possible, courts are avoided.
How was this overcome? First, the editor of the Handbook explained that, with Wolf Theiss Vienna being the firm’s hub, there was a collective body of knowledge based on coordinating many multi-jurisdictional proceedings and restructurings over the years. However, with respect to jurisdictions where such experience was limited, authors with “some form of relevant experience” such as having obtained good results in informal proceedings, litigation, and other venues were chosen. Second, a four-eye policy was implemented, with each of the countries covered by two authors.
Finally, Hoenig and his colleague, Hammerl (who, in a previous position, oversaw the EMEA operations of a large consumer electronics company for almost a decade and thus had a sense of the commercial realities on the ground), read through every single line – more than once – and had each chapter read by a group of experienced, and thankfully, rather patient colleagues. Hoenig also pointed to an extremely thorough editing process, in which he spent many hours working side by side with the contributing authors in front of the computer and, when necessary, could challenge them directly: “Hah, that sounds rather strange. Are you sure that is how it works in your country?”
It was a considerable challenge but also a learning processes which we will use when we launch subsequent editions of the Handbook. We do not see this as a one-off project and are excited to build on what we have learned and address pending ambiguities based on both developments in the law as well as discovering new case law – all to increase the value of the handbook going forward.
The publication was reprinted with the permission of CEELM. For original publication, please follow:http://www.ceelegalmatters.com/index.php/analysis/item/2366-digesting-insolvency-law-in-cee