In contrast to the United States, where an enabling legal regime and a fortunate confluence of a variety of factors have led to a surge of appraisal petitions and appraisal arbitrage, the appraisal remedy remains a sparingly utilized weapon in the arsenal of shareholders in the EU. Minority shareholders in the EU are reticent to exercise appraisal rights. One could plausibly argue that appraisal rights serve as a remedy of desperation for shareholders in the EU. The appraisal remedy is viewed as a last resort measure by shareholders. Furthermore, in cases where shareholders exercise their appraisal rights, their interventions tend to be incidental and ex post. Despite the fact that some U.S. hedge funds that are willing to use appraisal rights as part of their overall strategy are increasing their activities in the EU, a variety of factors, including a hostile legal regime, hinder the growth of appraisal and appraisal arbitrage in the EU.
In particular, the lack of harmonization of appraisal rights across EU Member States severely hampers their exercise. The European legislature has not yet introduced a U.S.-style general appraisal right with respect to fundamental corporate changes. Article 4(2) of the Cross-Borders Directive, which regulates cross-border mergers in the EU, allows but does not require Member States to adopt provisions designed to ensure protection for minority shareholders who have opposed the merger. The Directive is rather vague as to who qualifies as a minority shareholder, which company’s (surviving or disappearing entity) minority shareholders will receive protection, and the form of the protection. As a result, Member States’ rules regarding appraisal rights exhibit significant differences with respect to the events triggering appraisal rights, the form of appraisal rights, and the procedural requirements for exercising appraisal rights. Nevertheless, there is growing momentum for the introduction of harmonized appraisal rights in the context of cross-border mergers. The 2013 Study on the Application of the Cross-Border Mergers Directive identified the lack of harmonization regarding minority shareholder protection as an obstacle to cross-border merger activity. Following the 2012 EU Commission Action Plan on European Company Law and Corporate Governance, which announced that the Commission would consider amendments to improve the Cross-Border Mergers Directive, the Commission launched in 2014 a Consultation on Cross-Border Mergers and Divisions. The majority of respondents were in favor of harmonization of minority shareholder rights in connection with cross-border mergers. Their preferred method of harmonization was full harmonization. Most notably, proponents of harmonization considered the right to request compensation, namely appraisal rights, as the appropriate remedy.
Overall, investors have strongly voiced their concerns regarding the lack of harmonization in the context of cross-border mergers, arguing that multiple divergent legal regimes are an obstacle to cross-border deal activity. The divergence of legal rules imposes significant costs, introduces uncertainty, and can hinder the free movement of capital, one of the key elements in the EU single market. For a fuller discussion of EU appraisal, see Prof. Seretakis’s paper here.
** Lowenstein Sandler LLP thanks Professor Seretakis of Trinity University College Dublin for his contribution to this blog. Professor Seretakis focuses on issues of law and finance in the EU. His profile can be found here. Lowenstein Sandler LLP does not practice law in the European Union.