European business registers
Almost all countries have a register, and most of those registers are also available online. In other countries, company registers are not usually kept by a chamber of commerce, but by a commercial court or a ministry agency, for example. Financial data (such as financial statements) may also be kept and published by another institution.
Data in foreign registers
Within the European Economic Area, the registers are based on a European Directive (2009/101/EC) and comprise broadly the same basic data as in the Netherlands. This Directive only applies to companies (private limited companies (‘BVs’) and public limited companies (‘NVs’) in the Netherlands), which means that in many EEA Member States the register only contains information on companies. By no means all countries have chosen to include all economically relevant entities in a register as the Netherlands has. As a result, it is often difficult to find data on, for example, foreign one-man businesses, associations and foundations. However, there is a European Directive (89/666/EC) which requires the registration of branches of companies in another EEA country.
Searching in registers in Europe
On the European e-Justice website, you can look up companies (e.g. private limited companies and public limited companies) in European commercial registers. The e-Justice portal is provided by the European Commission. In the future, it will become possible to search in all EEA countries with a single query, but not all countries support this as of yet. Almost all European countries that are not members of the EEA have similar registers, and while these do not derive their legal basis from EU Directives, many countries do aim to be consistent with the Directives and have comparable legislation in place.
The fact that a foreign company can be inspected online does not guarantee its lawfulness. Only an official written statement from the relevant registry (or a relevant public authority) will provide legal certainty about the foreign company and any registered representatives. Dutch embassies and consulates can provide such ‘certificates’ and ‘apostilles’.
Within the EEA, the publication of financial statements and financial reports is based on a European Directive (78/660/EEC). Whether the financial statements must be filed with the register or with a separate body depends on the country concerned. This will of course also determine where you can consult them. For companies within the EEA, financial information can also be found on the European e-Justice portal. A foreign legal entity registered in the Netherlands must publish its most recent accounting documents in the Commercial Register, insofar as and in the form in which that legal entity is required to publish them in the country of its registered office.
Overview of registers in Europe
Companies in EEA countries
Registers in EU countries
Registers in other European countries