Greek Insolvency Law: Significant Reform
This article provides an overview of the latest noteworthy developments in the restructuring and insolvency legal regime in Greece emerging from the newly enacted Law 4738/2020. Considering that this law was basically in force as of the second half of 2021, exiguous jurisprudence is available so far. Thus, this article aims to highlight the most significant reforms introduced by the new legislation and pinpoint the issues that are expected to have an impact on the legal and business landscape in Greece.
- Main features of the new insolvency regime
- New out-of-court workout
- Tackling shareholders’ hold-out
- The role of the expert
- Bankruptcy reform and small-scale bankruptcies
- Going-concern sale
Referenced in this article
- Law 4738/2020 – new Insolvency Code
- Directive (EU) 2019/1023 – EU Restructuring Directive
- Greek Electronic Solvency Registry statistics
- Enhanced Surveillance Report – Greece, European Commission
- Ministerial decision of March 2021 on the expert’s report and procedures
- Law 4307/2014 – Dendias Law
New Insolvency Code
The new Insolvency Law, Law 4738/2020 as amended (the Insolvency Code or the Code), came into effect on 1 June 2021, though a part of it had already come into force on 1 March 2021. The Insolvency Code abolished the former Law 3588/2007 (the Bankruptcy Code) and integrated into the Greek legal system Directive (EU) 2019/1023 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on preventive restructuring frameworks, on discharge of debt and disqualifications, and on measures to increase the efficiency of procedures concerning restructuring, insolvency, and discharge of debt (the EU Restructuring Directive).
Admittedly, the title of the Insolvency Code – ‘Debt settlement and giving a second chance and other provisions’ – is not entirely congruous with its contents considering that a major part of the Code concerns bankruptcy proceedings, while a much smaller part deals with debt settlement and ‘giving a second chance’ provisions.
The objective of this new legislation is to fundamentally reform the framework of tackling debtors’ financial inability, creditors’ collective payment and the debt discharge of any person, natural or legal, who is engaged in an economic activity, regardless of whether this activity is business-related or not.
In Greece, total private debt in 2019 stood at €234 billion, according to official data from the Bank of Greece, the tax authorities and social security institutions. This debt derives from the 10-year financial crisis and includes €91.7 billion (39.3 per cent) in non-performing loans (NPLs) belonging to banks and servicers, €105.6 billion (45.2 per cent) towards the tax authorities and €36.3 billion (15.5 per cent) towards social security institutions. Businesses take up about two-thirds of the total debt, while the other third belongs to households. The financial crisis in Greece was aggravated by the covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in an increase in private debt, with adverse economic and social impacts. After the pandemic, private debt is expected to rise at a global level. In Greece, NPLs are expected to rise by up to 10 per cent, according to Bank of Greece estimates.
The Insolvency Code comprises five main sections. The first concerns the out-of-court workout; the second refers to pre-insolvency proceedings; the third concerns bankruptcy; the fourth concerns vulnerable distressed debtors; and the fifth regulates general issues (eg, procedural provisions, publication, penalties). Of these, this article highlights the most important matters for the reader.
As the Insolvency Code has been in force since June 2021, insufficient jurisprudence is available so far. Nevertheless, the following statistics, obtained from the Greek Electronic Solvency Registry, show how many times the basic tools of the new Code were used between 31 March 2021 and 15 December 2021:
- applications for ratification of rehabilitation agreement: 23;
- judgments on ratification of rehabilitation agreement: two;
- applications for precautionary measures prior to the filing of applications for ratification of rehabilitation agreement: 21;
- bankruptcy petitions of natural persons: 76;
- bankruptcy petitions of legal entities: 14; and
- declaration of bankruptcy judgments: seven.
New out-of-court workout
A new out-of-court workout (OCW) has been incorporated into the Insolvency Code, replacing the previous one regulated by Law 4469/2017, which expired on 30 April 2020. This new version modified the rationale and the function of the pre-existing out-of-court debt settlement mechanism, whose track record was poor. According to available data, 433 requests for submission to the previous OCW have been fulfilled and resulted in debt settlement until 1 January 2020.
The scope of the new OCW is to provide participating creditors with a functional environment to formulate proposals for the settlement of a debtor’s debts through a haircut or debt restructuring (thereby avoiding the risk of insolvency), either following the debtor’s request or on the creditors’ initiative. The main novelties of the new OCW scheme are as follows:
- it is a wholly out-of-court mechanism, unlike the former mechanism, by virtue of which the restructuring agreement should be ratified by the competent court to be enforced against all creditors;
- debts exclusively owed to financial institutions, the state and social security funds can be subject to the new OCW;
- the new OCW does not have an expiration date;
- the appointment of a coordinator is optional;
- the terms of the restructuring agreement may be determined by an algorithm whose practical matters are specified by a joint ministerial decision; and
- any breach of the restructuring agreement does not entail its termination but the loss of the settlement towards the bound creditor.
Although this OCW scheme seems to be sophisticated according to Greek standards, its implementation appears to be quite complicated, mainly owing to the fact that most of the practical issues are addressed, or are expected to be addressed, by separate ministerial decisions. The OCW scheme has attracted strong interest, with 35,753 applications initiated at the beginning of October 2021; however, of those, only 512 were finalised and submitted in the same month. In addition, according to the statistics, the majority of the applications submitted concerned at least one loan in default towards a financial institution, although approximately 9 per cent of the applications were linked with loans with less than 30 days past due.
Reform of pre-insolvency proceedings
Enhancement of creditors’ involvement
First, it is worth noting that the Insolvency Code introduced changes for the requisite majority of creditors, which needs to consent to the conclusion of a rehabilitation agreement to ensure the consent of each class of creditors. In accordance with the former law, a rehabilitation agreement needed to be concluded by the debtor and creditors representing 60 per cent of total claims against the debtor, including 40 per cent of secured claims; however, pursuant to the Code, for a rehabilitation agreement to be ratified, consent should be provided by the debtor as well as by the creditors representing, on the one hand, more than 50 per cent of the secured claims and, on the other, more than 50 per cent of the remaining claims of those affected by the rehabilitation agreement. The result is that two new classes have been formed: secured creditors and all other creditors (including the state, the social security funds and employees). The objective of this division, as set out in Recital 44 of the EU Restructuring Directive, is:
To ensure that rights which are substantially similar are treated equitably and that restructuring plans can be adopted without unfairly prejudicing the rights of affected parties, affected parties should be treated in separate classes which correspond to the class formation criteria under national law. ‘Class formation’ means the grouping of affected parties for the purposes of adopting a plan in such a way as to reflect their rights and the seniority of their claims and interests. As a minimum, secured and unsecured creditors should always be treated in separate classes.
This minimum requirement seems to have been adopted by the Greek law, as described above.
Cross-class cramdown mechanism
A cross-class cramdown mechanism has been introduced to address any collective action problems. Specifically, if the requisite majority of creditors cannot be reached, the rehabilitation agreement can be confirmed by means of a cross-class cramdown. In other words, when a rehabilitation agreement has not been approved by more than 50 per cent of secured claims, as well as more than 50 per cent of the remaining claims, it may be ratified by the court and bind the dissenting class, provided that:
- it has been approved by creditors representing more than 60 per cent of total claims against the debtor and more than 50 per cent of secured claims;
- no dissenting creditor is worse off;
- no class of affected parties receives a higher value by virtue of the rehabilitation agreement than its total claim towards the debtor; and
- with respect to microenterprises, the agreement has been proposed by the debtor or has the debtor’s consent.
While the Greek legislature enhanced creditors’ involvement in pre-insolvency proceedings, at the same time – having been influenced by the EU Restructuring Directive – it attempted to eliminate the risk of class hold-outs. This mechanism was inspired by the cross-class cramdown mechanism that is available in respect of reorganisation plans under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code. Under US bankruptcy law, a non-consensual plan (ie, a plan that has not been accepted by all classes) can only be confirmed if, in addition to the general requirements for confirmation of reorganisation plans, certain additional requirements are met.
The intention described in the previous paragraph was clearly reflected in the Insolvency Code, prior to its amendment in July 2021, where it was initially stipulated that a rehabilitation agreement concluded only by creditors representing more than 50 per cent of the secured claims, as well as more than 50 per cent of the remaining claims, could be ratified if one of the following conditions was met:
- the debtor was in cessation of payments during the conclusion of the rehabilitation agreement;
- the debtor’s equity was lower than one-tenth of the share capital and no measures have been taken;
- the debtor had not submitted its financial statements for two consecutive financial years; or
- in the case of a limited liability company, the debtor’s equity was less than half of the share capital.
However, pursuant to the amendment of July 2021, the above-mentioned clause (article 34, paragraph 2 of the Code) was modified – hence a rehabilitation agreement concluded only by the aforementioned majority of creditors can be ratified exclusively on the condition that the debtor is under cessation of payments. It seems that the previous inadequate requirements, which enabled creditors to set aside the debtor owing to reversible facts (eg, if two consecutive years of financial statements were not submitted), were promptly redressed by the Greek legislature.
Tackling shareholders’ hold-out
While shareholders’ or other equity holders’ legitimate interests should be protected, it should also be ensured that they cannot unreasonably prevent and create obstacles to the adoption and confirmation of a rehabilitation agreement that would make the debtor viable. In this respect, by derogation from the abolished Bankruptcy Code, under which it was provided that the rehabilitation agreement should be approved by the shareholders’ meeting of the debtor, either following the submission of the application for the ratification of the rehabilitation agreement or as a condition precedent for the execution of the rehabilitation agreement, the new Insolvency Code demands that the rehabilitation agreement be approved by the management body of the debtor (if the debtor is a legal entity), unless the approval of the shareholders’ meeting is explicitly required under any corporate law.
In light of the foregoing, if the debtor is a legal entity and the expert appointed by the debtor or the creditors (the expert) determines that the residual claim of the shareholders towards the company is not affected by the implementation of the rehabilitation agreement, in particular with regards to the transfer of company’s property or business, the adoption and the implementation of the agreement does not require consent of the shareholders, even by way of derogation from any contrary provision of the debtor’s articles of association. Furthermore, in cases where the rehabilitation agreement has been concluded only by creditors, no resolution of the shareholders’ meeting of the debtor is required, even if those actions require a resolution according to the corporate legislation.
In practice, the management board’s approval may enhance the flexibility and simplify the process; however, it may also give rise to conflicts between the management board and the (minority) shareholders, with the latter arguing that a rehabilitation agreement exceeds the limits of the ordinary management agenda. Additionally, it has been alleged that putting shareholders aside in relation to such a critical company matter could be deemed as non-compliance with the legal provisions of the Greek Constitution, particularly due to breach of the right of shareholding ownership.
Finally, the option to appoint a special agent with the power to convene a shareholders’ meeting and exercise the right of the shareholders of the debtor, who do not cooperate, to attend and vote, remains an applicable solution under the new Insolvency Code.
Presumed consent of the state and other public bodies
One of the most noticeable reforms introduced to the Greek pre-insolvency landscape is the presumed consent of the state, public entities, public services and enterprises, and social security funds (jointly referred to as ‘public bodies’) to the conclusion of a rehabilitation agreement, even if they do not sign it.
It was quite often the case that public bodies were reluctant to enter into a rehabilitation agreement and participate in the relevant proceedings regardless of whether their position would be deteriorated or not. In view of that, the Code adopted the said presumption. In this respect, public bodies shall be deemed to consent to a rehabilitation agreement in any case where the following conditions are cumulatively met:
- the main debt of the debtor towards the respective public body at the time of signing the rehabilitation agreement does not exceed €15 million;
- according to the expert’s report, the public body should not, due to the implementation of the rehabilitation agreement, be worse off in comparison with the position it would be in the case of bankruptcy; and
- according to the expert’s report, the certified claims of all the public bodies at the time of signing the rehabilitation agreement amount to less than the total sum of claims of the private creditors.
In view of the above, the Greek legislature ensured that, provided the above-mentioned conditions are cumulatively met, the officers of the public bodies shall bear no civil, criminal or disciplinary liability for signing the rehabilitation agreement or voting in favour of it by electronic voting or for their presumed consent.
Limitations on the overall duration of the stay of precautionary measures
According to the Insolvency Code, the total duration of the stay of precautionary measures granted upon filing of the application for the ratification of the rehabilitation agreement, including all extensions and renewals, must not exceed 12 months. It seems that the rationale behind this provision, which was adopted by the EU Restructuring Directive, is that it should be ensured somehow that the debtor shall not abuse the granted stay. In reality, even halfway through the 12-month period, most restructuring exercises usually succeed or fail – the half-year mark being roughly the maximum period of uncertainty regarding the debtor’s fate that financiers and trading partners are able to withstand.
Moreover, regarding the stay of precautionary measures applying prior to filing the application for the ratification of the rehabilitation agreement, certain restrictions have been legislated by the Code. In particular, it is provided that an extension of the stay or a new stay of individual enforcement actions may be granted, subject to a duly justified occasion, such as: (i) when progress in negotiations has been made; (ii) the continuation of the stay does not unjustly affect the rights of any affected party and no bankruptcy petition against the debtor has been heard; and (iii) the total duration, including all extensions and renewals, does not exceed six months.
One of the most important people in pre-insolvency proceedings is the expert appointed by the debtor or the creditors, who is delegated to draft the report accompanying the application for the ratification of the rehabilitation agreement. As the role and duties of the expert are not included exhaustively in the Insolvency Code, a ministerial decision was issued in March 2021 specifying the minimum content of the expert’s report and defining the procedures to be followed. Some of the most noteworthy points of this decision are outlined below.
First, the expert shall take into account the following three assumptions when drawing up the liquidation scenario of the debtor’s assets in the event of bankruptcy: (i) a maximum five-year period is required for the liquidation of certain assets under bankruptcy; (ii) the enterprise value must be determined in terms of net present value; and (iii) the costs required to complete the distribution of the liquidation proceeds to the creditors may not exceed 5 per cent of the liquidation proceeds.
The expert’s report must also contain the expert’s opinion regarding, inter alia, full compliance with European debt settlement legislation, the European Banking Authority Guidelines and the relevant national debt settlement legislation.
One final point to note about the ministerial decision concerns related party transactions. The expert must pass judgement on the impact of any related party transactions on the debtor’s financial statements (if any) or on the debtor’s economic situation. For this purpose, the expert is entitled to request any necessary information from the debtor (eg, accounting books, balances, information on transfer pricing, financial statements of the related parties).
Modification of bankruptcy scope
One of the main novelties of the new Code is the adjustment of the bankruptcy scope. Pursuant to the former bankruptcy legislation, the fundamental scope of bankruptcy was the creditors’ payment through the debtor’s rescue; however, according to the new law, the bankruptcy scope focuses on the creditors’ payment by means of rapid realisation of the debtor’s property and a swift restoration of productive means to potentially productive uses.
According to the former Bankruptcy Code (articles 107 to 131), either the debtor or the creditors were entitled to file a reorganisation plan along with a bankruptcy petition. That tool (the reorganisation plan) was primarily used to rescue, maintain and rehabilitate the debtor’s business during the bankruptcy proceedings. Nevertheless, due to a lack of practical application, the Insolvency Code repealed the reorganisation plan and concentrated on the creditors’ payment either through a going concern or a piecemeal sale, as further described below.
Bankruptcy of non-merchant persons
The right of non-merchant persons, natural or legal, to apply to be declared bankrupt is undoubtedly a major step forward made by the Code. Under the new provisions, the trading capacity of a person is not included in the subjective conditions of article 76 of the Code. It is the first time in Greek history that a unified framework under the same legislation has been adopted for the debt settlement of consumers (ie, non-merchant individuals) and enterprises. However, from a practical point of view, this unified legal framework raises the question of how successfully insolvency will be handled for all these persons under the same provisions.
According to the pre-existing legislation, non-merchant individuals were subject to the provisions of Law 3869/2010, known as the Katseli Law. The force of the said law has expired, except for any cases that were pending when the Insolvency Code entered into force. Those cases will continue to be governed by the provisions of the Katseli Law.
The law on the General Electronic Commercial Registry (Law 4635/2019, in force) is similar, in that it legislates that any natural person with an economic activity is obliged to be registered with the General Electronic Commercial Registry, but registration does not entail the acquisition of a trading capacity for the registered person.
Provisions for vulnerable distressed debtors
A creative mechanism for protecting the primary residence of vulnerable distressed debtors was introduced by the Insolvency Code. A vulnerable debtor is a debtor whose annual income is up to €21,000, whose immovable property is worth up to €180,000 or whose movable assets are worth up to €21,000 (dependent on the size of its household). Vulnerable distressed debtors’ protection seems to be more like a social protection measure rather than a bankruptcy or collective proceedings tool. That being said, the missing link between both cases is the debtor’s insolvency, hence the Greek legislature opted to incorporate such provisions into the Insolvency Code.
In more detail, according to the new provisions, in cases where a vulnerable distressed debtor is declared bankrupt, it may submit a request for the transfer or lease of its primary residence to an entity that acquires and releases such residences. This entity acquires the ownership right over the vulnerable debtor’s property at a market value pursuant to the assessment of a certified appraiser. The ownership is free of any encumbrances or claims of third parties. The property shall be leased back to the debtor for 12 years. In the event that the debtor fulfils its rental obligations, it is able to exercise the right of repurchase and acquire the property at a price determined in accordance with the provisions of a joint decision of the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs.
Inspired by foreign legislation, the new insolvency law introduced a simplified bankruptcy regime for microenterprises covered by article 2 of Law 4308/2014, known as ‘small-scale bankruptcies’ (articles 172 to 188). The Code clarifies that in the case of legal entities, if the entity’s net turnover exceeds €2 million, it is not considered a microenterprise. In the case of natural persons, the assets criterion applies to the person’s property.
The competent court for small-scale bankruptcies is the Court of Peace. In addition, in such bankruptcies, a going-concern sale of the debtor’s property cannot be requested by creditors. Thus, the creditors’ payment can only be fulfilled through a piecemeal sale.
This mechanism is likely to be very useful, considering that in Greece the number of microenterprises significantly outweighs the number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). According to recent statistics, microenterprises in Greece represent 95.4 per cent of the total number of Greek enterprises and SMEs represent the remaining 4.6 per cent.
Microenterprises are looking for fast and simple debt forgiveness, debt restructuring and debt repayment options, or liquidation and discharge. In reality, most Greek enterprises were discouraged by the pre-existing legal regime to proceed with bankruptcy due to the complexity, costs and bureaucracy of the procedure. Nevertheless, the new Code has introduced the aforementioned regime to encourage, facilitate and incentivise early access by those enterprises to the small-scale bankruptcy procedure, and has established favourable conditions for early discharge and a fresh start for the debtor.
Going-concern sale upon creditors’ request
Another novelty of the new Insolvency Code is the creditors’ option to request the sale of the debtor’s business as a going concern prior to the commencement of bankruptcy proceedings. Specifically, when a bankruptcy petition is filed by creditors representing at least 30 per cent of the total claims against the debtor, including secured creditors representing at least 20 per cent of the total secured claims, the petition can contain a request for the sale of the debtor’s business or part of the business as a going concern as provided for in articles 158 to 161, on condition that the debtor is an enterprise and the bankruptcy is not small-scale. Moreover, if this request is not included in the bankruptcy petition, the requisite creditors’ majority may lodge a third-party intervention submitting the request.
The concept of a going-concern sale of the debtor’s property is not unfamiliar to the Greek bankruptcy regime. Pursuant to the previous code, the creditors’ assembly was entitled to decide on a going-concern sale at a later stage of the bankruptcy (following the completion of claims verification); however, now, creditors are granted the right to file such a request at a very early stage of the bankruptcy procedure (ie, along with their bankruptcy petition), inviting the bankruptcy court to judge on a going-concern or a piecemeal sale.
The inclusion of a new provision on a going-concern sale was inspired by the special administration procedure of Law 4307/2014, as further amended, known as the Dendias Law. Under this law, provided that the debtor was under cessation of payments and the application was supported by creditors holding a minimum of 40 per cent of total claims against the debtor, including at least one financial institution, a swift sale of the business or parts of the business of the debtor as a going concern was taking place. If the debtor was a public limited company, it could be also subject to special administration, if grounds for its termination applied. The Dendias Law is no longer in force, although any cases that were pending when the Insolvency Code entered into force are still governed by it. In accordance with the Dendias Law, the special administration procedure was a pre-insolvency collective procedure structured for the going-concern sale of the debtor’s assets.
According to unofficial statistical data, it appears that around 20 Greek enterprises – some of which are of great social and economic standing – were subject to special administration during 2016 to 2020. For instance, in 2018, the Greek company Hellenic Shipyards SA, which is the largest shipyard in Greece and the largest in the entire region of the eastern Mediterranean, was placed in special administration.
Despite the fact that some businesses managed to be rescued by investors in the short term, the special administration scheme stopped being used, probably due to interpretation and ambiguity problems (eg, regarding whether the debtor is under cessation of payments or not) and certain impracticalities arose from its implementation. Therefore, the Greek legislature introduced a similar procedure in the new Code.
In particular, as mentioned above, the requisite creditors’ majority is eligible for requesting the sale of the debtor’s property as a going concern along with the bankruptcy petition. In such a case, the court is competent to decide whether a going-concern sale is beneficial to the creditors and will improve their recovery. This decision regarding a going-concern or piecemeal sale is included in the judgment declaring the debtor’s bankruptcy.
The rationale behind a going-concern sale is summarised as follows: under special conditions, the debtor’s business can be up and running until its realisation. For instance, the business can be financed during bankruptcy for the purposes of its maintenance, executory contracts are not terminated and administrative licences are maintained until the transfer. Under those circumstances, business goodwill is maintained, resulting in a higher consideration for the acquisition and a better recovery for the creditors.
The EU Restructuring Directive shed light on the inefficiency of the process for insolvent but honest entrepreneurs being discharged from their debts and making a fresh start. The old framework resulted in entrepreneurs having to relocate to other jurisdictions to benefit from a fresh start in a reasonable period of time, at considerable additional cost to both their creditors and the entrepreneurs themselves.
In line with the EU Restructuring Directive, the Greek legislature introduced certain provisions (articles 192 to 196) regarding the debtor’s discharge (eg, discharge of every debtor who is a natural person three years after bankruptcy or from the date of registration of the judgment rejecting the bankruptcy petition due to lack of assets in the Greek Electronic Solvency Registry), whose ultimate aim is to enable the proper functioning of the internal market and remove obstacles to the exercise of fundamental freedoms, such as the free movement of capital and freedom of establishment.
 Government Gazette 207 A’/27 October 2020.
 Evanghelos Emm Perakis, Insolvency Law, 4th ed, The new Law 4738/2020 on insolvency as amended by Law 4818/2021, 2021, pages 25–26.
 Evanghelos Emm Perakis, Insolvency Law, 4th ed, The new Law 4738/2020 on insolvency as amended by Law 4818/2021, 2021, page 48.
 Enhanced Surveillance Report – Greece, European Commission, 24 November 2021, pages 33–34, https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/twelfth-enhanced-surveillance-report_en.
 Veder in Paulus/Dammann, European Preventive Restructuring, article 11, paragraph 4, page 178.
 ibid, paragraph 5, page 178.
 EU Restructuring Directive, Preamble 57.
 Evanghelos Emm Perakis, Insolvency Law, 4th ed, The new Law 4738/2020 on insolvency as amended by Law 4818/2021, 2021, pages 101–102.
 Richter in Paulus/Dammann, European Preventive Restructuring, article 6, paragraph 47, page 119.
 Kristin Van Zwieten, Related Party Transactions in Insolvency, The Law and Finance of Related Party Transactions, Cambridge University Press, 2019, page 260 et seq.
 G Michalopoulos, The New Bankruptcy Law, 2021, page 15; Katsas, The new bankruptcy code as a reformative challenge and chance, Synigoros, issue 141/2020, page 18; Psychomanis, Bankruptcy Law, 2021, page 22.
 Evanghelos Emm Perakis, Insolvency Law, 4th ed, The new Law 4738/2020 on insolvency as amended by Law 4818/2021, 2021, page 533.
 For example: the German Insolvency Statute, section 311 et seq; the French Commercial Code, article L. 644-1 et seq; and the Spanish Insolvency Law 2020, article 522 et seq.
 Numbers of SMEs in Greece 2008–2021, published by D Clark, 7 July 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/879075/number-of-smes-in-greece/#statisticContainer.
 Alexander N Rokas, The sale of debtor’s business as a going concern according to the new insolvency procedure (L 4738/2020) – comparison with the special administration, Review of Commercial Law, 2020, 792.
 ibid, page 793.
 EU Restructuring Directive, Preamble 5.