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Brussels, 21 April 2009

European citizens and business to benefit from greater access to justice - strengthening co-operation in civil and commercial matters

On 21 April 2009, the Commission adopted a report and a green paper on the functioning of the existing rules on jurisdiction of the courts and the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in civil and commercial matters. The Commission concludes that time has come to achieve a free circulation of judgments in civil and commercial matters in the European Union, on the basis of enhanced mutual recognition of judgments among Member States. The green paper launches a wide consultation in view of a proposal of the revision of the Brussels I Regulation by the end of the year.

Vice-President Jacques Barrot, Commissioner responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security, stated: "Time has come now to achieve a true free circulation of civil and commercial judgments within the EU. Abolishing the remaining obstacles will make it easier and speedier for citizens and business to have access to justice abroad. It will thus complete the European area of justice and profit the functioning of the internal market."

On 21 April, the Commission adopted a report and a green paper on the application of Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement in civil and commercial matters.[1] This Regulation, widely known as the "Brussels I Regulation", is the matrix of European judicial cooperation in civil and commercial matters. It aims at providing the legal support for the good functioning of the internal market, addressing two key questions which arise in the event of a dispute involving natural or legal persons from different Member States:

  • The courts of which Member States shall have jurisdiction to rule on the dispute;
  • How the judgment given by that court will be recognised and enforced in the other Member States.

The Regulation covers the civil and commercial field, i.e. patrimonial disputes such as all kind of contract and civil liability for damages. For example, when a German and a Polish company conclude a construction contract in which they designate the courts of Warsaw to deal with any dispute arising under their contract, the Brussels I Regulation ensures that the choice for the Warsaw courts will be respected, even if, for instance, the building is to be constructed in Berlin; and that the judgment given by the Polish courts will be recognised and enforced everywhere in the European Union.

The Brussels I Regulation does not only cover business relationships; it also lays down protective jurisdiction rules for weaker parties in contracts such as consumers, employees and insured and contains exclusive jurisdiction rules in a limited number of matters such as real property and certain industrial property rights. The Regulation strikes a proper balance between the interests of the various parties involved in a cross-border dispute, by identifying the jurisdiction which is most appropriate to solve the dispute.

The report evaluates seven years of application of the Brussels I Regulation. The green paper outlines possible avenues for moving forward on the points raised in the report. The main issues addressed in the report concern the removal of the remaining obstacles to a free circulation of judgments but also the protection of European citizens and companies when they litigate with parties domiciled in third States, and a number of imperfections in the application of certain rules of the Regulation.

[1] Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters, O.J. L12 of 16.1.2001, p. 1.

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