In April 2009, the European Commission published the draft Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive. The Commission's aim was to create a comprehensive framework for the direct regulation and supervision of what is termed the alternative investment industry in Europe, which includes hedge funds, private equity funds, investment trusts and property funds. This was notwithstanding that the Commission itself conceded that hedge funds were not the cause of the economic crisis and that private equity houses were not regarded as posing systemic risks to the financial system.
 
The draft Directive's "one size fits all" approach has led to much criticism in the UK from industry and investor representative bodies. The concern is that, if implemented in its current form, the Directive would create significant additional regulatory burdens and prohibitions on the EU asset management industry.
 
For example, the Directive imposes an obligation on Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs) to appoint independent depositaries, who would have strict liability to investors for any losses resulting from their failure to perform their obligations and to ensure the independence of the asset valuation function. These obligations would, inevitably, significantly increase costs to investors and limit investment choice, both in the EU and globally. They would also, in the context of AIFs which are closed-ended investment companies, conflict with the concept of overall responsibility resting with the board of directors.
 
The Directive would also impose certain international standards and demand co-operation arrangements between competent authorities and local supervisory authorities in relation to the managing and marketing of non-EU funds, potentially restricting investor access to the best managers and funds globally.
 
In November 2009, the European Council (under its then Swedish Presidency) proposed various amendments to the Commission draft of the Directive in the hope of establishing agreement in principle on many of the Directive's core elements. No real progress was made by the end of 2009, however, and Spain has now taken over the Council Presidency. The European Parliament Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee (ECON) has undertaken an impact assessment of the draft Directive and its Rapportuer, the French conservative MEP Jean-Paul Gauzès, published his report towards the end of November 2009.
 
Any proposed amendments from industry and investor representative bodies, via supportive MEPs, had to be submitted to the Rapporteur by 21 January 2010. The Rapporteur (supported by a number of Shadow Rapporteurs) is in the process of finalising ECON's proposed amendments, although it is understood that well over a thousand amendments have been tabled by MEPs. This is unprecedented in EU financial services regulation and shows there is still a long way to go before we see a final form Directive.
 
Once ECON has produced its suggested amendments, a "trialogue" process between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament will commence with a view to trying to agree on the terms of the final form Directive.   Whilst the final Directive could be approved in the European Parliament as early as July 2010, many factors (including the unprecedented number of amendments tabled by MEPs) could well result in that timetable slipping. Once the Directive has been approved, it is likely to be implemented by Member States within 12 to 18 months.
 
Michael Wylie is a corporate partner with UK law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP and has recently assisted Scottish Financial Enterprise, the representative body for the financial services industry in Scotland, in finalising its submission on the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive to the Rapporteur.

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