A cooperative society (CV) is a company with a cooperative objective. Through this cooperative objective, the cooperative society aims to promote the needs of its shareholders or third parties and/or their economic and social activities. Through a cooperative, one wishes, in addition to generating profits, also to achieve another common (economic or social) purpose. Take, for example, a dairy cooperative through which dairy farmers not only intend to sell their milk, but also intend to develop their milk distribution network.
You set up a cooperative society with an authentic deed at a notary.
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You always incorporate a cooperative society with at least three persons. Both natural persons and legal persons can incorporate a cooperative society.
If you wish to incorporate a cooperative society, you must draw up a financial plan. In the financial plan you set forth which sources of financing you shall use to endow the cooperative society with capital. This financial plan has a statutorily required minimum content. The financial plan is an important document, because a judge shall use it in assessing the founder’s liability in case of a bankruptcy. For that reason, founders often seek assistance from an accounting professional for drawing up a financial plan. You hand over your financial plan to a notary, who shall keep it on file.
If your cooperative society goes bankrupt, you will then be able to prove with the financial plan that you have sufficiently thought through the risks of your business and the sources of financing which you would need for such business activities.
For each share in the cooperative society, you will have to contribute something. You can proceed with a contribution in cash, in kind or in the form of industry (such as labour or know-how). In the case of a contribution in kind or in the form of industry, a certified auditor shall have to assess the contribution.
A cooperative society has no real minimum capital, although you are obliged to provide a cooperative society with an apparently sufficient initial capital. If your cooperative society has an apparently insufficient initial capital to conduct its business activity for a period of two years, then you bear founder’s liability, if a judge orders the bankruptcy of the cooperative society within three years after the incorporation.
As a shareholder, your founder’s liability is, nevertheless, limited to the contribution you have committed to at the time of incorporation. It is possible to avoid bearing any founder’s liability as a founder, if you appear in the deed as an ordinary subscriber/shareholder, although there are conditions related thereto. Ordinary subscribers/shareholders cannot possess together more than two-thirds of the shares, must proceed with a contribution in cash and cannot enjoy directly or indirectly a special advantage.
Articles of association
The articles of association of a company are a reflection of the rules to which the company is subject. From a legal-technical standpoint, however, they are much more complex, because, depending on the case, the articles of association can also govern the rights and obligations between shareholders mutually, between shareholders and the company, between directors and the company and between the company and other third parties. The articles of association must comply with the law.
In order for third parties to have access to a minimum set of information about the company, the law imposes a number of mentions which need to be included compulsorily in the articles of association.
Set forth below is a brief description of these legally compulsory indications to be included in the articles of association. To the extent permitted by law, the parties can also establish additional matters in their articles of association.
Legally compulsory indications to be included in the articles of association
a) legal form, name and office
The articles of association must indicate the legal form of the cooperative society (CV) and its name. This name must be unique, since a legal person must bear a name which differs from any other legal person.
In the articles of association you must also include the Region where the office of the company is situated. It is not required to include the address of the cooperative society in the articles of association, since it may be made public simply by extract in the Annexes to the Belgian Official Gazette. In this manner, it can be easily changed, if needed, afterwards.
In the articles of association you must also write whether your cooperative society has an indefinite or fixed term.
c) Financial year
In the articles of association of your cooperative society, you must indicate the start and end date of the financial year.
d) Directors and their powers
Irrespective of whether a cooperative society is managed by one or more directors, you shall have to indicate a number of things in the articles of association with regard to the management of the company. If the cooperative society also opts to include a day-to-day administration in its articles of association, then mainly the same key points apply.
Thus, the articles of association determine:
- The number of (executive) directors;
- How you will appoint them;
- Whether the (executive) directors are competent to represent the cooperative society as a body, alone or jointly;
- How the powers are divided between the different bodies.
In the articles of association you must also include the objects of the cooperative society. The objects of the cooperative society are mainly a description of the activities which the company may conduct or may not conduct.
Through the platform you can select the desired activities. If you do not find any appropriate category or are not sure where to classify it, do not hesitate to consult your notary for advice.
f) Annual meeting
The articles of association of the cooperative society must also contain information with regard to the annual general meeting. Therefore, you must indicate the place, day and time of the annual meeting. Apart from that, you must also stipulate in the articles of association the conditions under which shareholders can be admitted to the general meeting and the conditions for the exercise of their voting rights.
g) Cooperative purpose
The articles of association of a cooperative society must also indicate the cooperative purpose and the values of the cooperative society.
Facultatieve statutaire vermeldingen
In addition to the legally compulsory indications to be included in the articles of association, there are also a large number of other matters you can optionally establish in the articles of association, such as:
- the effect under the articles of association of the pre-emptive right;
- the rights and obligations of the usufructuary-shareholder and the bare owner-shareholder;
- the possibility for a written or electronic general meeting;
- the transfer of shares and transfer restrictions;
- the remuneration of directors;
- complex constructions in the field of representation and internal management;
A notary can familiarize you with the legal possibilities, so that the articles of association are as “tailor-made” as possible. The notary can also further explain to you the different legal options available.
The deed of incorporation and other company documents of the cooperative society are drawn up in one of the official languages of the language region where the company has its registered office. Non-compliance with this obligation leads to the nullity of the deeds.
For a company which is incorporated in the bilingual region of Brussels-Capital (the 19 municipalities of Brussels), the deeds and documents maybe drawn up, either in Flemish, or in French, or in bilingual form (e.g. in 2 columns).
For a company which is incorporated with an office in the Flemish-speaking region, even in a municipality with language facilities, all deeds and documents must be drawn up compulsorily in Flemish.
For a company which is incorporated with an office in the French-speaking region, all deeds and documents must be drawn up compulsorily in French.
For a company which is incorporated with an office in the German-speaking region, all deeds and documents must be drawn up compulsorily in German.
Identification of persons
When you take part in the incorporation as a founder or ordinary shareholder, or are designated as director, you must be identified in the deed.
This identification comprises your last name and first names, your place and date of birth and your domicile. In addition to this, your unique identification number is also included, which is the Belgian national register number, if you have one or otherwise your number in the bis-register of the Crossroads Bank for Social Security.
If you do not have that number yet, it is not a problem: the notary will arrange that for you in the course of the preparation of the incorporation and register you in the bis-register.
The directive also further provides that you must identify yourself with an eIDAS-conformable means of identification of your member state.
Formalities after the incorporation
After having signed your deed of incorporation, you must still complete a number of formalities before the cooperative society can conduct its business activities.
- The notary will file the deed of incorporation and the excerpt of the deed of incorporation at the registry of the commercial court where the registered office of the cooperative society is located, within thirty days after the signing of the deed. Within ten days after the filing the publication of the excerpt in the Annexes to the Belgian Official Gazette takes place.
- In addition to this, the cooperative society must be registered at the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises. Through this registration, the authorities are informed that your company shall participate in legal transactions as an undertaking.
- The text of the articles of association shall also be filed separately in a database of articles of association which can be publicly consulted
- In such database, the provision of the articles of association concerning the power of representation of the directors shall also be included and can be consulted.
All these formalities are performed by the notary after the signing of the deed of incorporation and occur completely electronically. Consequently, you do not have to do anything in such regard yourself.
The cooperative society must, furthermore, apply for a VAT-number. This application must be issued by the company itself.
Forms of management
A cooperative society can be managed by one or more directors, who may be natural or legal persons, who may or may not form a body.
In principle, each director of a cooperative society is authorized to exercise individually the powers of the management body, unless the articles of association limit the power of each director or stipulate that the directors constitute a collegial management body.
In the cooperative society the following forms of management are, thus, possible:
- a sole director;
- several directors who are each individually/severally competent; or
- several directors who constitute a body together.
You will have to choose one of these forms when drawing up your articles of association. Are you in doubt about what suits you most? Ask for advice about this from your notary.
The directors are appointed in the deed of incorporation or in a later resolution passed by the general meeting.
The day-to-day administration of the cooperative society can be assigned by the management body to one or more persons. The day-to-day administration comprises, on the one hand, decisions which do not go beyond the everyday life needs of the company. On the other hand, it concerns decisions which do not require the management body’s intervention, because they are of lesser importance or very urgent.
In principle, the general meeting can appoint any legally capable person as director. There are, in other words, no legal appointment conditions. The directors can be either legal and natural persons, may or may not be shareholders, and also their nationality is of no importance. The articles of association of the company in question can, nevertheless, go further and set certain appointment conditions, provided that the general meeting still maintains freedom of choice as regards the appointment.
Although there is great freedom with regard to the appointment of directors, the law still imposes restrictions in specific cases. This is the case, for example, for companies which conduct regulated business activities. Moreover, some persons cannot be appointed director, because of their position, such as public officials, magistrates, military personnel,….
A legal person which is appointed director, must always designate a permanent representative. That permanent representative is charged with the performance of the director’s mandate in the name and on behalf of the director-legal person. Outside of the fact that this permanent representative must be a natural person, there are no special appointment conditions which apply in such regard. It is, however, not possible to be appointed to the management body both in one’s own name and the capacity of permanent representative.
The management body may perform all acts which are useful or expedient for the realization of the objects of the company, except for those for which, by law, the general meeting is competent. The articles of association can limit the power of the management body and can possibly transfer some powers to other bodies.
Each director, or in case of a collegial management body, the management body, is authorized to represent the cooperative society towards third parties. The articles of association can, nevertheless, grant the power to one or more directors to represent the company alone or jointly.
The management body can assign the day-to-day administration of the company to one or more persons. The day-to-day administration comprises, on the one hand, decisions which do not go beyond the everyday life needs of the company. On the other hand, it concerns decisions which do not require the management body’s intervention, because they are of lesser importance or very urgent.
Disqualifications applicable to directors
In some cases, the judge can impose a prohibition on exercising the function of director. Such a prohibition can be imposed on the occasion of a criminal conviction, or within the framework of a judicial dissolution or a bankruptcy. The violation of a director’s disqualification can be sanctioned by a prison sentence and a fine.
Disqualification from a profession deriving from criminal law
The judge can impose upon a person who is convicted as an offender or accomplice for certain criminal offenses as additional punishment the prohibition on performing during a specific period a director’s mandate or a function with the power to bind the company. The judge can also prohibit a person from performing a director’s mandate at a Belgian branch of a foreign company. This prohibition can be imposed upon both natural and legal persons. The criminal offenses in question concern, among other things, the falsification of documents, bribery, extortion, fraud, breach of criminal tax provisions. The complete list of criminal offenses can be found in art. 1 of the Royal Decree of 24 October 1934 regarding the injunction imposed upon some convicted persons and bankrupt persons prohibiting them from exercising some offices, professions or activities. The term of the criminal disqualification from a profession is determined by the judge who imposes it and cannot be less than 3 years or more than 10 years.
In addition to this, the criminal court judge can impose the prohibition, in case of a fraudulent bankruptcy or misuse of corporate assets, on conducting trade personally or through an intermediary. This prohibition can also not be less than 3 years and more than 10 years.
If a person has been convicted abroad of one of the above-mentioned criminal offenses, the Indictment division can still pronounce the disqualification from a profession.
Disqualification from a profession within the framework of a judicial dissolution
The commercial court can impose a disqualification from a profession upon a director who refuses to cooperate with the liquidation of a judicially dissolved company. Upon the closing of the liquidation, the prohibition can be imposed, in that case, on exercising the position of director personally or through an intermediary. If the dissolution of the company was pronounced abroad, this power accrues to the commercial court of Brussels. The term of this disqualification from a profession cannot exceed 3 years.
Disqualification from a profession deriving from insolvency law
If a business goes bankrupt and the judge finds that an apparent major error by the bankrupt person has contributed to the bankruptcy, the court can impose a prohibition upon the bankrupt person from running a business personally or through an intermediary. This prohibition can also be imposed upon a director of a bankrupt business whose removal was not made public one year before the declaration of bankruptcy, or upon the person who actually managed the business (without having been appointed as director). In addition to this, the prohibition can also be imposed on performing any mandate which entails the power to legally bind a legal person. The court shall establish the term of the prohibition, subject to a maximum of 10 years.
If the bankruptcy was pronounced abroad, the insolvency court of Brussels is authorized to impose such a prohibition.
The court can also impose the prohibition to exercise the function of director to directors of a bankrupt company who have not given their full cooperation to the bankruptcy trustee. In such a case the duration of the imposed disqualification cannot exceed 3 years.
The existence of a disqualification from a profession is not indicated in the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises or another central register. The information about this can only be found in the Belgian Official Gazette.
Online incorporation procedure
Through this platform, you can plan remotely, from start to finish, the incorporation of your cooperative society. Here you are guided throughout the entire process and may interrupt it at any moment and come back to the platform to complete any additional matters required.
If you don’t have a notary yet, you can look for and contact one here, who will, then, further provide you with assistance and advice in the event that, inter alia, some matters are not clear to you yet or if you have questions about the content of the articles of association. The notary shall prepare for you the draft of the deed of incorporation with the draft articles of association.
- Before you begin, you must certainly check whether all founders and shareholders or, if they shall be represented through a power-of-attorney, their representatives have at their disposal a recognized eIDAS-conformable means of identification. If you are not sure that your identity card complies with this, you may check it quickly here:
- Within the framework of the online incorporation, you will also have to enter the necessary persons and assign exact roles to them. These are, on the one hand, the roles of founder (who bears the founder’s liability), of shareholder (who does not bear it) and of director and, on the other hand, the role of the person who shall sign the deed of incorporation, either in his/her own name, or as representative of the founders/shareholders on the basis of a power-of-attorney. Here, all persons concerned shall have to have a unique identification number of the National Register of the bis-register of the Crossroads Bank for Social Security. If you do not have such a number yet, it’s not a problem: the notary will also arrange that for you in the course of the preparation of the incorporation and register you in the bis-register.
- Here, you shall also be able to upload the necessary documents which you need for an incorporation (for example, a financial plan, a capital contribution statement as proof of the payment of your contribution in cash,…), but you can, obviously, provide it also directly to your notary in any possible manner.
- When everything is ready, an appointment shall be scheduled with the notary for the signature of the authentic deed of incorporation. This is accompanied by a videoconference at which the notary gives you the final explanations and you can ask additional questions and a signature is placed through an electronically qualified signature. If you don’t you have a compatible electronic signature, such as the Belgian eID or itsme, it’s not a problem: this platform provides for an online procedure to create such an electronic signature certificate for you.
- After the signing, the notary shall electronically complete all formalities for the publication of the deed and registration of your company in the Crossroads Bank for Enterprises. In this manner, you will have your company number in no time and you can have your VAT-number activated and proceed.
Closing a business
A company can be dissolved in three ways:
- by a dissolution automatically by law (e.g. after the expiry of the term of the company);
- by a judicial decision; or
- voluntarily by a decision of the shareholders.
During the dissolution, a liquidator will sell the assets of the company to pay off the creditors with the proceeds. The balance which remains after payments to the creditors, accrues to the shareholders of the company. Upon the conclusion of the liquidation, the company loses its legal personality and ceases to exist.
A voluntary dissolution can also occur in a simple manner through the procedure of dissolution and liquidation in one deed. Through this procedure, the shareholders decide unanimously to dissolve at a moment in which all debts have already been paid to the creditors. No liquidator is appointed and the remaining assets accrue, after the dissolution, automatically to the shareholders.
Additionally, it is also possible that the company may be declared bankrupt by the commercial court. The bankruptcy order can be issued if the company can no longer pay its debts and no longer obtains credit from its creditors.