Working paper series / Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universität, Institute for Law and Finance
The law of corporate groups in Portugal
José Augusto Quelhas Lima Engrácia Antunes
- After the pioneering German “Aktiengesetz” of 1965 and the Brazilian “Lei das Sociedades Anónimas” of 1976, Portugal has become the third country in the world to enact a specific regulation on groups of companies. The Code of Commercial Companies (“Código das Sociedades Comerciais”, abbreviately hereinafter CSC), enacted in 1986, contains a unitary set of rules regulating the relationships between companies, in general, and the groups of companies, in particular (arts. 481° to 508°-E CSC). With this set of rules, the Portuguese legislator has dealt with one of the major topics of modern Company Law. While this branch of law is traditionally conceived as the law of the individual company, modern economic reality is characterized by the massive emergence of large-scale enterprise networks, where parts of a whole business are allocated and insulated in several legally independent companies submitted to an unified economic direction. As Tom HADDEN put it: “Company lawyers still write and talk as if the single independent company, with its shareholders, directors and employees, was the norm. In reality, the individual company ceased to be the most significant form of organization in the 1920s and 1930s. The commercial world is now dominated both nationally and internationally by complex groups of companies”. This trend, which is now observable in any of the largest economies in the world, holds also true for small markets such as Portugal. Although Portuguese economy is still dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises, the organizational structure of the group has always been extremely common. During the 70s, it was estimated that the seven largest groups of companies owned about 50% of the equity capital of all domestic enterprises and were alone responsible for 3/4 of the internal national product. Such a trend has continued and even highlighted in the next decades, surviving to different political and economic scenarios: during the 80s, due to the process of state nationalization of these groups, an enormous public group with more than one thousand controlled companies has been created (“IPE - Instituto de Participações do Estado”); and during the 90s until today, thanks to the reprivatisation movement and the opening of our national market, we assisted to the re-emergence of some large private groups, composed of several hundred subsidiaries each, some of which are listed in foreign stock exchange markets (e.g., in the banking sector, “BCP – Banco Comercial Português”, in the industrial area, “SONAE”, and in the media and communication area, “Portugal-Telecom”).