The International Arbitration Review: Belgium

Legal framework

Belgium has a civil law-based legal system. The legal provisions governing (international) arbitration are contained in Part VI of the Belgian Judicial Code (BJC) (Articles 1676 to 1722 BJC). These provisions were amended by the Arbitration Act of 24 June 2013 (the 2013 Arbitration Act),2 which entered into force on 1 September 2013.3

The 2013 Arbitration Act mirrors, to a large extent, the UNCITRAL Model Law but differs in certain respects. Among the key distinctions, the 2013 Arbitration Act is not limited to commercial arbitration and encompasses all types of arbitrations. In addition, Belgian law does not make a distinction between domestic and international arbitration, and the 2013 Arbitration Act applies whenever the seat of the arbitration is in Belgium (unless the parties agree otherwise, and subject to mandatory provisions).4

Belgian arbitration law specifically recognises the principle of Kompetenz-Kompetenz (Article 1682 BJC). Belgian courts must declare themselves without jurisdiction unless the arbitration agreement is invalid or has terminated (Article 1682(1) BJC). The exception to the jurisdiction of Belgian courts must be raised before any other defences by the respondents.5 The law explicitly provides that arbitral proceedings can commence, continue and lead to an award despite the initiation of court proceedings, and that the arbitral tribunal can decide on its own jurisdiction (Article 1682(2) and Article 1690 BJC).

In arbitration proceedings governed by Belgian law, the parties are largely free to organise the proceedings as they see fit. Arbitration proceedings are not confidential as a matter of law, and confidentiality needs to be agreed between the parties (directly or by reference to the rules of an arbitral institution). Since the 2013 Arbitration Act is based on the UNCITRAL Model Law, the provisions regarding the arbitration procedure are fairly similar to other developed jurisdictions. Examples of slightly less usual legal provisions on arbitration from a comparative perspective include, among others, the following:

  1. arbitration proceedings start when the request for arbitration is communicated (Article 1702 BJC) and the provisions of the BJC are very specific as to the means of communication and the way in which reception of the communication must be construed (Article 1678 BJC);
  2. witnesses shall not be under oath when testifying (Article 1700(4) BJC);
  3. parties are required to submit the exhibits on which they rely together with their written submissions (Article 1704(1) BJC). This is a default provision that stands in contrast to the practice of civil procedure in most common-law countries;
  4. the tribunal is not obliged to organise an oral hearing, except where a party requests it specifically (Article 1705(2) BJC);
  5. a third party may request to intervene in the arbitration proceedings by writing to the tribunal directly, who then shares this communication with the parties (Article 1709(1) BJC); and
  6. in all circumstances where a third party wishes to intervene, or is called to intervene, the arbitral tribunal's decision to allow the third party's intervention requires unanimity of the arbitrators (Article 1709(3) BJC).

Belgian law also includes a series of provisions regarding the making of the award. The award must be reasoned (Article 1713(4) BJC) and contain information including the date and place of the awards (Article 1713(5) BJC). Arbitral awards must be signed by the arbitrators and, if there is more than one arbitrator and one of them does not sign, the award may still be valid 'provided that the reason for the omission [of the signature of the others] is mentioned' (Article 1713(3) BJC).

i Recourse against awards

Belgian arbitration law still provides for the possibility that parties include, in their arbitration agreements, an appeal mechanism before another arbitral tribunal (Article 1716 BJC). This option, however, does not seem to gain any traction.

More importantly, Belgian arbitration law provides that arbitral awards may be set-aside (or annulled) by the Belgian courts if the seat of the arbitration is in Belgium (Article 1717 BJC). Setting-aside is not open against a decision or partial award on jurisdiction, and such an award can only be contested together with the award on the merits (Article 1690(4)). The list of limited grounds for the setting aside of arbitral awards is provided exhaustively in the law. Those grounds resemble the grounds for non-recognition of arbitral awards provided for in the New York Convention. Three grounds for setting-aside may be raised on the court's own motion: non-arbitrability of the subject-matter, public policy violation and fraud.

Only five courts have jurisdiction in Belgium over setting-aside proceedings, hearing cases in either the French or Dutch language (Article 1717(2) BJC). The competent courts are all courts of first instance but, under the regime of the 2013 Arbitration Act, the judgment of these courts is final and cannot be appealed before the courts of appeal (Article 1717(2) BJC). A recourse remains open, however, for issues of law (and not fact) before the Belgian Court of Cassation.

One of the distinctive features of Belgian arbitration law is that the parties may decide to exclude the possibility for setting-aside of the award, but only if none of the parties are Belgian nationals (Article 1718 BJC). This is one of the few instances in the Belgian arbitration law where a distinction is made between 'domestic' arbitration (understood as being between Belgian parties, with a Belgian seat of arbitration) and 'international' arbitration. If the parties to the arbitration agreement specifically provide that they waive the right to setting-aside, the arbitral award will be final and binding, without the possibility for recourse by the parties.

ii Enforcement of arbitral awards

Belgium has ratified the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards but has declared that it would apply the Convention subject to reciprocity. For the enforcement and recognition of foreign arbitral awards, Belgium has also signed several bilateral treaties (with Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland) as well as the European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration of 21 April 1961, and the ICSID Convention of 18 March 1965. In principle, these treaties take precedence over Part VI of the BJC (Belgian arbitration law), save where the treaties provide otherwise (Article 1721(3) BJC). This is generally accepted to be the case; for example, the 'more favourable law' provision of the New York Convention provides that the Convention does not take precedence over the provisions of national legislation that is more favourable to recognition and enforcement.

The recognition and enforcement process of arbitral awards is initiated through a unilateral application submitted to the competent court. The grounds for the non-recognition of the award are similar to the grounds for setting aside the arbitral award and are listed at Article 1721 BJC.

The year in review

i Developments affecting international arbitration

The main arbitral institution in Belgium is the Brussels-based CEPANI, whose functioning and rules are not dissimilar to those of the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris. Belgian parties and practitioners are in fact very familiar with the practice of ICC arbitration as Belgian parties often opt for the ICC arbitration rules, and foreign parties also frequently choose Belgium as a seat for their ICC arbitration proceedings.

The CEPANI published new Rules which entered into force on 1 January 2020 and again on 1 July 2020 in response to the covid-19 crisis (together, the CEPANI Rules 2020). Those Rules replace the Rules that had been in force since the last revision in 2013 (the CEPANI Rules 2013).6

The CEPANI Rules 2020 are not a fundamental departure from the previous 2013 version but include a series of amendments designed to bring the rules more in line with the latest developments of other arbitral institutions. The most important features of the novel rules are the following:

  1. Confidentiality of the proceedings: the CEPANI Rules 2013 provided only that, save where otherwise agreed, 'the arbitration proceedings shall be confidential'. The CEPANI Rules 2020 now define more precisely the scope of confidentiality as follows: 'all Awards in the arbitration, together with all materials in the arbitration created for the purpose of the arbitration and all other documents produced by another party in the proceedings not otherwise in the public domain' (Article 26).
  2. Scrutiny of the Award by the Secretariat: Article 33 of the CEPANI Rules 2020 now specifically provides that the tribunal shall submit a draft of its award to the CEPANI and that 'The Secretariat may, without affecting the Arbitral Tribunal's liberty of decision, suggest modifications as to the form of the Award'. This amendment is a welcome change and is likely to lead to an increase in quality of arbitral awards.
  3. Additional Award: the new Rules provide that, where there are claims on which the tribunal did not rule in its final award, and after consultation with the parties, the arbitral tribunal may (on its own motion or at the request of one of the parties) render an Additional Award on those claims (Article 36(7)).
  4. The CEPANI Rules 2020 now also use the term 'emergency arbitrator' to refer to proceedings for urgent interim and conservatory measures 'which cannot await the constitution of the Arbitral Tribunal' (Article 27). This adaptation is also a welcome (if somewhat cosmetic) change, which allows the parties to draw on the – already quite extensive – case law of the ICC Rules regarding admissibility and jurisdiction over emergency arbitration proceedings.

Among the provisions included in the Rules that entered into force in July 2020 in response to the covid-19 pandemic, the CEPANI specifically included the possibility to hold hearings physically, but also 'by videoconference, teleconference, [or] any other appropriate means of communication or by a combination of the foregoing methods' (Article 25(3)), a decision that rests on the tribunal.

Finally, one of the most distinctive features of the new CEPANI Rules 2020 is the recourse to electronic communication means as the default rule for communication between the CEPANI, the arbitral tribunal and the parties. Subject to any agreement otherwise between the parties, all correspondence can thus be done in electronic format. The CEPANI also uses a secure online platform (BOX) for the exchange of correspondence, submissions, exhibits and procedural decisions, which helps centralise all the relevant documents of the case for the benefit of all stakeholders.

ii Arbitration developments in local courts

Applicability of the 2013 Arbitration Act

High-profile enforcement proceedings in the Belgian courts – first the Yukos saga, and now the Stati enforcement proceedings against Kazakhstan – have raised the question of the temporal application of the 2013 Arbitration Act. The Russian Federation in the first case, and the Stati parties in the second, argued that the 2013 Arbitration Act should apply differently to arbitration seated in Belgium and arbitration seated abroad. The matter has now been decided by the Court of Appeal of Brussels in a judgment of 17 November 2020 in the Kazakhstan case.7 In its judgment the Court of Appeal of Brussels held that no difference was to be made between arbitrations seated in Belgium or abroad. The court also clarified that the 2013 Arbitration Act applies to arbitration proceedings initiated after 1 September 2013, and that arbitration proceedings initiated before 1 September 2013 and court proceedings relating to those arbitration proceedings remained governed by the former provisions of the BJC.

This has an important practical consequence for parties looking to enforce an award in Belgium. If the arbitral proceedings that have led to the award were commenced before 1 September 2013, the 'old' legal regime will continue to apply to the enforcement proceedings, and the provisions of the judicial code prior to 2013 must be considered carefully.

Scope of arbitration clauses

In line with the 2013 Arbitration Act's intention to modernise arbitration, no formal requirement is imposed under Belgian law in relation to the form of the arbitration agreement. As long as the agreement to arbitrate can be proven, including by witness evidence, the agreement shall be upheld. Article 1681 BJC only requires the existence of an 'agreement' to arbitrate all (or some) disputes 'which have arisen or which may arise between [the parties] in connection with a particular legal relationship'.

This requirement has led to a recent judgment of the Court of Appeal of Brussels of 29 August 2018 that has attracted a lot of attention internationally. In this judgment, the Court of Appeal held that the arbitration clause in the FIFA Statutes was invalid because the legal relationship envisaged by the arbitration clause was not sufficiently defined.8 The Court of Appeal indeed considered that the arbitration clause upon which FIFA relied to avail itself to the jurisdiction of the Court of Arbitration for Sport relating to 'any dispute' between 'a club' and FIFA, regardless of its subject matter, did not meet the requirement of Article 1681 BJC and was therefore invalid. The Court of Appeal, however, did not determine why it considered that the arbitration clause would have been subject to Belgian law in the first place. The authors understand that the case has been appealed before the Court of Cassation, and that a decision is pending.

State court jurisdiction for interim measure and emergency arbitration

In a judgment of 17 January 2020,9 the Court of Appeal of Brussels ruled on the concurrent jurisdiction of emergency arbitrators and state courts to grant interim and protective measures pending the constitution of the arbitral tribunal. The court confirmed that judges in summary proceedings have jurisdiction to grant interim measures even where emergency arbitration is provided in the institutional rules of arbitration chosen by the parties, and even if the party requesting urgent measures does not concretely demonstrate that the measure cannot await the constitution of the arbitral tribunal.

The dispute arose between financial institutions subsidiaries of Iranian companies, on the one hand, and the Belgian-based company Swift on the other, in relation to agreements for the provision of a secured financial messaging system. In 2018, the Belgian company suspended the agreements in response to the sanctions imposed on Iran and thus ceased to provide the services. The financial institutions applied for reconnection to the messaging system by way of urgent interim measure before the president of the competent court in Belgium acting in summary proceedings. The president of the court, however, declined jurisdiction based on the arbitration clause in the agreements.

The Court of Appeal of Brussels overturned the decision of the president of the lower court and held that the president had jurisdiction to grant interim measures despite the arbitration clause. The basis of the jurisdiction of Belgian courts in summary proceedings rests on the condition of 'urgency' as defined in the BJC, and not on the criteria of urgency retained by arbitral institutions (in this case the ICC Rules); that is, whether the measures requested 'cannot await the constitution of the tribunal'. For the same reasons, the party requesting urgent measures from the Belgian courts in summary proceedings also do not need to demonstrate positively that the arbitral tribunal on the merits would not be able to grant these measures in time.

As a consequence, Belgian courts have concurrent jurisdiction with arbitral tribunals, including emergency arbitrators, to grant urgent interim and conservatory measures before the arbitral tribunal on the merits has been constituted.

Enforcement of arbitral awards

A number of actions for enforcement of investment-treaty awards have been initiated before the Belgian courts in recent years.

The most prominent case currently pending before the courts is the high-profile dispute opposing Moldovan investors, the Stati, to the Republic of Kazakhstan in relation to the enforcement of a US$500 million Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) arbitral award.10

A long-running battle before the Belgian courts also opposes the non-profit organisation (NPO) of a member of Belgium's Royal family (Prince Laurent) and the state of Libya, for the enforcement of a €50 million judgment in favour of the Prince's NPO in relation to an investment in Libya.11 Pursuant to the UN sanctions again Libya, it is reported that Belgian's Euroclear (the Brussels-based Central Securities Depository) holds over €12 billion in Libyan assets. In unreported cases, several creditors of the Libyan state – in addition to the Prince's NPO – are seeking to enforce their arbitral awards against these frozen assets.

In at least two other known cases pending before the Belgian courts – Micula v. the State of Romania (ICSID Case No. ARB/05/20)12 and Becchetti v. Albania (ICSID Case No. ARB/15/28)13 – foreign investors are seeking to enforce their ICSID arbitral award by attaching monies owed to the states by EUROCONTROL, the Brussels-based European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation.14 In another reported case, creditors of the Czech Republic have obtained the exequatur of their investment treaty award in the year elapsed before the Court of Appeal of Brussels (but it has not been reported whether cassation proceedings have been commenced to overturn that decision).15

iii Investor–state disputes

There has been considerable movement on the front of investor–state disputes in Belgium over the last few years, not only before arbitral tribunals and local courts, but also at the political level.

Belgium is not only a party to the ICSID Convention, but also to more than 60 bilateral investment treaties (BITs), which it negotiated and concluded together with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg as the 'Belgo-Luxembourg Economic Union'. Belgium does not have a published model BIT but certain tendencies are followed in the treaty negotiations, such as the wish to include environment and social clauses. Belgium is also a party to the ECT.

The Kingdom of Belgium is currently facing an international investment claim in an ICSID arbitration brought by the UAE-based port operator DP World (ICSID Case No. ARB/17/21).16 At the date of writing, it had been reported that Belgium had been found liable in a decision on jurisdiction and liability dated 10 April 202117 by a tribunal composed of Juan Fernandez-Armesto, Stanimir A Alexandrov and Brigitte Stern. This case is only the second (known) investment treaty arbitration brought against the Kingdom of Belgium. In the other known treaty case, Belgium had prevailed in April 2015 at the jurisdiction stage against the Chinese investor Ping An in ICSID proceedings for claims arising from the 2008 financial crisis.18

At least one case of setting-aside of an investment treaty award pending before the Belgian courts has also been reported in the media recently. In 2019, the Republic of Poland applied for annulment of an investment-treaty award in favour of the US hedge fund Manchester Securities Corporation (the case is still ongoing). Interestingly, Belgium had been chosen as the seat of the arbitration by the arbitral tribunal manifesting the increasing attractiveness of Belgium as a seat for international arbitrations.19

The Belgian government has also been active at the political level regarding investor–state dispute settlement systems. While Belgian courts are open to the enforcement of arbitral awards, and generally follow the New York Convention's objective of enforceability of arbitral awards, the Belgian state has followed the recent trends of limiting its exposure to current investor–state arbitration mechanisms.

Not unlike many EU Member States, Belgium has decided to terminate all its intra-EU BITs following the movement that swept Europe after the Achmea decision of the European Court of Justice.20 In addition, given the uncertainty of the status of the arbitration provisions of the ECT for intra-EU claims following Achmea, Belgium announced on 3 December 2020 that it was submitting a request to the Court of Justice of the European Union for an opinion regarding the compatibility with EU law of the arbitration provisions of the future modernised ECT in the context of the application within the EU. Together with this announcement, the Belgian government explained that it was putting the question to the court 'in a neutral manner' without taking a stand on the issue, with the aim 'to provide clarity and legal certainty'.21 The request only concerns 'the draft modernised Energy Charter Treaty, in view of the fact that this mechanism could be interpreted as allowing its application intra-European Union, i.e. between an investor who is a national of an EU Member State only and an EU Member State'.22 The compatibility of the current arbitration system in the ECT will also have to be decided by the Court of Justice, but in different proceedings.23

This is the second time that Belgium has pushed for an opinion from the EU on investment-treaty dispute systems, as Belgium already requested, in September 2017, the opinion of the highest court in the EU in relation to the Investment Court System of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada.

Outlook and conclusions

Recourse to arbitration in Belgium has been on the rise for several years, and the complexity, stakes and internationalisation of the matters are increasing. A few years ago, the Belgian government sought to establish the Brussels International Business Court, an English-speaking business court in Brussels, that would have been dedicated to international commercial litigation. The rules of procedure would have been very similar to those of international arbitration, with UNCITRAL rules being taken as reference. The project, which might have competed with the rise of international arbitration in Belgium, ultimately failed for political reasons. It would, thus, seem that the continued growth of international (commercial) arbitration in Belgium will remain unimpeded in the recent future.

The use of Belgium as a seat for international arbitrations has also increased in recent years, even if Belgian-seated arbitrations still often involve at least one Belgian party (as, for example, in the case of distribution contracts). Belgian judges have also gained familiarity with the particularities of investment-treaty arbitrations over the last decade, not least thanks to their increasing exposure to investment-treaty arbitration in the context of the numerous enforcement proceedings of those awards that are taking place before the Belgian courts. The ongoing setting-aside proceedings in the case of Manchester Securities Corp v. Poland is a testimony that arbitrators in investment treaty arbitrations now consider Brussels to be an appropriate choice for investment treaty claims as well.

A major theme in setting-aside proceedings in Belgium in recent years has been the weight (or perhaps deference) that Belgian courts should give to foreign judgments related to the setting-aside or enforcement of those same awards. Wherever enforcement of an award is sought in Belgium, similar proceedings are also taking place in other EU or foreign jurisdictions, and parties therefore usually try to rely on the conclusions of foreign courts seized of similar or identical issues in the context of those proceedings. Diverging views have been expressed by judges and commentators in recent years, and the topic is likely to become a key theme in any enforcement proceedings in the future.

Finally, it will also be of major interest to sports arbitration practitioners to keep an eye on the development of sports arbitration in Belgium. After the famous 1990s Bosman case, Belgium has once again been on the front page of all major news media in sports arbitration thanks to the decision of the Court of Appeal of Brussels on the interpretation of the arbitration clause in the FIFA Statutes in late 2018. Whether this case law will consolidate remains to be seen and the construction of arbitration clauses by the Belgian courts could have important consequences for all sports federations in general.


1 Aimery de Schoutheete is a partner and Bruno Hardy is a senior associate at Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick.

2 In 2016, several minor amendments and corrections were made to the Act of 24 June 2013 by an Act of 25 December 2016, which entered into force on 9 January 2017.

3 Act of 24 June 2013 amending Part VI of the Judicial Code relating to arbitration.

4 Article 1676(7) BJC. Article 1676(8) BJC, however, provides that a certain number of provisions of Part VI of the Code are applicable irrespective of both the seat of arbitration and the will of the parties. This is notably the case of the provisions on the recognition and enforcement of awards.

5 Court of Appeal of Brussels (18th ch), 25 October 2018, 2013/AR/1830, b-Arbitra, 2019, No. 1, p. 201.

6 L Roulleaux and E Van Campenhoudt, 'Le Règlement d'Arbitrage du CEPANI 2020: une évolution plus qu'une révolution', b-Arbitra, 2020, No. 1, pp. 215–220.

7 Court of Appeal of Brussels (17th ch), 17 November 2020, Republic of Kazakhstan v. Stati et al., on file with the authors.

8 Court of Appeal of Brussels (18th ch), 29 August 2018, 2016/AR/2048, b-Arbitra, 2019, No. 1, p. 173.

9 Court of Appeal of Brussels (9th ch), 17 January 2020, b-Arbitra, 2020, No. 1, p. 414.

10 See the latest reports on the case: 'Statis suffer setback in Luxembourg', Global Arbitration Review, 16 February 2021,

11 'Prince Laurent seeks PM's help to recuperate 50 million from Libya', VRT, 31 January 2019,

12 Ioan Micula, Viorel Micula and others v. Romania, ICSID Case No. ARB/05/20, Decision on annulment, 6 February 2016,

13 Hydro S.r.l. and others v. Republic of Albania, ICSID Case No. ARB/15/28, Decision on annulment, 2 April 2021,

14 See: 'Belgian court seeks guidance from ECJ on Micula award', Global Arbitration Review, 28 March 2019,; and 'Albania creditors freeze aviation funds', Global Arbitration Review, 8 January 2021,

15 'Czech blood plasma award enforced in Belgium', Global Arbitration Review, 7 February 2020,

16 DP World PLC v. Kingdom of Belgium, ICSID Case No. ARB/17/21, Decision on jurisdiction and liability, 10 April 2021, The authors' firm acts as co-counsel for DP World, and the information reproduced here is thus limited to the information available online.

17 See: 'DP World v. Belgium, Decision on Jurisdiction and Liability, Partial Dissenting Opinion of Brigitte Stern', Jus Mundi, 10 April 2021,
v-kingdom-of-belgium-partial-dissenting-opinion-of-brigitte-stern-saturday-10th-april-2021#opinion_2747; and 'DP World v. Belgium', Investment Arbitration Reporter,

18 Ping An Life Insurance Company of China, Limited and Ping An Insurance (Group) Company of China, Limited v. Kingdom of Belgium, ICSID Case No. ARB/12/29, Award, 30 April 2015,

19 See: 'Poland seeks set aside of US hedge fund's award' Global Arbitration Review, 4 September 2019,

20 'EU states sign treaty to cancel intra-EU BITs' Global Arbitration Review, 6 May 2020,

21 'Belgium requests an opinion on the intra-European application of the arbitration provisions of the future modernised Energy Charter Treaty', Kingdom of Belgium Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development and Cooperation, 3 December 2020, See also: 'Belgium seeks ECJ opinion on revamped ECT', Global Arbitration Review, 3 December 2020,

22 'Belgium requests an opinion on the intra-European application of the arbitration provisions of the future modernised Energy Charter Treaty', Kingdom of Belgium Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development and Cooperation, 3 December 2020, See also: 'Belgium seeks ECJ opinion on revamped ECT', Global Arbitration Review, 3 December 2020,

23 See for example: 'ECJ adviser says intra-EU claims barred under ECT', Global Arbitration Review, 3 March 2021,; see also: Opinion of Advocate General Saugmandsgaard ØE, 29 October 2020, Joined Cases C-798/18 and C-799/18, ECLI:EU:C:2020:876.

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