Annual Conference of P.R.I.M.E. Finance

Opening speech by the Minister of Security and Justice Opstelten at the Annual Conference of P.R.I.M.E. Finance in the Peace Palace, The Hague on 27 January 2014.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last year I had the pleasure of opening P.R.I.M.E. Finance’s Annual Conference. This year it is an honour to welcome the participants for a second time. The distinguished panellists, practitioners, academics, judges and legislators here today all have an influence on the day-to-day functioning of the international financial markets. I wish you all a warm welcome to The Hague, the legal capital of the world.

It is always a special privilege to deliver a speech in the Peace Palace. The Palace is a seat of international law. It houses the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial body of the United Nations, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Hague Academy of International Law, and the extensive Peace Palace Library. It is also a regular venue for special events like this Annual Conference.

I understand that the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) now recommends the P.R.I.M.E Finance arbitration clause. And The Hague is a well-known seat of arbitration. Perhaps in the very near future the Peace Palace will also offer a venue for the settlement of disputes in complex financial transactions. I should like to congratulate P.R.I.M.E. Finance on the important steps taken last year and the broad acceptance it has already won.

Last year’s event was a great success. I had the opportunity to present an overview of the ideas underlying my bill aimed at modernising Dutch arbitration law. I highlighted the way in which I dealt with the concerns expressed by P.R.I.M.E. Finance. Today I would like to update you on the progress of the bill.

After last year’s conference the bill was approved by the Cabinet on the first of February 2013 and sent to the Council of State for advice. I am proud to say that the Council of State recommended that the bill be submitted to Parliament without any further comments, which is exceptional for draft legislation on this scale. A careful process of consultation and the excellent quality of the contributions, including those presented by P.R.I.M.E. Finance, certainly contributed to this excellent result.

I submitted the bill to the House of Representatives in the spring of 2013. Several political parties took the opportunity to ask questions and make comments. The tone of the House’s written report was generally positive. I will respond to the report in writing shortly after this conference.
If all goes well, the bill can be dealt with very soon by the House in a plenary session. If the House passes the bill, it will be debated by the Senate later this year. It is still my aim for an Act to enter into force on the first of January 2015.

I’m glad that the bill is also getting the attention it deserves in the specialist literature. Valuable suggestions were made to improve the bill even more, for instance in the last issue of the Dutch arbitration law journal. I addressed the constructive criticism I received in my memorandum of amendment. That was submitted to Parliament together with my response to the House’s report. I sincerely believe that as it now stands, the bill will make the Netherlands an even more attractive place to resolve both national and international disputes. Arbitration is an excellent alternative to settling disputes in the civil courts.

In my written response to the questions raised by the House of Representatives I took the opportunity to explain some of the issues that were not yet crystal clear. First, I emphasised that arbitration proceedings are in principle confidential, even though the bill does not contain an explicit provision to that effect. I also explained in greater detail that arbitrators may not only render awards but also make orders. Of course the requirements applying may differ. That will come as no surprise, given that arbitration awards may be enforced under the New York Convention, even if they contain provisional measures. As a result, strict requirements apply to awards. Orders, however, are not enforceable under the Convention. That is why the requirements they must comply with are less strict. But, with an eye on the clock, allow me to refer you to the Parliamentary documents for more information.

Unfortunately, I will have to leave after this welcoming address because of other commitments. But I leave you in the capable hands of the conference organisers. The programme they have put together looks very interesting indeed, and will provide you all with food for thought. Libor, mis-selling, and close-out and bankruptcy, for instance, are important issues that deserve the attention of politicians and practitioners alike.

I wish you all a pleasant stay and a productive conference.

Thank you.