US firm Arnold & Porter has hired rated Clifford Chance partner Marleen Van Kerckhove to set up a Brussels office. Although there was a spate of US firms opening in Brussels in 2000 and 2001, Arnold & Porter is the first major firm to make the leap since Howrey Simon opened there with Norton Rose partner Trevor Soames a year ago. Arnold & Porter has been looking to open a Brussels office for the past two years, and with the hire of Van Kerckhove will finally open this summer. The office will handle mergers and behavioural cases, including cartel and state aid work. The timing of the launch is unusual as the Brussels market is enduring a difficult period with a number of firms forced to manage out or make redundancies among their associates. However, Arnold & Porter is making a modest investment compared with Howrey Simon, which opened with five partners. In addition to Van Kerckhove, the new office will be staffed by just one associate transferred from London, while US-based head of antitrust Bill Baer says that he will spend one week a month in the city. "We've been considering a Brussels office for some time, but we weren't prepared to open until we had the right partner to be the anchor," said Baer. Van Kerckhove has several clients in common with Arnold & Porter's US practice, including Pfizer Pharmacia and Philip Morris, although it is not yet clear whether any will follow her to her new firm. Baer first met Van Kerckhove when he acted for General Electric on its doomed Honeywell merger. Clifford Chance handled the EU aspects of the merger. Head of Clifford Chance's Brussels office Simon Baxter has what is perceived to be a rock-solid relationship with GE, which is by far the firm's most important antitrust client. He said: "The way it works between our London and Brussels practices, one partner isn't going to make a difference."