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Procedure : 2010/2055(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0218/2010

Texts tabled :

A7-0218/2010

Debates :

PV 06/09/2010 - 21
CRE 06/09/2010 - 21

Votes :

PV 07/09/2010 - 6.8
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2010)0298

Debates
Monday, 6 September 2010 - Strasbourg OJ edition

21. Interconnection of business registers (short presentation)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the report by Mr Lechner, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs, on the interconnection of business registers (COM(2009)06142010/2055(INI)) (A7-0218/2010).

 
  
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  Kurt Lechner, rapporteur.(DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the importance of business registers, trade registers or commercial registers – as they are also known – is evident from the large number of directives on companies that have dealt with this issue, the earliest dating back to 1968, and which have already brought about very worthwhile improvements.

A major change took place in 2003, when it was stipulated that such registers must be kept electronically with a view to bringing about substantial improvements in cross-border access. The registers are still kept at a national level, and only information that is permitted nationally to be entered in the register and for which there is competence at national level is recorded. We have no plans to change that.

There is no real need to emphasise the fact that cross-border access to register entries is important and could be improved; that much is obvious. The problems lie in two areas. Firstly, cross-border access for citizens needs to be improved, and that means citizens in its widest sense; in other words, anyone who is interested – whether he or she is a lawyer, a notary, a tax adviser, a trade union member, a worker, or anyone else.

The second issue is that interoperability – cooperation between the registers – needs to be improved. This applies, in particular, to cases in which an enterprise has its headquarters registered in one country and a branch registered in another country. In these cases, it can often take too long for entries relating to the headquarters to be copied into the register of the country in which it has its branch, and moreover, this is often not done quite correctly. This process might perhaps be automated.

The Commission’s efforts are to be welcomed and supported without qualification. Costs will be cut, time will be saved and the internal market will be advanced further. There are a few points on which I should like to comment. Firstly, information from a business register is not necessarily comparable with information that is otherwise accessible. It has, after all, a legal status, and this legal status varies from one Member State to another. This must be pointed out to users, so that they do not assume that register entries in another Member State can be used in the same way as those in their own country.

Nevertheless, it would be possible to simplify the formats used into standard formats, to establish a uniform access portal, and to improve the terminology used so that entries can be made available in several or even all the official languages. There have already been a number of such initiatives, the European Business Register (EBR) and Business Register Interoperability Throughout Europe (BRITE) to name but two; and there is general agreement among Members that cooperation in this area should be taken further. The drawbacks with these registers are firstly, that entries are made only on a voluntary basis, secondly, that not all Member States participate in them, and thirdly, that they are, in part, still at the trial stage.

Neither I nor Parliament has the technical expertise required, nor is it our job to have it. The vast majority of Members agree that this project should be advanced within the framework of these initiatives. This can only be truly successful if everyone takes part in it. We do not want to push for legislative proposals on this just yet. If everyone takes part on a voluntary basis and it works, then there will be no need for legislation. The aim in any case is for the whole thing to be advanced when this is technically and objectively appropriate, and for all the Member States to participate.

I would like to close by thanking those who worked on this with me and the committees that were consulted. I assume that this project will receive broad support and be voted through.

 
  
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  Zuzana Roithová (PPE). (CS) I regard the fact that the commercial registers are not interconnected to be a failure of the coordinating role of the Commission. Indeed, the Member States have already been required for three years to maintain commercial registers in electronic form. Nineteen states, including the last new state, the Czech Republic, are sharing their data within the framework of the European Commercial Register Project. Of course, the quality and corresponding value of data vary greatly. In many places, legal responsibility and the veracity of data are not specified, or only regional commercial registers exist instead of national ones.

I support the rapporteur and call on the Commission to devote proper attention to this. And also, that the appropriate assistance, including financial assistance, be granted to the remaining eight states which, with the exception of Portugal, consist solely of new members. Cross-border access to registers is important not only for creditors, business partners and consumers, but also for the enhancement of legal certainty and transparency in public procurement.

 
  
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  Evelyn Regner (S&D).(DE) Madam President, I would first of all like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Lechner, for such good cooperation. We were able to reach practicable compromises.

Very briefly, my group feels that the most important points are as follows: firstly, the mandatory participation of all the Member States, as mentioned previously; secondly, public access via a single official access portal; thirdly, the aspect of consumer protection – in other words, that the information is reliable and up-to-date. It is also particularly important for consumers to be informed here of the legal implications. Finally, the system must be user-friendly. It is up to the Commission to specify how this is to be achieved in technical terms.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Given that there are more than 20 million companies in the EU-27, 99% of which are small and medium-sized enterprises, I believe that interconnecting business registers is necessary to ensure the internal market’s efficient operation.

Since 1 January 2007, it has been mandatory for information contained in business registers to be stored electronically and accessible online in every Member State. However, register standards differ and stakeholders are faced with different languages, search conditions and structures.

This is why I believe that all Member States must participate in projects such as the Business Register Interoperability Throughout Europe and European Business Register projects. All Member States already participate in the Internal Market Information System.

Facilitating electronic access to information about commercial companies could generate possible annual savings of more than EUR 160 million. However, these savings could be even bigger if the e-Invoice initiative was implemented and became available via a single information access point.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). (SK) In view of the advantages offered by the single market, the increasing growth of cross-border trade opportunities and legal certainty, it is essential to harmonise the data contained in business registers and the method for obtaining and processing such data. If we manage to secure an effective interconnection of business registers, we will facilitate not only the administration of relationships and the acquisition of information for the parties involved, but we will also strengthen their position with regard to the need for transparency in commercial and legal relationships, as well as legal certainty.

For this reason, I consider it essential to harmonise the system of data provided in business registers in all Member States. Such an approach would ensure substantially greater transparency, and would be useful not only in terms of the relationships mentioned earlier, but also perhaps in preventing the occurrence of many adverse effects, for example, when changing the registered offices of businesses and other entities and setting up branches in other Member States, or in cross-border mergers and acquisitions.

 
  
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  Dacian Cioloş, Member of the Commission. (FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the interconnection of business registers is a project that helps to make economic operators more transparent, to restore confidence and to promote access for SMEs to the single market. I congratulate Mr Lechner and the Committee on Legal Affairs on this report.

Our views are very much the same. The Commission will present by the beginning of 2011 at the latest some legislative proposals that will no doubt reflect your conclusions.

The financial and economic crisis has highlighted the importance of transparency on the financial markets and beyond. If citizens are to have confidence, they must have access to reliable and up-to-date official information on businesses. Business registers play a crucial role in this regard by recording company-related information and making it available to the public.

However, while it is easy to access this information in those Member States in which a company is registered, it is often very difficult, for technical or linguistic reasons, to access the same information from another Member State. The interconnection of business registers will therefore provide small and medium-sized enterprises, consumers and employees with an additional and necessary information tool.

I would now like to make a few comments about certain aspects of Mr Lechner’s report. I note your concern with regard to the additional administrative burdens that could possibly result from the interconnection of these registers. I can assure you right now that we have no plans to impose new costs, be they direct or indirect, on businesses.

I also share your desire to make the participation of all Member States in the cooperation mechanism mandatory. Indeed, such a mechanism will make sense only if it is supported by all the Member States.

As regards cooperation in connection with the regular updating of data in respect of foreign branches, the Commission intends to present a legislative proposal on such a mechanism in which the Member States will be obliged to participate. This is undoubtedly a missing link in the internal market.

You also recommend introducing a single information access point. We share the objective of making the information provided by national registers accessible. Consumers, employees, small and medium-sized enterprises, but also the national authorities of the other Member States, must be able to access these services unhindered.

Still on the subject of accessibility, we want to offer information in all the official languages of the European Union. This is a prerequisite for achieving our objective of bringing the internal market closer to the citizens.

Furthermore, users of the registers must be clearly informed of the scope and the various consequences of the national information contained in the register, which can vary considerably from one country to the next. As for the quality of the information, it is clear that the information provided as part of the interconnection must be reliable, up to date and accessible. This is a strong message on your part, and it has been duly received by the Commission.

Lastly, I can assure you that any initiative by the Commission will respect the protection of personal or commercial data.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Lechner report clearly demonstrates the level of Parliament’s commitment to help interconnect business registers more effectively for the benefit of consumers, businesses and their employees. This project will strengthen the internal market. The Commission welcomes this and looks forward to the adoption of the report in plenary.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 at 12:30.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Raffaele Baldassarre (PPE), in writing.(IT) Interconnecting business registers is an essential prerequisite for promoting integration of the economic area within the EU and for improving legal certainty for businesses and consumers. Mr Lechner’s report picks out very clearly what are the priority measures that are indispensable for making the law more certain and for making cross-border economic transactions more transparent. Firstly, it is vital that interconnecting registers and access to data take place in a single framework. To this end, it will be necessary to strengthen and develop the potential offered by the BRITE interconnection project in order that a single portal can be established through which all our citizens can obtain information on European businesses. Secondly, it will be vital that it is adopted with a view to making integration of business registers compulsory for all Member States, so that all states take part as soon as possible. This is because the success of any project that aims to achieve a harmonious development of the internal market requires the participation of all interested parties so that it can be made compulsory as soon as the technical standards have been fully developed.

 
  
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  Sebastian Valentin Bodu (PPE), in writing.(RO) Interconnecting Member States’ business registers marks progress towards simplifying the business environment and lightening the administrative burdens on entrepreneurs. It is also a useful instrument which will lead to cooperation and the exchange of information or even to the creation of a common pan-European database and a single access point. Nevertheless, I feel obliged to mention that, in spite of the positive impact that this own-initiative report will have, which is to reduce costs, I believe that translating the information into all the official EU languages offers a solution whose cost far outweighs the benefits. I think that we must swallow our national pride about each Member State’s own language and promote only one or a maximum of two languages which are really widely spoken (English and French) as languages to be used in various administrative procedures, such as the one which is the subject of this report.

 
  
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  Zuzana Brzobohatá (S&D), in writing.(CS) The report on the interconnection of commercial registers is a reaction to the conclusions of the Council of 25 and 26 May 2010. This is an initiative which is part of a complex approach of the EU in the area of consumer protection. I believe that every initiative that leads to a transparent approach to information about commercial companies operating on the territory of the European Union deserves support. I would like to stress that I particularly support the Commission’s call for the creation of a single point of access to information from commercial registers, and especially the involvement of all EU Member States. Only in that way is it possible to achieve real and clear room for the protection of the citizen as a consumer, as well as legal certainty in the internal market of the Union as a whole.

 
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