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2024 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

States’ Shareholding as a Tool of Investment Control in Strategically Important Companies: Any Consequences for International Responsibility?

Author : Bartosz Soloch

Published in: Weaponising Investments

Publisher: Springer Nature Switzerland

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Abstract

The investment screening regulations are not the only tool the states use to control the influx of foreign investments. Arguably, it is rather the states’ shareholding that has traditionally been the main tool of investment control. Furthermore, in order to preserve their stake in the companies many states resort to mechanisms enhancing their corporate control over strategic companies. The question whether implementation of such mechanisms could not automatically translate into states’ responsibility for their actions is what this article explores. In order to answer this question, following issues will be thematized: First, legal framework governing the corporate control over companies, governed mainly by the domestic laws. Second, the effects of the state’s shareholding in enterprises on the imputability of their actions to the sovereigns under the international rules on attribution, with particular emphasis on WTO, ECHR, ISDS and EU legal frameworks. Third, whether the utilisation of the corporate control enhancement instruments would translate into the states’ responsibility for their actions under the aforesaid rules. As the analysis demonstrates, however, this is not the case. While my reconstruction of the corporate control enhancing rests on the Polish domestic regulations, I am convinced that the conclusions of my research may be relevant also for other legal systems.

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Footnotes
1
See, e.g., OECD (2015).
 
2
Commercial Companies Code (Ustawa z kodeks spółek handlowych) of 15 September 2000, tj. Dz.U. z 2022 r. poz. 1467.
 
3
Public Assets Management Act (Ustawa o zasadach zarządzania mieniem państwowym) of 16 December 2016, t.j. Dz.U.2021.1933. For the sake of good order, it has to be stressed that in addition of retaining shareholding in strategically important companies, Poland did introduce investment control law in 2015, see Control of Certain Investments Act (Ustawa o kontroli niektórych inwestycji) of 24 July 2015, t.j. Dz.U.2020.2145. See also Mataczyński (2016). A closer analysis thereof would, however, reach beyond the scope of this paper.
 
4
For an overview of such control-enhancing tactics see Grant and Kirchmaier (2005), passim.
 
5
General on the topic of privatisation in Poland see Ozsvald (2019), pp. 163–188.
 
6
For an overview of the trend and the relevant literature see e.g. Wright et al. (2021).
 
7
See in particular seminal Resolution of 7 Supreme Court Judges of 21 September 1993 in case III CZP 72/93. See also Supreme Administrative Court decision of 7 March 2019 in case I OSK 1036/17.
 
8
Weber-Elżanowska (2017), Sec. IV.§3.III.1. See also Elżanowski (2008), Chap. Wstęp, makes a clear distinction between influencing the energy sector in the way of exercise of regulatory powers and ownership rights.
 
9
Bernaczyk (2019), p. 29.
 
10
See Szumański (2019), Chap. 17.4.1, para 38. In this context one should briefly mention so-called Companies Group Law (Ustawa z dnia. o zmianie ustawy—Kodeks spółek handlowych oraz niektórych innych ustaw) of 9 February 2022, (Dz.U. 2022 poz. 807), an amendment to the Commercial Companies Code, which entered into force on 13 October 2022. In a nutshell, these regulations introduce the concept of Companies Group, allowing to partially modify some of the above principles, among others by introducing the concept of the group interest as distinct from the interest of a particular company (Article 211 § 1 of the Commercial Companies Code as amended) and allowing for issuing binding orders to subsidiary companies in certain strictly limited situations (Article 212 § 1 of the Commercial Companies Code as amended). A further analysis of this act is not necessary, however, for at least two reasons. t. First, the public companies (whose situation is analysed in this article) cannot be granted the status of subsidiary companies in a Companies Group (Article 2116 § 2 of the Commercial Companies Code as amended) and, thus, cannot be subjected to the enhanced control of their dominant shareholder. Second, the dominant role in a companies group may be played solely by a commercial company (Article 211 of the Commercial Companies Code as amended) which excludes the very possibility of the state utilising the instruments foreseen in the Companies Group Law. Consequently, this statutory modification does not alter the conclusions of this article.
 
11
See, e.g., Public Offer Act (ustawa o ofercie publicznej i warunkach wprowadzania instrumentów finansowych do zorganizowanego systemu obrotu oraz o spółkach publicznych) of 29 July 2005, t.j. Dz. U. z 2021 r. poz. 1983, implementing the EU financial markets directives.
 
12
See, e.g., Sołtysiński and Moskwa (2016), § 22 para 8 for the non-exclusivity of the German inspirations see e.g. Włodyka and Szumański (2019), Chap. 2.1.2.1, para 6. In any case, many of its elements, particularly the two-tier board, are present also in other European corporate traditions, in particular the Romanic model, see e.g. Conac (2013), pp. 453 ff.
 
13
Article 3751 of the Commercial Companies Code. See also Poznań Court of Appeals judgment of 8 July 2020 in case I AGa 219/19 declaring the nullity of shareholders resolution obliging the management board to conduct a particular investment precisely due to the violation of the division of competences between the corporate bodies
 
14
Polish Supreme Court Judgment of 5 November 2009 in case I CSK 158/09.
 
15
See, e.g., Sołtysiński and Moskwa (2016), § 23 paras 25, 93, 237, 239.
 
16
Weber-Elżanowska (2017), Sec. IV.§4.I i II.
 
17
Public Assets Management Act (Ustawa o zasadach zarządzania mieniem państwowym) of 16 December 2016, t.j. Dz.U.2021.1933.
 
18
The presented rationale does not differ from solutions adopted in other OECD countries, see OECD (2015), pp. 11–12.
 
19
See, e.g., Daszkiewicz (2020), Artykuł 9. Chłodzińska (2020), Artykuł 9.
 
20
Daszkiewicz (2020), Artykuł 31.
 
21
Article 93 of the Polish Constitution (Konstytucja Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej z dnia 2 kwietnia 1997 r. uchwalona przez Zgromadzenie Narodowe w dniu 2 kwietnia 1997 r., przyjęta przez Naród w referendum konstytucyjnym w dniu 25 maja 1997 r., podpisana przez Prezydenta Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej w dniu 16 lipca 1997 r., Dz.U. 1997 nr 78 poz. 483 ze zm.). See also Długosz et al. (2018), § 41, para 28.
 
22
Polish Constitution, Article 7. Regarding jurisprudence, see in particular Polish Constitutional Court judgment of 14 June 2006 in case K 53/05 indicating that the empowerment to exercise of public power necessarily has to be based on provisions of law and that these provisions of law have to be explicit and unambiguous. See also Polish Constitutional Court judgment of 4 December 2001 in case SK 18/00, where the Court expressly demanded that there be an express legal basis for a particular act of conferral of public authority.
 
23
See e.g. certain issues related to the obligations related to access to public information, see Bernaczyk (2019), pp. 17–89.
 
24
Despite the widespread use of the concept, there is no universally accepted definition of the “golden share”. The term’s description proposed by the OECD, nonetheless, seems to more or less reflect widely accepted understanding of the term, see OECD (2020) Acquisition- and ownership-related policies to safeguard essential security interests Current and emerging trends, observed designs, and policy practice in 62 economies Research note by the OECD Secretariat, OECD, § 58: “Golden shares” have been a traditional means in some countries to ensure government influence over certain companies, especially after the privatisation of infrastructure assets. These shares typically grant voting rights in an enterprise beyond the proportion of invested capital and hence allow governments to exert control without committing significant capital”.
 
25
Act on the Exercise of Special Powers by the Minister Competent for State Assets in Certain Shareholding Companies and their Groups Active in Electrecic Energy, Oil and Gas Sectors (Ustawa o szczególnych uprawnieniach ministra właściwego do spraw aktywów państwowych oraz ich wykonywaniu w niektórych spółkach kapitałowych lub grupach kapitałowych prowadzących działalność w sektorach energii elektrycznej, ropy naftowej oraz paliw gazowych) of 18 March 2010, t.j. Dz.U.2020.2173.
 
26
The scope of application of the Exercise of Special Powers Act is limited to companies active in the oil, gas and electricity sector, whose assets were listed in the critical infrastructure register (Article 1.1), see also Grzegorczyk (2011).
 
27
Exercise of Special Powers Act, Article 2.3 and 2.6.
 
28
See Piecha (2021), Chap. III.3.3. This conclusion is further supported by the OECD Report, not listing Exercise of Special Powers Act as one of the investment control mechanisms, see OECD (2020) Acquisition- and ownership-related policies to safeguard essential security interests Current and emerging trends, observed designs, and policy practice in 62 economies Research note by the OECD Secretariat, OECD, §§ 501 ff.
 
29
See, e.g., Articles 354 § 1 or 411 § 3 of the Commercial Companies Code.
 
30
Regucki (2018), Chap. 9 §3 III.
 
31
ICJ Judgment of 5 February 1970 in case Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company, Limited (Belgium v. Spain), in particular §§ 56–58. For the historical context and analysis of other concurring international jurisprudence, in particular of the US-Iranian Claims Tribunal see Crawford (2013), pp. 3–43; see also Badia (2016), pp. 205–206.
 
32
Draft articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, with commentaries 2001, Text adopted by the International Law Commission at its 53rd session, in 2001, and submitted to the General Assembly as a part of the Commission’s report covering the work of that session (A/56/10). For the articles as a codification of customary international law see Crawford (2013), pp. 41 ff. In particular, the ILC Draft Articles status as a reflection of customary international law is recognised by the extensive references thereto in the jurisprudence of investment tribunals discussed in Sect. 3.4 below.
 
33
Commentary (6) to Article 8 of the Draft articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, with commentaries 2001, Text adopted by the International Law Commission at its 53rd session, in 2001, and submitted to the General Assembly as a part of the Commission’s report covering the work of that session (A/56/10).
 
34
Crawford (2013), pp. 161 ff. This view seems to be shared also by the scholars tackling more specific aspects of the state responsibility, see, e.g., Milanovic (2020); Schönsteiner (2019), p. 934 even if the latter author tries to challenge this view by, e.g., referring to the reports of the UN Human Rights bodies, such as General comment No. 23 (2016) on the right to just and favourable conditions of work (Article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) E/C.12/GC/23, § 58.
 
35
Even if the criteria in systems other than the ECHR have remained somewhat unclear, see Schönsteiner (2019).
 
36
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms open to signature on 4 November 1950 (ETS No. 005). For a more in-depth analysis of the Strasbourg Court’s treatment of the attribution of state owned companies’ actions see, e.g., Rajavuori (2015); see Schönsteiner (2019). In any case, the attribution analysis should not be confused with the instances of imputing responsibility for state enterprises’ actions on the basis of positive obligations doctrine, see, e.g., ECtHR judgment of 3 April 2012 in case 54522/00 Kotov v. Russia, §108 ff.; in this direction also ECtHR judgment of 9 June 2005 in case 55723/00 Fadeyeva v. Russia, § 89.
 
37
ECtHR judgment of 9 February 2021 in case 23662/08 Tokel v. Turkey, § 58. Notably the ECtHR found Turkey liable for the actions of the company by indicating that at the time of the breach the company in question, despite engaging in trade-related activities, served public purpose; was created by a special legislative decree and its daily economic operations were directly interfered with by the responsible governmental departments (§60). From more recent case law, see also ECtHR judgment of 15 October 2019 in case 64098/09 Kuzhelev and others V. Russia, § 117.
 
38
See, e.g., ECtHR decision of 15 November 2011 in case 28502/08 Transpetrol, a.s., v. Slovakia, §§ 58–67.
 
39
As for now, despite the changes of the presidential administration, the US still seems to be less than willing to unblock the Dispute Settlement Body, see Van der Loo (2022), pp. 18 ff.
 
40
Generally see in particular Vidigal (2017); Dereje (2016), pp. 225–250.
 
41
See in particular Report of the Panel of 14 March 1997 in case Canada—Certain Measures Concerning Periodicals, §§ 5.34–5.36. Nonetheless, it has to be stressed that the Report concerned a situation of a company created in the way of a governmental act granting the government specific control powers and, thus, making its legal status different from the ordinary commercial companies. See also Dereje (2016), pp. 250–251.
 
42
Report of the Appellate Body of 11 March 2011 in case WT/DS379/AB/R United States—Definitive Anti-Dumping and Countervailing Duties on Certain Products from China, §§ 317–321; see also Report of the Appellate Body of 8 December 2014 in case WT/DS436/AB/R United States—Countervailing Measures on Certain Hot-Rolled Carbon Steel Flat Products from India, § 4.52.
 
43
Dereje (2016), pp. 395–396, 426. For more recent restatements see award of 16 May 2018 in case Masdar Solar & Wind Cooperatief U.A. v. Kingdom of Spain, ICSID Case No. ARB/14/1, § 167; award of 28 February 2020 in case Staur Eiendom AS, EBO Invest AS and Rox Holding AS v. Republic of Latvia, § 311.
 
44
Dereje (2016), pp. 288; 317–320, 362–363; 401–402. According to the author, this conclusion could be put into question only in a situation where “golden shares” would vest the state with exceptional powers translating in direct control over a particular enterprise’s actions (p. 406). In all the other cases in order to pronounce the state responsible it would be necessary to prove the existence of other aspects speaking in favour of the control, with appointment or directive powers being clearly distinguishable from control rights originating in shareholding (p. 408). See also Badia (2014), pp. 163, 169; Badia (2016), pp. 205–208.
 
45
Final Award of 30 November 2011 in case White Industries Australia Limited v. The Republic of India, UNCITRAL § 8.1.2).
 
46
Final Award of 30 November 2011 in case White Industries Australia Limited v. The Republic of India, UNCITRAL § 8.1.19).
 
47
Award of 18 June 2010 in case Gustav F W Hamester GmbH & Co KG v. Republic of Ghana, ICSID Case No. ARB/07/24, § 187. In this respect see also Award of 27 June 2016 in case Mr. Kristian Almås and Mr. Geir Almås v. The Republic of Poland, PCA Case No 2015-13.
 
48
Decision of the Tribunal on Objections to Jurisdiction of 25 January 2000 in case Emilio Agustín Maffezini v. The Kingdom of Spain, ICSID Case No. ARB/97/7, §§ 84–89.
 
49
Award of 24 March 2016 in case Mesa Power Group, LLC v. Government of Canada, UNCITRAL, PCA Case No. 2012-17, §§ 343, 370–371.
 
50
Decision on Jurisdiction of 6 July 2007 in case Ioannis Kardassopoulos v. The Republic of Georgia, ICSID Case No. ARB/05/18, §§ 275–278.
 
51
Award of 8 October 2009 in case EDF (Services) Limited v. Romania, ICSID Case No. ARB/05/13, §§ 190, 209.
 
52
See, e.g., award of 26 July 2018 in case Marfin Investment Group v. The Republic of Cyprus, ICSID Case No. ARB/13/27, § 679 (in the context of Article 8 ILC; the tribunal seems to have implicitly refuted the Article 4 argument); see also award of 28 February 2020 in case Staur Eiendom AS, EBO Invest AS and Rox Holding AS v. Republic of Latvia, §§ 332–336 (in the context of Article 4 ILC). Interestingly, in §§ 340–343 the tribunal in unequivocal terms refutes to recognise the exercise of public power solely by the virtue of a SOE being listed as a strategic asset and the state’s shareholding rights being exercised in accordance with special laws. See also Award of 27 June 2016 in case Mr. Kristian Almås and Mr. Geir Almås v. The Republic of Poland, PCA Case No 2015-13 §§ 207–213, where the tribunal stated that even in case of governmental agencies responsible for managing certain categories of state’s assets, enjoying a sufficient degree of financial and managerial autonomy from the government in running their affairs precludes the attribution of their actions to their respective states (§ 213), see also §§ 268–269, 272.
 
53
For the avoidance of doubts it merits attention that it was also expressly proposed to exclude mere veto powers from such factors Dereje (2016), p. 410.
 
54
It can hardly be argued that the COVID crisis revolutionised the state aid standards in many ways, generally introducing a far-reaching laxity for the Member States in this respect, see Bouchagiar (2021) in respect of the changes introduced by the EU regulations, see also the assessment of the Commission’s practice, leading to the reversion of the long-standing dogmas in this respect in Agnolucci (2022). Nonetheless, these changes have not generated new jurisprudential directions with regard to the attribution issues, lying in the very heart of this article.
 
55
CJEU judgment of 16 May 2002 in case C-482/99 France v. Commission, §§ 55–56. This list was rather long and encompassed factors such as the body in question not being able to take the contested decision without taking account of the requirements of the public authorities; existence of organic links to the state; obligation to take into take account directives issued by the public authorities; integration into the structures of the public administration, being subject to public law or ordinary company law; and the intensity of the supervision exercised by the public authorities over the management of the undertaking.
 
56
See, e.g., CJEU judgment of 17 September 2014 in case C-242/13 Commerz Nederland, §§ 31 ff. or CJEU judgment of 23 November 2017 in case C-472/15 P SACE, §§ 29, 34 ff.; 52–53.
 
57
Commission Notice on the notion of State aid as referred to in Article 107(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union C/2016/2946 OJ C 262, 19.7.2016, pp. 1–50, §§ 39–46.
 
58
See, e.g., Commission Decision of 12 May 2020 in case SA.52489(2018/FC) PostNord, §§ 69–95. Interestingly, this decision is currently contested before the CJEU by the PostNord competitor, inter alia due to the allegedly wrongful assessment of the attribution issues (Case T-525/20 ITD and Danske Fragtmænd v Commission.
 
59
See Commission Decision of 9 January 1995 in case IV/M.511 TEXACO/NORSK HYDRO, § 26. See also decisions of 2 June 1998 in case IV/M.931—NESTE/IVO §§ 7–10; or of 12 November 2009 in case COMP/M.5549—EDF/SEGEBEL, §§. 89–99.
 
60
See Commission Decision of 14 July 2020 in case, Case M.9014—PKN Orlen/Grupa Lotos, §§ 14–37.
 
61
Directive 2014/24/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2014 on public procurement and repealing Directive 2004/18/EC Text with EEA relevance, OJ L 94, 28.3.2014, pp. 65–242, Article 2.1(4); CJEU judgment of 5 October 2017 in case C-567/15, LitSpecMet, §§ 30–31.
 
62
In an isolated case C-261/18 the CJEU declared a company fully controlled by Ireland an emanation of that Member State (see CJEU judgment of 12 November 2019 in case C-261/18 Commission v. Ireland § 91, see also AG Pitruzzelli Opinion of 13 June 2018, § 54). It has to be stressed, however, that the decision was issued in a context-specific situation, and, thus, the case is of little general importance: Pursuant to infringement proceedings Ireland was obliged as a matter of EU law to withdraw a building permit for the company in question, which it failed to do. It justified its failures by invoking the provisions of national law, referring, among others, to the state-owned company’s alleged legitimate expectations.
 
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Metadata
Title
States’ Shareholding as a Tool of Investment Control in Strategically Important Companies: Any Consequences for International Responsibility?
Author
Bartosz Soloch
Copyright Year
2024
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/17280_2023_13

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