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Czech Republic

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Tax, labor, environment, health and safety, and other laws generally do not distort or impede investment.  Policy frameworks are consistent with a market economy.  Fair market competition is overseen by the Office for the Protection of Competition (UOHS) (http://www.uohs.cz/en/homepage.html).  UOHS is a central administrative body entirely independent in its decision-making practice.  The office is mandated to create conditions for support and protection of competition and to supervise public procurement and state aid.

All laws and regulations in the Czech Republic are published before they enter into force.  Opportunities for prior consultation on pending regulations exist, and all interested parties, including foreign entities, can participate.  A biannual governmental plan of legislative and non-legislative work is available online, along with information on draft laws and regulations (often only in the Czech language).  Business associations, consumer groups, and other non-governmental organizations, including the American Chamber of Commerce, can submit comments on laws and regulations.  Laws on auditing, accounting, and bankruptcy are in force.  These laws include the use of international accounting standards (IAS) for consolidated corporate groups.  Public finances are transparent.  The government’s budget and information on debt obligations are publicly available and published online.

International Regulatory Considerations

Membership in the EU requires the Czech Republic to adopt EU laws and regulations, including rulings by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Czechoslovakia was a founding member of the GATT in 1947 and a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Since the Czech Republic’s entry into the EU in 2004, the European Commission – an independent body representing all EU members – oversees Czech equities in the WTO and in trade negotiations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Czech Commercial Code and Civil Code are largely based on the German legal approach, which follows a continental legal system where the principal areas of law and procedures are codified.  The commercial code details rules pertaining to legal entities and is analogous to corporate law in the United States.  The civil code deals primarily with contractual relationships among parties.

The Czech Civil Code, Act. No. 89/2012 Coll. and the Act on Business Corporations, Act No. 90/2012 Coll. (Corporations Act) govern business and investment activities.  The Act on Business Corporations introduced substantial changes to Czech corporate law such as supervision over the performance of a company’s management team, decision-making process, and remuneration and damage liability.  Detailed provisions for mergers and time limits on decisions by the authorities on registration of companies are covered, as well as protection of creditors and minority shareholders.

The judiciary is independent of the executive branch.  Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable, and the judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Foreign Direct Investment agenda is governed by the Civil Code and by the Act on Business Corporations.  In addition, the newly adopted investment screening law, which comes into effect on May 1, 2020, will give the government the ability to screen greenfield investments and acquisitions by non-EU investors for national security considerations.

The Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade maintains a “one-stop-shop” website available in Czech only at https://www.businessinfo.cz/ which aids foreign companies in establishing and managing a foreign-owned business in the Czech Republic, including navigating the legal requirements, licensing, and operating in the EU market.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Office for the Protection of Competition (UOHS) is the central authority responsible for creating conditions that favor and protect competition.  UOHS also supervises public procurement and monitors state aid (subsidy) programs.  UOHS is led by a chairperson who is appointed by the president of the Czech Republic for a six-year term.

Expropriation and Compensation

Government acquisition of property is done only for public purposes in a non-discriminatory manner and in full compliance with international law.  The process of tracing the history of property and land acquisition can be complex and time-consuming, but it is necessary to ensure clear title.  Investors participating in privatization of state-owned companies are protected from restitution claims through a binding contract with the government.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Czech Republic is a signatory and contracting state to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nations of Other States (ICSID Convention).  It also has ratified the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Arbitral Awards (New York Convention of 1958), which obligates local courts to enforce a foreign arbitral award if it meets the legal criteria.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The 1993 U.S.-Czech Bilateral Investment Treaty contains provisions regarding the settling of disputes through international arbitration.  In the past 10 years the Czech Republic has been involved in 29 known arbitral disputes with foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Mediation is an option in nearly every area of law including family, commercial, and criminal.  Mediators can be contracted between the parties to the dispute and found through such sources as the Czech Mediators Association, the Czech Bar Association, or the Union for Arbitration and Mediation Procedures of the Czech Republic.  A number of other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and entities work in the area of mediation.  Directive 2008/52/EC allows those involved in a dispute to request that a written agreement arising from mediation be made enforceable.  The results of mediation may be taken into account by the public prosecutor and the court in their decision in a given case.  The local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The government amended the bankruptcy law on June 1, 2019, expanding the categories of debtors qualified for debt discharge.   In addition, to protect businesses affected by COVID-19 from bankruptcy, the government passed in April 2020 a law that puts a moratorium on filings for debt collection against all companies until the end of August 2020. This period was later extended through June 30, 2021.  The law also suspended companies’ obligations to file for bankruptcy until the end of June 2021 if they are not able to meet their liabilities.  Furthermore, in response to an EU directive on insolvency, the Czech government proposed an amendment to the bankruptcy law which is currently subject to approval by the Parliament.  The amendment would shorten the debt relief period for individuals from five to three years.  The directive requires the Czech Republic to update its legislation by July 17, 2021.

The Czech Republic ranked 16th in the 2020 edition of the World Bank’s Doing Business Report for ease of resolving insolvency.

Hungary

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Generally, legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are consistent with international and EU standards.  However, some executives in Hungarian subsidiaries of U.S. companies express concerns about a lack of transparency in the GOH’s policy-making process and an uneven playing field in public tendering.  In recent years, there has been an uptick in the number of companies, including major U.S. multinational franchises and foreign owners of major infrastructure, reporting pressure to sell their businesses to government-affiliated investors.  Those that refuse to sell report an increase in tax audits, fines, and spurious regulatory challenges and court cases. SMEs increasingly report a desire to either remain small (and therefore “under the radar” of these government-affiliated investors) or relocate their businesses outside of Hungary.

For foreign investors, the most relevant regulations stem from EU directives and the laws passed by Parliament to implement them.  Laws in Parliament can be found on Parliament’s website (https://www.parlament.hu/en/web/house-of-the-national-assembly).  Legislation, once passed, is published in a legal gazette and available online at  www.magyarkozlony.hu .  The GOH can issue decrees, which also have national scope, but they cannot be contrary to laws enacted by Parliament.  Local municipalities can create local decrees, limited to the local jurisdiction.

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, in March 2020, the Parliament passed a bill that established an indefinite state of emergency (SOE) in Hungary, allowing the GOH to govern by decree without parliamentary approval. The GOH used this decree to levy new sector-specific taxes, to take control of a Hungarian company that had been in an ownership dispute with the GOH, and to reallocate competencies and tax collection duties from an opposition-led municipality to a county-level body led by the ruling Fidesz party. The GOH did not include a sunset clause for the SOE – which resulted in criticism from foreign governments and domestic opposition parties – but repealed it in June 2020. During the second wave of the epidemic , the GOH passed separate SOE legislation with a 90-day sunset clause in November 2020 and extended it for another 90 days in February 2021. Interested investors are encouraged to contact Embassy points of contact for the most up-to-date information.

Hungarian financial reporting standards are in line with the International Accounting Standards and the EU Fourth and Seventh Directives.  The accounting law requires all businesses to prepare consolidated financial statements on an annual basis in accordance with international financial standards.

The GOH rarely invites interested parties to comment on draft legislation.  Civil society organizations have complained about a loophole in the current law that allows individual Members of Parliament to submit legislation and amendments without public consultation.  The average deadline for submitting public comment is often very short, usually less than one week. The Act on Legislation and the Law Soliciting Public Opinion, both passed by Parliament in 2010, govern the public consultation process.  The laws require the GOH to publish draft laws on its webpage and to give adequate time for all interested parties to give an opinion on the draft. However, implementation is not uniform and the GOH often fails to solicit public comments on proposed legislation.

The legislation process – including key regulatory actions related to laws – are published on the Parliament’s webpage.  Explanations attached to draft bills include a short summary on the aim of the legislation, but regulators only occasionally release public comments.

Regulatory enforcement mechanisms include the county and district level government offices, whose decisions can be challenged at county-level courts.  The court system generally provides efficient oversight of the GOH’s administrative processes.

The GOH does not review regulations on the basis of formal scientific or data-driven assessments, but some NGOs and academics do.  A 2017 study by Corruption Research Center Budapest (CRCB) found that in the 2010-2013 period the annual average number of new laws passed by Parliament increased, while the average time spent debating new laws in Parliament decreased significantly.  Their analysis assessed that the accelerating lawmaking process in Hungary in the 2010-2013 period had negative effects on the stability of the legal environment and the overall quality of legislation.

Hungary’s budget was widely accessible to the general public, including online through the Parliament and Finance Ministry websites and the Legal Gazette.  The government made budget documents, including the executive budget proposal, the enacted budget, and the end-of-year report publicly available within a reasonable period of time.  Modifications to a current budget, which in 2020 were quite substantial because of the pandemic, are not consolidated with the initial budget law and do not include economic analysis of the effects of those modifications. Information on debt obligations was publicly available, including online through the Hungarian Central Bank ( https://www.mnb.hu/en ) and Hungarian State Debt Manager’s (https://akk.hu/ ) websites.

International Regulatory Considerations

As an EU Member State, all EU regulations are directly applicable in Hungary, even without further domestic measures.  If a Hungarian law is contrary to EU legislation, the EU rule takes precedence. As a whole, labor, environment, health, and safety laws are consistent with EU regulations.  Hungary follows EU foreign trade and investment policy, and all trade regulations follow EU legislation. Hungary participates in the WTO as an EU Member State.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Hungarian legal system is based on continental European (German-French and Roman law) traditions.  Contracts are enforced by ordinary courts or – if stipulated by contract – arbitration centers. Investors in Hungary can agree with their partners to turn to Hungarian or foreign arbitration courts.

Apart from these arbitration centers, there are no specialized courts for commercial cases; ordinary courts are entitled to judge any kind of civil case.  The Civil Code of 2013 applies to civil contracts.

The Hungarian judicial system includes four tiers: district courts (formerly referred to as local courts); courts of justice (formerly referred to as county courts); courts of appeal; and the Curia (the Hungarian Supreme Court).  Hungary also has a Constitutional Court that reviews cases involving the constitutionality of laws and court rulings. Following Parliament’s passage of a bill on changes in the court system in December 2019, in April 2020 public administration and labor courts were dissolved, and first-level public administration and labor cases were transferred to county-level courts of justice. Although the current COVID-19 SOE law does not cover the court system, the GOH issued a decree in March 2020 on the operation of the courts to protect the health of court employees and customers. According to guidelines issued by the National Judicial Office in November 2020, individual access to court buildings is limited; those participating in court sessions need to follow social distancing rules and wear masks; and clients are encouraged to submit documents in electronic form.

Although the GOH has criticized court decisions on several occasions, ordinary courts are considered to generally operate independently under largely fair and reliable judicial procedures.  Recently, an increasing number of current and former judges have raised concerns about growing GOH influence over the court system and intimidation of judges by court administration. The European Commission’s 2020 Rule of Law Report, issued in September 2020, cited judicial independence in Hungary as a source of concern. Most business complaints about the court system pertain to the lengthy proceedings rather than the fairness of the verdicts.  The GOH has said it hopes to improve the speed and efficiency of court proceedings with an updated Civil Procedure Code that entered into force in January 2018.

Regulations and law enforcement actions pertaining to investors are appealable at ordinary courts or at the Constitutional Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Hungarian law protects property and investment.  The Hungarian state may expropriate property only in exceptional cases where there is a public interest; any such expropriations must be carried out in a lawful way, and the GOH is obliged to make immediate and full restitution for any expropriated property, without additional stipulations or conditions.

The GOH passed a national secuirty law on investment screening in 2018 that requires foreign investors seeking to acquire more than a 25 percent stake in a Hungarian company in certain “sensitive sectors” (defense, intelligence services, certain financial services, electric energy, gas, water utility, and electronic information systems for governments) to seek approval from the Interior Ministry.  (Please see above section on limits on foreign control for more details).

There is no primary website or “one-stop shop” which compiles all relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors.  The Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA), however, facilitates establishment of businesses and provides guidance on relevant legislation.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Hungarian Competition Authority, tasked with safeguarding the public interest, enforces the provisions of the Hungarian Competition Act.  Since EU accession in 2004, EU competition law also binds Hungary. The Competition Authority is empowered to investigate suspected violations of competition law, order changes to practices, and levy fines and penalties.  According to the Authority, since 2010 the number of competition cases has decreased, but they have become more complex. Out of more than 60 cases over the past year, only a few minor cases pertained to U.S.-owned companies.  Hungarian law does not consider conflict of interest to be a criminal offense. Citing evidence of conflict of interest and irregularities, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) recommended opening a criminal investigation into a high-profile USD 50 million EU-funded public procurement project, but Hungarian authorities declined to prosecute the case.

Expropriation and Compensation

Hungary’s Constitution provides protection against uncompensated expropriation, nationalization, and any other arbitrary action by the GOH except in cases of threat to national security.  In such cases, immediate and full compensation is to be provided to the owner. There are no known expropriation cases where the GOH has discriminated against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives.  There have been some complaints from other foreign investors within the past several years that expropriations have been improperly executed, without proper remuneration. Parties involved in these cases turned to the domestic legal system for dispute settlement.

There is no recent history of official GOH expropriations, but many critics raised concerns that the 2014 tobacco and advertising taxes were an indirect expropriation attempt because they disproportionately targeted foreign firms with the apparent intent to force them to seek a buy-out from a domestic firm.  The GOH reversed these taxes in response to a 2015 European Commission injunction. Increasing reports of the use of government regulatory and tax agencies to pressure businesses to sell to government-affiliated investors has also raised concerns.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Hungary is a signatory to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention), proclaimed in Hungary by Law 27 of 1978.  Hungary also is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention), proclaimed in Hungary by Law 25 of 1962. There is not specific legislation providing for enforcement other than the two domestic laws proclaiming the New York and ICSID Conventions.  According to Law 71 of 1994, an arbitration court decision is equally binding to that of a court ruling.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Hungary is signatory to the 1965 Washington Convention establishing the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and to UN’s 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  Under the New York Convention, Hungary recognizes and enforces rulings of the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration.

Hungary shares no Bilateral Investment Treaty or Free Trade Agreement with the United States.  Since 2000 Hungary has been the respondent in some 16 known investor-State arbitration claims , although none of these involve U.S. investors.

Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the GOH.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

In the last few years, parties have increasingly turned to mediation as a means to settle disputes without engaging in lengthy court procedures.  Law 71 of 1994 on domestic arbitration procedures is based on the UNCITRAL model law.

Investment dispute settlement clauses are frequently included in investment contract between the foreign enterprise and GOH.  Hungarian law allows the parties to set the jurisdiction of any courts or arbitration centers. The parties can also agree to set up an ad hoc arbitration court.  The law also allows investors to agree on settling investment disputes by turning to foreign arbitration centers, such as the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), UNCITRAL’s Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), or the Vienna International Arbitral Centre.  In Hungary, foreign parties can turn to the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry arbitration court, which has its own rules of proceedings ( https://mkik.hu/en/court-of-arbitration ) and in financial issues to the Financial and Capital Market’s arbitration court. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign or domestic arbitral awards.  An arbitral ruling may only be annulled in limited cases, and under special conditions.

Domestic courts do not favor State-owned enterprises (SOEs) disproportionately.  Investors can expect a fair trial even if SOEs are involved and in case of an unfavorable ruling, may elevate the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).  Investors do not generally complain about non-transparent or discriminatory court procedures.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Act on Bankruptcy Procedures, Liquidation Procedures, and Final Settlement of 1991, covers all commercial entities with the exception of banks (which have their own regulatory statutes), trusts, and State-owned enterprises, and brought Hungarian legislation in line with EU regulations.  Debtors can initiate bankruptcy proceedings only if they have not sought bankruptcy protection within the previous three years. Within 90 days of seeking bankruptcy protection, the debtor must call a settlement conference to which all creditors are invited. Majority consent of the creditors present is required for all settlements.  If agreement is not reached, the court can order liquidation. The Bankruptcy Act establishes the following priorities of claims to be paid: 1) liquidation costs; 2) secured debts; 3) claims of the individuals; 4) social security and tax obligations; 5) all other debts. Creditors may request the court to appoint a trustee to perform an independent financial examination.  The trustee has the right to challenge, based on conflict of interest, any contract concluded within 12 months preceding the bankruptcy.

The debtor, the creditors, the administrator, or the Criminal Court may file liquidation procedures with the court.  Once a petition is filed, regardless of who filed it, the Court notifies the debtor by sending a copy of the petition.  The debtor has eight days to acknowledge insolvency. If the insolvency is acknowledged, the company declares if any respite for the settlement of debts is requested.  Failure to respond results in the presumption of insolvency. Upon request, the Court may allow up to of 30 days for the debtor to settle the debt.

If the Court finds the debtor insolvent, it appoints a liquidator.  Transparency International (TI) has raised concerns about the transparency of the liquidation process because a company may not know that a creditor is filing a liquidation petition until after the fact.  TI also criticized the lack of accountability of liquidator companies and what it considers unusually short deadlines in the process. The EU has also criticized the Hungarian system as being creditor-unfriendly, since bankruptcy proceedings typically only recover 44 cents on the dollar, compared to the OECD average of 71 cents on the dollar.

Bankruptcy in itself is not criminalized, unless it is made in a fraudulent way, deliberately, and in bad faith to prevent the payment of debts.

Law 122 of 2011 obliges banks and credit institutions to establish and maintain the Central Credit Information System to assess creditworthiness of businesses and individuals to facilitate prudent lending ( http://www.bisz.hu ).

Poland

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Polish Constitution contains a number of provisions related to administrative law and procedures.  It states administrative bodies have a duty to observe and comply with the law of Poland.  The Code of Administrative Procedures (CAP) states rules and principles concerning participation and involvement of citizens in processes affecting them, the giving of reasons for decisions, and forms of appeal and review.

As a member of the EU, Poland complies with EU directives by harmonizing rules or translating them into national legislation.  Rule-making and regulatory authority exists at the central, regional, and municipal levels.  Various ministries are engaged in rule-making that affects foreign business, such as pharmaceutical reimbursement at the Ministry of Health or incentives for R&D at the Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology.  Regional and municipal level governments can levy certain taxes and affect foreign investors through permitting and zoning.

Polish accounting standards do not differ significantly from international standards.  Major international accounting firms provide services in Poland.  In cases where there is no national accounting standard, the appropriate International Accounting Standard may be applied.  However, investors have complained of regulatory unpredictability and high levels of administrative red tape.  Foreign and domestic investors must comply with a variety of laws concerning taxation, labor practices, health and safety, and the environment.  Complaints about these laws, especially the tax system, center on frequent changes, lack of clarity, and strict penalties for minor errors.

Poland has improved its regulatory policy system over the last several years.  The government introduced a central online system to provide access for the general public to regulatory impact assessments (RIA) and other documents sent for consultation to selected groups such as trade unions and business.  Proposed laws and regulations are published in draft form for public comment, and ministries must conduct public consultations.  Poland follows OECD recognized good regulatory practices, but investors say the lack of regulations governing the role of stakeholders in the legislative process is a problem.  Participation in public consultations and the window for comments are often limited.

New guidelines for RIA, consultation and ex post evaluation were adopted under the Better Regulation Program in 2015, providing more detailed guidance and stronger emphasis on public consultation.  Like many countries, Poland faces challenges to fully implement its regulatory policy requirements and to ensure that RIA and consultation comments are used to improve decision making.  The OECD suggests Poland extend its online public consultation system and consider using instruments such as green papers more systematically for early-stage consultation to identify options for addressing a policy problem.  OECD considers steps taken to introduce ex post evaluation of regulations encouraging.

Bills can be submitted to Parliament for debate as “citizens’ bills” if authors collect 100,000 signatures in support for the draft legislation.  NGOs and private sector associations most often take advantage of this avenue.  Parliamentary bills can also be submitted by a group of parliamentarians, a mechanism that bypasses public consultation and which both domestic and foreign investors have criticized.  Changes to the government’s rules of procedure introduced in June 2016 reduced the requirements for RIA for preparations of new legislation.

Administrative authorities are subject to oversight by courts and other bodies (e.g., the Supreme Audit Chamber – NIK), the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, special commissions and agencies, inspectorates, the Prosecutor and parliamentary committees.  Polish parliamentary committees utilize a distinct system to examine and instruct ministries and administrative agency heads.  Committees’ oversight of administrative matters consists of: reports on state budgets implementation and preparation of new budgets, citizens’ complaints, and reports from the NIK.  In addition, courts and prosecutors’ offices sometimes bring cases to parliament’s attention.

The Ombudsperson’s institution works relatively well in Poland.  Polish citizens have a right to complain and to put forward grievances before administrative bodies.  Proposed legislation can be tracked on the Prime Minister’s webpage,  https://legislacja.rcl.gov.pl/  and the Parliament’s webpage:  https://www.sejm.gov.pl/sejm9.nsf/proces.xsp . Poland has consistently met or exceeded the Department of State’s minimum requirements for fiscal transparency: https://www.state.gov/2020-fiscal-transparency-report/

Poland’s budget and information on debt obligations were widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online. The budget was substantially complete and considered generally reliable. NIK audited the government’s accounts and made its reports publicly available, including online. The budget structure and classifications are complex, and the Polish authorities agree more work is needed to address deficiencies in the process of budgetary planning and procedures. State budgets encompass only part of the public finances sector.

The European Commission regularly assesses the public finance sustainability of Member States based on fiscal gap ratios. In 2021, Poland’s public finances will continue to be exposed to a high general government deficit, uncertainty in financial markets resulting primarily from the macroeconomic environment, the effects of the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, and the monetary policy of the NBP and major central banks, including the European Central Bank and the U.S. Federal Reserve.

International Regulatory Considerations

Since its EU accession in May 2004, Poland has been transposing European legislation and reforming its regulations in compliance with the EU system. Poland sometimes disagrees with EU regulations related to renewable energy and emissions due to its important domestic coal industry.

Poland participates in the process of creation of European norms. There is strong encouragement for non-governmental organizations, such as environmental and consumer groups, to actively participate in European standardization. In areas not covered by European normalization, the Polish Committee for Standardization (PKN) introduces norms identical with international norms, i.e., PN-ISO and PN-IEC. PKN actively cooperates with international and European standards organizations and with standards bodies from other countries. PKN has been a founding member of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and a member of the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC) since 1923.

PKN also cooperates with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International and the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Poland has been a member of the WTO since July 1, 1995 and was a member of GATT from October 18, 1967. All EU member states are WTO members, as is the EU in its own right. While the member states coordinate their position in Brussels and Geneva, the European Commission alone speaks for the EU and its members in almost all WTO affairs. PKN runs the WTO/TBT National Information Point in order to apply the provisions of the TBT with respect to information exchange concerning national standardization.

Useful Links:
http://ec.europa.eu/growth/single-market/european-standards/harmonised-standards/ 
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/oj/direct-access.html?locale=en )

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Polish legal system is code-based and prosecutorial.  The main source of the country’s law is the Constitution of 1997.  The legal system is a mix of Continental civil law (Napoleonic) and remnants of communist legal theory.  Poland accepts the obligatory jurisdiction of the ECJ, but with reservations.  In civil and commercial matters, first instance courts sit in single-judge panels, while courts handling appeals sit in three-judge panels. District Courts (Sad Rejonowy) handle the majority of disputes in the first instance.  When the value of a dispute exceeds a certain amount or the subject matter requires more expertise (such as those regarding intellectual property rights), Circuit Courts (Sad Okregowy) serve as first instance courts.  Circuit Courts also handle appeals from District Court verdicts.  Courts of Appeal (Sad Apelacyjny) handle appeals from verdicts of Circuit Courts as well as generally supervise the courts in their region.

The Polish judicial system generally upholds the sanctity of contracts.  Foreign court judgements, under the Polish Civil Procedure Code and European Community regulation, can be recognized.  There are many foreign court judgments, however, which Polish courts do not accept or accept partially.  There can also be delays in the recognition of judgments of foreign courts due to an insufficient number of judges with specialized expertise.  Generally, foreign firms are wary of the slow and over-burdened Polish court system, preferring other means to defend their rights.  Contracts involving foreign parties often include a clause specifying that disputes will be resolved in a third-country court or through offshore arbitration.  (More detail in Section 4, Dispute Settlement.)

Since coming to power in 2015, the PiS government has pursued far-reaching reforms to Poland’s judicial system. The reforms have led to legal disputes with the European Commission over threats to judicial independence. The reforms have also drawn criticism from legal experts, NGOs, and international organizations. Poland’s government contends the reforms are needed to purge the old Communist guard and increase efficiency and democratic oversight in the judiciary.

Observers noted in particular the introduction of an extraordinary appeal mechanism in the 2017 Supreme Court Law.  The extraordinary appeal mechanism states:  final judgments issued since 1997 can be challenged and overturned in whole or in part for a three-year period starting from the day the legislation entered into force on April 3, 2018.  On February 25, 2021, the Sejm passed an amendment to the law on the Supreme Court, which extended by two years (until April 2023) the deadline for submitting extraordinary complaints.  The bill is now waiting for review by the opposition-controlled Senate.  During 2020, the Extraordinary Appeals Chamber received 217 new complaints. During 2020, the Chamber reviewed 166 complaints, of which 18 were accepted, and 13 were rejected. Seventy-three cases were pending at the end of 2020 the status of the remaining cases was unavailable.

On April 8, 2020, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued interim measures ordering the government to suspend the work of the Supreme Court Disciplinary Chamber with regard to disciplinary cases against judges. The ECJ is evaluating an infringement proceeding launched by the European Commission in April 2019 and referred to the ECJ in October 2019. The commission argued that the country’s disciplinary regime for judges “undermines the judicial independence of…judges and does not ensure the necessary guarantees to protect judges from political control, as required by the Court of Justice of the EU.” The commission stated the disciplinary regime did not provide for the independence and impartiality of the Disciplinary Chamber, which is composed solely of judges selected by the restructured National Council of the Judiciary, which is appointed by the Sejm. The ECJ has yet to make a final ruling. The European Commission and judicial experts complained the government has ignored the ECJ’s interim measures.

On April 29, 2020, the European Commission launched a new infringement procedure regarding a law that came into effect on February 14, 2020. The law allows judges to be disciplined for impeding the functioning of the legal system or questioning a judge’s professional state or the effectiveness of his or her appointment. It also requires judges to disclose memberships in associations. The commission’s announcement stated the law “undermines the judicial independence of Polish judges and is incompatible with the primacy of EU law.” It also stated the law “prevents Polish courts from directly applying certain provisions of EU law protecting judicial independence and from putting references for preliminary rulings on such questions to the [European] Court of Justice.” On December 3, the commission expanded its April 29 complaint to include the continued functioning of the Disciplinary Chamber in apparent disregard of the ECJ’s interim measures in the prior infringement procedure.  On January 27, 2021, the European Commission sent a reasoned opinion to the Polish government for response. If not satisfied, the Commission noted it would refer the matter to the ECJ.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign nationals can expect to obtain impartial proceedings in legal matters. Polish is the official language and must be used in all legal proceedings. It is possible to obtain an interpreter. The basic legal framework for establishing and operating companies in Poland, including companies with foreign investors, is found in the Commercial Companies Code. The Code provides for establishment of joint-stock companies, limited liability companies, or partnerships (e.g., limited joint-stock partnerships, professional partnerships). These corporate forms are available to foreign investors who come from an EU or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member state or from a country that offers reciprocity to Polish enterprises, including the United States.

With few exceptions, foreign investors are guaranteed national treatment. Companies that establish an EU subsidiary after May 1, 2004 and conduct or plan to commence business operations in Poland must observe all EU regulations. However, in some cases they may not be able to benefit from all privileges afforded to EU companies. Foreign investors without permanent residence and the right to work in Poland may be restricted from participating in day-to-day operations of a company. Parties can freely determine the content of contracts within the limits of European contract law. All parties must agree on essential terms, including the price and the subject matter of the contract. Written agreements, although not always mandatory, may enable an investor to avoid future disputes. Civil Code is the law applicable to contracts.

Useful websites (in English) to help navigate laws, rules, procedures and reporting requirements for foreign investors:

Polish Investment and Trade Agency: https://www.paih.gov.pl/en 
Polish Financial Supervision Authority (KNF):  https://www.knf.gov.pl/en/ 
Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKIK):  https://uokik.gov.pl/legal_regulations.php 

Biznes.gov.pl is intended for people who plan to start a new business in Poland. The portal is designed to simplify the formalities of setting up and running a business. It provides up-to-date regulations and procedures for running a business in Poland and the EU; it supports electronic application submission to state institutions; and it answers questions regarding running a business. Information is available in Polish and English. https://www.biznes.gov.pl/en/przedsiebiorcy/ 

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Poland has a high level of nominal convergence with the EU on competition policy in accordance with Articles 101 and 102 of the Lisbon Treaty. Poland’s Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) is well within EU norms for structure and functioning, with the exception that the Prime Minister both appoints and dismisses the head of UOKiK. This is supposed to change to be in line with EU norms, however, as of March 2021, the Prime Minister was still exercising his right to remove and nominate UOKiK’s presidents.

The Act on Competition and Consumer Protection  was amended in mid-2019. The most important changes, which concern geo-blocking and access to fiscal and banking secrets, came into force on September 17, 2019. Other minor changes took effect in January 2020. The amendments result from the need to align national law with new EU laws.

Starting in January 2020, UOKiK may intervene in cases when delays in payment are excessive. UOKiK can take action when the sum of outstanding payments due to an entrepreneur for three subsequent months amounts to at least PLN 5 million ($1.7 million). In 2022, the minimum amount will decrease to PLN 2 million ($510,000).

The President of UOKiK issues approximately 100 decisions per year regarding practices restricting competition and infringing on collective interests of consumers. Enterprises have the right to appeal against those decisions to the court. In the first instance, the case is examined by the Court of Competition and Consumer Protection and in the second instance, by the Appellate Court. The decision of the Appellate Court may be challenged by way of a cassation appeal filed to the Supreme Court. In major cases, the General Counsel to the Republic of Poland will act as the legal representative in proceedings concerning an appeal against a decision of the President of UOKiK.

As part of new COVID-related measures, the Polish Parliament adopted legislation amending the Act of July 24, 2015, on the Control of Certain Investments, introducing full-fledged foreign direct investment control in Poland and giving new responsibilities to UOKiK. Entities from outside the EEA and/or the OECD have to notify the Polish Competition Authority of the intention to make an investment resulting in acquisition, achievement or obtaining directly or indirectly: “significant participation” (defined briefly as 20 percent or 40 percent of share in the total number of votes, capital, or profits or purchasing or leasing of an enterprise or its organized part) or the status of a dominant entity within the meaning of the Act of July 24, 2015, on the Control of Certain Investments in an entity subject to protection. The new law entered into force on July 24, 2020 and is valid for 24 months.

On October 28, 2020, the government proposed new legislation by virtue of which the tasks pursued by the Financial Ombudsman will be taken over by UOKiK. According to the justification of this legislation, the objective of the draft is to enhance the efficiency of protection, in terms of both group and individual interests of financial market entities’ clients. According to the new regulations, a new position of coordinator conducting out-of-court procedures in matters of resolving disputes between financial market entities and their clients will be established. Such a coordinator will be appointed by UOKiK for a four-year term. Moreover, the new proposal provides for creating the Financial Education Fund (FEF), a special-purpose fund managed by UOKiK.

Additional provisions in the proposed legislation concern the UOKiK’s investigative powers, cooperation between anti-monopoly authorities, and changes to fine imposition and leniency programs. One of the amendments also stipulates that the President of UOKiK will be elected to a 5-year term and the dismissal of the anti-monopoly authority will only be possible in precisely defined situations, such as: legally valid conviction for a criminal offense caused by intentional conduct and the deprivation of public rights or of Polish citizenship. Adoption of these solutions is linked to the implementation of the EU’s ECN+ directive.

All multinational companies must notify UOKiK of a proposed merger if any party to it has subsidiaries, distribution networks or permanent sales in Poland.

Examples of competition reviews can be found at:
https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=16649  (Gazprom NS2)
https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=17198  (Agora/Eurozet)
https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=17202  (Orlen/Polska Press)
https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=17198  (BPH Bank spread clauses)

Decisions made by the President of UOKiK can be searched here:
https://decyzje.uokik.gov.pl/bp/dec_prez.nsf 

The President of UOKiK has the power to impose significant fines on individuals in management positions at companies that violate the prohibition of anticompetitive agreements. The amendment to the law governing UOKiK’s operation, which entered into force on December 15, 2018, provides for a similar power to impose significant fines on the management of companies in the case of violations of consumer rights. The maximum fine that can be imposed on a manager may amount to PLN 2 million ($510,000) and, in the case of managers in the financial sector, up to PLN 5 million ($1.27 million).

Expropriation and Compensation

Article 21 of the Polish Constitution states: “expropriation is admissible only for public purposes and upon equitable compensation.”  The Law on Land Management and Expropriation of Real Estate states that property may be expropriated only in accordance with statutory provisions such as construction of public works, national security considerations, or other specified cases of public interest.  The government must pay full compensation at market value for expropriated property.  Acquiring land for road construction investment and recently also for the Central Airport and the Vistula Spit projects has been liberalized and simplified to accelerate property acquisition, particularly through a special legislative act. Most acquisitions for road construction are resolved without problems.  However, there have been a few cases in which the inability to reach agreement on remuneration has resulted in disputes.  Post is not aware of any recent expropriation actions against U.S. investors, companies, or representatives.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Poland is not a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (Washington Convention). Poland is a party to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Poland is party to the following international agreements on dispute resolution, with the Ministry of Finance acting as the government’s representative: the 1923 Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses; the 1961 Geneva European Convention on International Trade Arbitration; the 1972 Moscow Convention on Arbitration Resolution of Civil Law Disputes in Economic and Scientific Cooperation Claims under the U.S.-Poland Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) (with further amendments).

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) database for treaty-based disputes lists three cases for Poland involving a U.S. party over the last decade. The majority of Poland’s investment disputes are with companies from other EU member states. According to the UNCTAD database, over the last decade, there have been 16 known disputes with foreign investors.

There is no distinction in law between domestic and international arbitration. The law only distinguishes between foreign and domestic arbitral awards for the purpose of their recognition and enforcement. The decisions of arbitration entities are not automatically enforceable in Poland, but must be confirmed and upheld in a Polish court. Under Polish Civil Code, local courts accept and enforce the judgments of foreign courts; in practice, however, the acceptance of foreign court decisions varies. Investors say the timely process of energy policy consolidation has made the legal, regulatory and investment environment for the energy sector uncertain in terms of how the Polish judicial system deals with questions and disputes around energy investments by foreign investors, and in foreign investor interactions with state-owned or affiliated energy enterprises.

A Civil Procedures Code amendment in January 2016, with further amendments in July 2019, implements internationally recognized arbitration standards and creates an arbitration-friendly legal regime in Poland. The amendment applies to arbitral proceedings initiated on or after January 1, 2016 and introduced one-instance proceedings to repeal an arbitration award (instead of two-instance proceedings). This change encourages mediation and arbitration to solve commercial disputes and aims to strengthen expeditious procedure. The Courts of Appeal (instead of District Courts) handle complaints. In cases of foreign arbitral awards, the Court of Appeal is the only instance. In certain cases, it is possible to file a cassation (or extraordinary) appeal with the Supreme Court of the Republic of Poland. In the case of a domestic arbitral award, it will be possible to file an appeal to a different panel of the Court of Appeal.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Poland does not have an arbitration law, but provisions in the Polish Code of Civil Procedures of 1964, as amended, are based to a large extent on UNCITRAL Model Law. Under the Code of Civil Procedure, an arbitration agreement must be concluded in writing. Commercial contracts between Polish and foreign companies often contain an arbitration clause. Arbitration tribunals operate through the Polish Chamber of Commerce, and other sector-specific organizations. A permanent court of arbitration also functions at the business organization Confederation Lewiatan in Warsaw and at the General Counsel to the Republic of Poland (GCRP). GCRP took over arbitral cases from external counsels in 2017 and began representing state-owned commercial companies in litigation and arbitration matters for amounts in dispute over PLN 5 million ($1.27 million). The list of these entities includes major Polish state-owned enterprises in the airline, energy, banking, chemical, insurance, military, oil and rail industries as well as other entities such as museums, state-owned media and universities.

The Court of Arbitration at the Polish Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw, the biggest permanent arbitration court in Poland, operates based on arbitration rules complying with the latest international standards, implementing new provisions on expedited procedure. In recent years, numerous efforts have been made to increase use of arbitration in Poland. In 2019, online arbitration courts appeared on the Polish market. Their presence reflects the need for reliable, fast and affordable alternatives to state courts in smaller disputes. Online arbitration is becoming increasingly popular with exporting companies. One of the reasons is the possibility to file claims faster for overdue payments to foreign courts.

Polish state courts generally respect the wide autonomy of arbitration courts and show little inclination to interfere with their decisions as to the merits of the case. The arbitral awards are likely to be set aside only in rare cases. As a rule, in post-arbitral proceedings, Polish courts do not address the merits of the cases decided by the arbitration courts. An arbitration-friendly approach is also visible in other aspects, such as in the broad interpretation of arbitration clauses.

In mid-2018, the Polish Supreme Court introduced a new legal instrument into the Polish legal field: an extraordinary complaint. Although this new instrument does not refer directly to arbitration proceedings, it may be applied to any procedures before Polish state courts, including post-arbitration proceedings (see Section 3 for more details).

Bankruptcy Regulations

Poland’s bankruptcy law has undergone significant change and modernization in recent years. There is now a bankruptcy law and a separate, distinct restructuring law. Poland ranks 25th for ease of resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s Doing Business report 2020. Bankruptcy in Poland is criminalized if a company’s management does not file a petition to declare bankruptcy when a company becomes illiquid for an extended period of time or if a company ceases to pay its liabilities. https://www.paih.gov.pl/polish_law/bankruptcy_law_and_restructuring_proceedings 

In order to reduce the risk of overwhelming the bankruptcy courts with an excess of cases resulting from the pandemic, changes have been introduced in the bankruptcy process for consumers, shifting part of the duties to a trustee. A second significant change is the introduction of simplified restructuring proceedings. During restructuring proceedings, a company appoints an interim supervisor and is guaranteed protection against debt collection while seeking approval for specific restructuring plans from creditors. The simplified proceedings enjoy great support among entities at risk of insolvency, but are limited in time until June 30, 2021. Some of the solutions provided in the simplified restructuring procedure are the implementation of recommendations from Directive 2019/1023 of the European Parliament and of the Council (EU) of June 20, 2019. It is likely that, taking advantage of the state of the epidemic, the government is testing new solutions, which may continue to be applied after the economic situation has returned to normal.

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