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The Hungarian financial market finished 2019 in a strong position. Intrigued by what many have described as a “special” year, CEE Legal Matters sat down with several of the nation’s leading Banking/Finance lawyers at Lakatos, Koves & Partners’ offices in Budapest to learn more.

On 22 May 2020 the Government of Poland published a proposal for a new law on the screening of foreign investments in Poland. The new screening tool aims to protect public security, order and health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and will introduce a new notification obligation for investments into Polish companies.

“Quite a lot, really —it’s like watching a movie on fast forward,” says Schoenherr Attorney at Law Marko Frantar, from Ljubljana, when asked what’s happening in Slovenia during the COVID-19 epidemic. “As elsewhere, we've been seeing a level of state intervention that is unprecedented in terms of both range and magnitude of measures adopted — all compressed into a period of two months."

An amendment to the Civil Code will enter into force on 1 July 2020, which (i) cancels (save for some exceptions) the pre-emption right of co-owners of real estate, (ii) lifts the ban on contractual penalties against tenants of residential premises, and (iii) significantly changes the legal regulation of unit owners associations.

Schoenherr has advised Invester United Benefits on the sale of the Wohngarten residential construction project in Vienna to ZBI Zentral Boden Immobilien Gruppe. Wolf Theiss advised the buyers on the deal, which is expected to close by the end of June 2020.

The Hungarian Competition Authority (HCA) has imposed a record fine on Booking.com for committing unfair commercial practices by misleadingly advertising certain hotel rooms with "free cancellation", as well as for pressure selling. The authority has also banned the company from applying these practices as of 2021.

Over the last few weeks, the search for effective measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 has been the number one priority of affected countries. So far, there is no unified approach. A noteworthy trend is the increased awareness of the potential of data, which is sometimes even referred to as the "new oil". This potential is more than ever being used for key decision-making, e.g. in the development of medicines or vaccines, when assessing whether anti-epidemic measures are effective, in which countries travel restrictions should be imposed, in which public places access should be restricted, etc.

As the COVID-19 pandemic keeps reshaping the M&A environment across Europe with only deals at the late stage proceeding further, we may also expect the advent – albeit slow and gradual – of distressed M&A in the Czech Republic as businesses fall into financing difficulties. Some businesses will strip off non-core assets, while others will end up in bankruptcy. In each case, this instability presents a wide array of options for strategic investors.

Schoenherr advised Voith and Fellner Wratzfeld & Partner advised PCS on their acquisition of 59% of the shares of Traktionssysteme Austria GmbH. Cerha Hempel advised the selling shareholders on the deal, which remains subject to regulatory approval.

The focus today is on the COVID-19 world epidemic, and the special legal orders implemented by the affected countries. While Hungary has also adopted numerous extraordinary and temporary measures in this respect, attention must also be drawn to legislative developments which are not related to the coronavirus. The Parliament has recently adopted a new act which amends the Hungarian Competition Act ("Competition Act") and brings numerous changes to Hungarian competition law.

The Czech Constitutional Court did not repeal the Act on Significant Market Power, as demanded by a group of senators almost four years ago. However, the judges stated that the provision on limiting the amount of suppliers’ payments to customers with significant market power to 3% of the supplier's annual sales, is unconstitutional.

Until a few decades ago, litigation funding was nowhere to be seen. Today, it is daily business across law firms in the US, UK, and Australia. Although it has taken longer to reach Europe, and particularly CEE, it has now firmly made its mark, and it looks like it is here to stay.

During the COVID-19 outbreak businesses are facing the dilemma of whether to seek state aid or survive the crisis using their own resources. Every company should assess if meeting certain criteria for state aid is justifiable financially and in terms of timing. The state has the tool while the business has the option to use it. State aid is a sensitive topic, since it distorts competition by favouring certain undertakings, but this is allowed to take place when its compatibility with the single market is confirmed by the European Commission (the "EC"). Thus, the EC sets the parameters for the implementation of state aid while the Member States align the incentives with the needs of local business.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly spread across Europe, more and more companies have been forced to implement remote working arrangements for their employees. Logistical difficulties aside, businesses are now facing very real risks associated with information leaks due to human error, use of vulnerable equipment or software, or deliberate external misappropriation of sensitive data (both of the employer and its contractual counterparties). Immediate actions may need to be taken to adapt to this new environment.

Schoenherr at a Glance

Schoenherr is a leading full-service law firm providing local and international companies stellar advice that is straight to the point. With 15 offices and 4 country desks Schoenherr has a firm footprint in Central and Eastern Europe. Our lawyers are recognised leaders in their specialised areas and have a track record of getting deals done with a can-do, solution-oriented approach. Quality, flexibility, innovation and practical problem-solving in complex commercial mandates are at the core of our philosophy.

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