This Discussion Paper focuses on the development of the proxy advisory industry in Europe, which mainly serves institutional investors such as asset managers, mutual funds and pension funds. Following its fact-finding work in 2011, ESMA recognises the proxy advisory industry within Europe is, or is expected to be, growing in prominence and investors are, or are expected to be, increasingly using proxy advisor services. In this paper ESMA identifies several key issues related to the proxy advisory market which may have an impact on the proper functioning of the voting process.
The range of policy options that ESMA will consider, and on which it seeks further input from market participants, consists of four broad areas, including:
1. No EU-level action at this stage
2. Encouraging Member States and/or industry to develop standards
3. Quasi-binding EU-level regulatory instruments
4. Binding EU-level legislative instruments
ESMA will consider these options based on the feedback it receives from market participants, and, if appropriate, will undertake further policy action, either directly or by providing an opinion to the European Commission. The reason to bring up some policy options is due to the fact that proxy advisors are currently not regulated at a pan-European level. Nevertheless, there are relevant European rules that apply to investors (e.g. for UCITS management companies when exercising voting rights). In addition, there are also well-recognised corporate governance standards that apply to issuers at a national level (based on the “comply or explain approach”) and some complements to improve standards of stewardship among investors.
All feedback received from this Discussion Paper will be duly considered. ESMA expects to publish a feedback statement in Q4 of 2012 which will summarise the responses received and will state ESMA’s view on whether there is a need for policy action in this area.