Willo Eurlings from KVK talks to us about being a member of EBRA and the current challenges facing the business registry world

Hi Willo, tell us about your role at KVK (the Netherland’s business registry)

I work in the strategy and legal affairs department of the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce. I mainly deal with the European dossiers: the implementation of existing European obligations and the initiatives for new European directives and regulations.

Important dossiers are the implementation of the High Value Datasets and the tension with the GDPR, the new Digital Company Law directive and the new anti-money laundering directive, including the implications of the EU Court of Justice ruling on the openness of Beneficial Ownership registers.

KVK has been an EBRA member for many years now. How does EBRA membership benefit KVK?

KVK values EBRA and the cooperation with other business and beneficial owners registries in Europe. It is good to exchange knowledge and experience about the wonderful profession of registry management.

We get ideas and inspiration from the different perspectives within Europe. And to be in dialogue with the European Commission on developments relevant to registries, cooperation within Europe is an absolute must.

KVK offices, Utrecht

You’re the Chair of EBRA’s Company Law working group. Can you explain more about the group?

The working group was launched to exchange information on the amendments to the Company Law Directive (the Mobility Directive and Digitisation Directive) and to address the major challenges of implementing the Open Data Directive (then called Public Sector Information). The focus is still on these trajectories.

Company Law is one of the pillars of the European business registers and this is even more valid now that the directive will also cover other legal forms. The High Value Datasets illustrate the challenges of a playing field where both transparency and protection of data and privacy are of the utmost importance.

At the same time, we also pay attention in the working group to other developments relevant to recording information about companies and other organisations, and the distribution of data about and from companies.

In addition, I think it is important to stress that we are neutral on politics and policy. The working group focuses on implementation aspects.

There’s a lot happening in the Company Law space. How is the Company Law working group helping the European business registers with these challenges?

In the working group, we analyse new text versions of directives and regulations. We actively engage with the European Commission to share our perspective at an early stage, and we look at consistency and contradiction between different legal frameworks.

In addition, the working group is also, and perhaps above all, a place to build a network in Europe. A way to make contacts quickly, to put out questions, and ask if others already have a solution to a problem.

Having said that, we have ambitions for the future. Face-to-face contacts with the Commission have been diluted by the Covid period. We would like to change this. We would like to be involved in new initiatives at an earlier stage in our role as registry experts. And we would like to develop further in providing alternative solutions rather than pointing out impossibilities. Saying no is not a good influencing strategy.

the working group is also, and perhaps above all, a place to build a network in Europe. A way to make contacts quickly, to put out questions and ask if others already have a solution to a problem.

Company Law working group, December 2023. KVK, Rotterdam

What other key challenges do you think the business registers facing at this time?

I think we are on the eve of some major developments that will have a profound impact on the registry landscape.

To me, the most important are:

  • The shifting of the focus from tracking legal entities to tracking natural persons in the economic realm. The relative importance of Beneficial Ownership registers will increase further in the coming years.

  • We see a double development. Some legal frameworks are converging. For example, parts of Company Law and the Anti-Money Laundering directive or the intention to combine the various European platforms into one super platform. Other legal frameworks seem to be on a collision course. GDPR rights regarding personal data and the unlimited and unlicensed openness of High Value Datasets are irreconcilable. Case law is not always the solution and often amounts to replacing one dilemma with another. A new balance needs to be struck between transparency, legal certainty, privacy and security. Montesqieu warned against fanaticism with his phrase ‘le mieux est le mortel ennemi du bien’. In a similar way, openness can be the enemy of transparency in some cases.

  • The war in Ukraine and wider geopolitical developments place new demands on companies and BO registers. See, for example, the European Parliament’s adopted proposal to record sanctioned individuals and entities in BO registers. These developments place new demands on registry operations.

I think we are on the eve of some major developments that will have a profound impact on the registry landscape.

You’re also an active participant in EBRA’s Beneficial Ownership Working group. How does your involvement in this Group help KVK?

In the Netherlands, the Beneficial Ownership registry for companies is in a legal sense part of the business registry. Because the Beneficial Ownership registers are a much more recent development than the company registers, we are currently seeing different perspectives within Europe. It is good to know those different perspectives. And we see a Commission with high ambitions for the development of the Beneficial Ownership registers. It is good to work together on this.

Beneficial Ownership working group, May 2023. Lisbon, Portugal

How does EBRA support its members to face the challenges in the business registry community?

EBRA provides the physical and human infrastructure and the trusted environment to develop and build European cooperation. Key developments here, as part of the EBRA strategy, are intensifying the outreach to the European Commission and maintaining the focus on the broader European developments.

I think the EBRA board deserves a big compliment for the calmness and thoroughness with which the merger between EBR and ECRF was carried out and its handling of the challenging circumstances of the Covid period. We at KVK look forward to the further development of and cooperation within the European registry family.

Thank you for your time, Willo.