Enforcing judgments: the transparency of debtors' assets
Even with a court judgment obtained, recovering cross-border debts may be difficult for creditors in practice if no information on the debtors' assets or whereabouts is available. Because of this, the European Commission has adopted a Green Paper launching a public consultation on how to improve the recovery of debts through possible measures such as registers and debtor declarations.
Green Paper of 6 March 2008 on the effective enforcement of judgments in the European Union: the transparency of debtors' assets [COM(2008) 128 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The late and non-payment of debts is detrimental to business and customers alike, particularly when no information is available on the debtor's assets or whereabouts. This is a particular cross-border issue in debt recovery and has the potential to affect the smooth running of the internal market. In launching a public consultation, the European Commission has outlined the problems of the current situation and possible solutions in this Green Paper. Interested parties can submit their comments by 30 September 2008.
State of play
The search for a debtor's address and information on his financial situation is often the starting point for enforcement proceedings. At national level, most Member States mainly use two different systems for obtaining information, either:
- systems of declaration of the debtor's entire assets or at least a part of it to satisfy the claim;
- search systems with specific information (registers).
In this Green Paper, the European Commission focuses more on a series of measures instead of one single European measure to allow the creditor to obtain reliable information on the debtor's assets and whereabouts within a reasonable period of time. Possible measures include:
- drawing up a manual of national enforcement laws and practices: at present, there is very little information on the different enforcement systems in the 27 European Union Member States. Such a manual could contain all sources of information on a person's assets, which could be accessed in each country; contact addresses, costs, etc.
- increasing the information available and improving access to registers: the main sources of information on the debtor are public registers, such as commercial or population registers. However, these vary from one Member State to the next. The Commission is asking whether to increase information available in and access to commercial registers and in what way access to existing population registers should be enhanced. Furthermore, access to social security and tax registers by enforcement authorities may be increased, while respecting rules of data protection and social and fiscal privacy.
- exchange of information between enforcement authorities: currently, enforcement bodies are not able to directly access the (non-public) registers of other Member States which are open to national enforcement bodies. In addition, there are no international instruments dealing with the exchange of information between national enforcement bodies. In the absence of a Europe-wide register, enhancing cooperation between national enforcement authorities and direct exchange of information between them may a possible solution.
- measures relating to the debtor's declaration: enforcement bodies have in several Member States the option to question the debtor directly regarding his assets, whereas in some Member States the debtor's declaration is made in the form of a testimony before the enforcement court. In some Member States, the debtor has to fill out mandatory forms, and in others a debtor's declaration does not exist at all. The European Commission is considering introducing a European Assets declaration, obliging the debtors to disclose all assets in the European judicial area. In this way, the transparency of the debtor's assets would not be limited by the territoriality of the enforcement proceedings.