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The Decree No. 2012-1190 of October 25, 2012, has recently elucidated the provisions of Law No. 2012-346 of March 12, 2012, concerning protective measures applicable to French safeguard, recovery, and liquidation proceedings, commonly referred to as the Petroplus Law. This legislative development emerged from the insolvency crisis of Petroplus Raffinage Petit-Couronne SAS, a notable French oil refining company.

The insolvency of Petroplus Raffinage Petit-Couronne SAS, despite its profitability, was precipitated by the actions of its foreign parent companies. The parent companies’ banks withdrew substantial amounts from the French company’s accounts, and the parent retained legal ownership of the crude oil inventory, which significantly impacted the subsidiary’s financial stability. Consequently, the French company faced insolvency with depleted assets and substantial liabilities.

In response to this crisis, the French legislature rapidly enacted the Petroplus Law. This law empowers administrators, liquidators, and judicial receivers to request judges to authorise protective measures concerning assets owned by related entities. The purpose is to safeguard the bankrupt company’s assets from claims by third parties until the extension of bankruptcy proceedings against those third parties.

The Petroplus Law introduces several critical provisions:

  1. Protective Measures for Co-mingled Assets:
    • Protective measures can be implemented concerning assets owned by individuals or entities when an extension of safeguard, recovery, or liquidation proceedings is sought on the grounds of asset co-mingling (confusion de patrimoine). This provision allows administrators to pierce the corporate veil, authorising them to take protective measures against the assets of a third party as long as an extension of proceedings on the grounds of asset co-mingling is requested. However, the practical application of this measure is restricted to assets located within France due to enforcement limitations in foreign jurisdictions.
  2. Assets of Managers Based on Mismanagement:
    • Protective measures can also be applied to assets owned by de jure or de facto managers of the insolvent company if their mismanagement is deemed to have caused the cessation of payments.
  3. Disposition of Perishable or Costly Assets:
    • The administrator may be authorised to dispose of perishable assets or assets that incur high preservation costs. The sale of these assets must be conducted under terms and prices determined by the bankruptcy judge, and the proceeds may be used to address immediate cash shortfalls.

Despite the intent to address the specific circumstances of the Petroplus case, the implementation of these measures in other insolvency proceedings may face significant challenges due to their unique nature. Critics argue that these measures raise legal and practical concerns. For instance, depriving an asset owner of the use of their legally owned assets could potentially force them into bankruptcy.

The Petroplus Law took immediate effect and applies to insolvency proceedings that were ongoing as of March 13, 2012, or commenced thereafter. This legislative response underscores the urgency with which the French government sought to address the systemic vulnerabilities exposed by the Petroplus insolvency.

Update 2024

Since the enactment of the Petroplus Law in 2012, several developments and updates have occurred concerning protective measures in French insolvency proceedings up to 2024. These changes reflect an evolving legal landscape aimed at addressing the challenges and criticisms initially raised by the law.

1. Jurisprudential Clarifications and Interpretations:

The French courts have progressively clarified the scope and application of the Petroplus Law through various rulings. These judicial interpretations have aimed to balance the need for protective measures against the rights of asset owners. Courts have frequently stressed the importance of proportionality and necessity when authorising protective measures, ensuring that such actions do not unduly prejudice third-party rights.

2. Cross-Border Insolvency Coordination:

One of the significant challenges of the Petroplus Law has been its application to assets located outside France. To address this, French authorities have engaged in enhanced cross-border insolvency coordination. The EU Insolvency Regulation (recast) has facilitated better cooperation and recognition of insolvency proceedings across member states, thus enabling more effective enforcement of protective measures in cross-border contexts.

3. Legislative Amendments:

In response to the practical and legal challenges identified since the Petroplus Law’s enactment, the French legislature has introduced amendments to refine and improve the law. Key amendments have focused on:

  • Enhanced Judicial Oversight: Strengthening the role of bankruptcy judges in overseeing the application of protective measures to ensure fairness and transparency.
  • Safeguards for Third-Party Rights: Introducing additional safeguards to protect the rights of third-party asset owners, including more stringent criteria for authorising protective measures and improved procedures for challenging such measures.

4. Corporate Governance Reforms:

Recognising the broader implications of the Petroplus Law, France has also undertaken reforms in corporate governance and insolvency frameworks to prevent similar situations from arising. These reforms include:

  • Enhanced Disclosure Requirements: Companies are now subject to stricter disclosure requirements regarding their financial health and relationships with parent companies.
  • Strengthened Directors’ Duties: Directors and managers face enhanced obligations to act in the best interests of the company and its creditors, with increased accountability for mismanagement.

5. Academic and Professional Critique:

Legal scholars and professionals have continued to critique and analyse the Petroplus Law, contributing to a broader understanding of its impacts and efficacy. These critiques have informed both judicial and legislative responses, ensuring that the law evolves in line with practical realities and legal principles.

6. Practical Applications and Case Studies:

Since 2012, several high-profile insolvency cases in France have tested the application of the Petroplus Law. These cases have provided valuable insights into the practical implementation of protective measures and have highlighted areas where further refinements are necessary. Case studies have shown that while the law has been effective in certain situations, its application remains complex and context-specific.

7. Global and European Influences:

Global financial crises and European Union directives on insolvency have also influenced the evolution of the Petroplus Law. France has aligned its insolvency framework with broader European standards, ensuring consistency and coherence in cross-border insolvency practices.

8. Continued Critiques and Adjustments:

Despite improvements, the Petroplus Law continues to face criticism for its potential to disrupt third-party rights and create uncertainties in the business environment. Ongoing adjustments aim to strike a balance between protecting creditors’ interests and maintaining a fair and predictable legal framework for all stakeholders involved.

In conclusion, the developments from 2012 to 2024 reflect a dynamic and responsive approach to insolvency law in France. The Petroplus Law, while initially controversial, has undergone significant refinements and adjustments, guided by judicial interpretations, legislative amendments, and practical experiences from insolvency proceedings. These changes aim to enhance the effectiveness of protective measures while safeguarding the rights of all parties involved.

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