Belgium: Belgian Council Of Ministers Adopts Draft Bill On Trust Services For Electronic Transactions

Last Updated: 11 January 2016
Article by Koen T’Syen

On 11 December 2015, the Council of Ministers adopted a Draft Bill which (i) implements in Belgian law Regulation (EU) 910/2014 of 23 July 2014 on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market and repealing EU Directive 1999/93/EC (the "eIDAS Regulation"); and (ii) supplements the eIDAS Regulation in view of creating legal equivalence between electronic and non-electronic legal transactions (Voorontwerp van Wet tot uitvoering en aanvulling van de Verordening (EU) nr. 910/2014 van het Europees Parlement en de Raad van 23 juli 2014 en houdende invoeging van titel 2 "Bepaalde regels in verband met het juridisch kader voor vertrouwensdiensten" in boek XII "Recht van de elektronische economie" van het Wetboek van Economisch Recht/Avant-projet de loi mettant en oeuvre et complétant le Règlement (UE) n° 910/2014 du Parlement européen et du Conseil du 23 juillet 2014 et portant insertion du titre 2 "Certains règles relatives au cadre juridique pour les services de confiance" dans le livre XII "Droit de l'économie électronique" du Code de droit économique – the "Draft Bill").

The eIDAS Regulation contains rules on electronic identification (e-IDs) and so-called trust services, including electronic signatures, electronic seals, electronic registered mail and website authentication (See, VBB on Business Law, Volume 2014, No. 11, p. 3, available at www.vbb.com).

Currently, Belgian law contains only few rules on trust services. Most importantly, the Law of 9 July 2001 establishing certain rules in relation to the regulatory framework for electronic signatures and certification services (Wet van 9 juli 2001 houdende vaststelling van bepaalde regels in verband met het juridisch kader voor elektronische handtekeningen en certificatiediensten/Loi du 9 juillet 2001 fixant certaines règles relatives au cadre juridique pour les signatures électroniques et les services de certification – the "Law of 9 July 2001") sets outs a regulatory framework for electronic signatures. It provides that qualified electronic signatures are equivalent to handwritten signatures. In the past, the Belgian legislator has sought to adopt general rules on other trust services, including electronic registered mail and electronic archiving (See, VBB on Business Law, Volume 2010, No. 11, p. 9; Volume 2013, No. 4, p. 2; and Volume 2015, No. 9, p. 6, available at www.vbb.com), but none of these rules are currently in force. As regards trust service providers, the current rules are laid down in the Law of 15 May 2007 establishing a regulatory framework for certain trust service providers (Wet van 15 mei 2007 tot vaststelling van een juridisch kader voor sommige verleners van vertrouwensdiensten/Loi du 15 mai 2007 fixant un cadre juridique pour certains prestataires de services de confiance – the "Law of 15 May 2007").

Given this fragmentary regulatory framework, the Draft Bill aims to ensure the legal equivalence of electronic and non-electronic legal transactions by inserting a new Title 2 entitled "Certain rules in relation to the regulatory framework for trust services" in Book XII on the "Law of the electronic economy" of the Code of Economic Law (Wetboek van Economisch Recht/Code de droit économique – the "Code of Economic Law"). This new Title 2 will contain rules governing the following trust services:

  • Electronic archiving: Companies and other entities subject to statutory archiving obligations (e.g., credit and insurance companies, accountants and employers) will be allowed to archive electronically.
  • Electronic registered mail: The Draft Bill places electronic registered mail and paper registered mail on the same footing. Whenever registered mail is required by law, this may be either (i) paper registered mail; (ii) electronic registered mail; or (iii) hybrid electronic registered mail, i.e., registered mail which is sent electronically but delivered in paper format to the recipient by a post operator.
  • Electronic seals (companies): Electronic seals allow companies to identify themselves and sign electronic documents. The Draft Bill likens the qualified electronic seal to a handwritten signature of the natural person representing the company.
  • Electronic signatures (natural persons): The current regulatory framework on electronic signatures, i.e., the Law of 9 July 2001, will largely be integrated in the Code of Economic Law. In addition to confirming the equivalence of qualified electronic signatures and handwritten signatures as already ensured by the Law of 9 July 2001, the Draft Bill provides that qualified electronic signatures will be interoperable between EU Member States.
  • Website authentication: The Draft Bill provides that an authentication service will allow visitors of a website to verify through a certificate the identity of the person responsible for the website.
  • Trust service providers: In addition to the rules provided for by the Law of 15 May 2007, the Draft Bill imposes additional requirements on the trust service providers and regulates how qualified trust service providers can obtain an EU trust mark.
  • Electronic identification schemes: The Draft Bill implements the eIDAS Regulation as regards the mutual recognition between EU Member States of recognised electronic identification schemes.

The Draft Bill will now be submitted to the Council of State for advice and may be subject to further amendments. Once finally approved by the Council of Ministers, it will be submitted to Parliament for discussion and adoption. The Council of Minister's press release provides that the Draft Bill is expected to enter into force on 1 July 2016.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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