Deals activity has reached a virtual standstill in the Netherlands, according to the latest Dutch M&A figures from Thomson Financial. The slowdown has enabled a little-known Austrian firm to oust Allen & Overy (A&O) from the top of the deal tables. Cerha Hempel Spiegelfeld has scaled the lofty heights largely as a result of advising Dutch beer giant Heineken - also an A&O client - on its bid for Austria's leading beer maker Brau-Beteiligungs (BBAG) for $2.1bn (£1.3bn), in a deal that would make Heineken the largest brewer in central Europe. Cerha was approached by two other bidders in the auction, but chose to advise Heineken. Austrian law firm Wolf Theiss & Partner also managed to make an appearance at number six in the table by advising BBAG on the other side of the deal. A&O fell to fifth place, advising on announced deals in the first half of 2003 with a total value of $1.9bn (£1.18bn), a staggering drop from $17.95bn (£11.13bn) for the same period last year. Jan Louis Burggraaf, head of the firm's corporate department in Amsterdam, said: "I've no worries about A&O's ranking in respect of the M&A market for 2003 as a whole. In the past two months there has been a lot more activity, so I expect to see A&O at the high end of the table by the end of the year." Clifford Chance climbed up to second place from seventh last year. The firm's largest deal in the first half of this year was the $1.3bn (£806.2m) disposal of Reliant Energy Europe to Nuon, which was advised by A&O. Jeroen Koster, a partner in Clifford Chance's corporate department in Amsterdam, said: "What we have clearly seen is that only the very best deals find a buyer in this market. We're currently advising many clients on short term arrangements, such as joint ventures and strategic alliances, which will provide M&A work in the long-term." Noticeable for its absence from the M&A ranking table is local firm De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, with Nauta Dutilh also missing. De Brauw managing partner Jaap de Keijzer said: "It's the same picture as elsewhere in Europe and the US, in general the markets are much quieter. There are deals in the pipeline, but they're currently on hold. Many companies are being careful at the moment and waiting for the situation to improve."