Brussels, 5 August 2010
A first in EU history: enhanced cooperation to help international couples is in force
For the first time in EU history, Member States are using the enhanced cooperation procedure to push forward with rules allowing international couples to select which country's law would apply to their divorce. The decision to establish enhanced cooperation, which the European Commission proposed five months ago, was published in the EU's Official Journal on 22 July. Enhanced cooperation allows a group of at least nine nations to implement measures if all 27 Member States fail to reach agreement. In this case it will allow 14 EU countries to move forward with a Regulation that will give couples legal certainty and prevent "rush to court" in divorces, avoiding emotionally and financially costly proceedings. The Regulation must now be approved by the participating 14 countries during an upcoming Council meeting before it can enter into force. The procedure applies to the 14 EU countries for now, but others can join at any time.
"This first use of enhanced cooperation is a big step forward towards an EU that works for its citizens. People fall in love across borders, whatever their nationality. As a result, many international couples need to be certain of the rules that apply in their situation," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. “Some have expressed fears that the use of enhanced cooperation could be the end of European integration as we know it. But I have no doubt that this precedent will deepen European integration. Hundreds of thousands of international couples will benefit from the new rules. Given that the previous proposal had been stuck in an institutional traffic jam for half a decade, it is safe to say that the EU now has the means to put important legislation into the fast lane."
EU governments adopted the Council Decision authorizing enhanced cooperation on 12 July 2010 (IP/10/917). It was published in the EU's Official Journal on 22 July. The 14 participating countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain) will now negotiate and then vote on the Commission proposal for a Regulation that contains the detailed rules that will apply to international divorces. The 14 countries must unanimously approve the Regulation and consult the European Parliament before it can enter into force.
The proposal aims to protect weaker partners during divorce disputes. International couples will be able to agree which law would apply to their divorce or legal separation. In case the couple cannot agree, judges would have a common formula for deciding which country's law applies. Couples would have more legal certainty, predictability and flexibility. This would help protect spouses and their children from complicated, lengthy and painful procedures.
The new solution will help couples of different nationalities, those living apart in different countries or those living together in a country other than their home country. The need for EU action is clear: There were more than 1 million divorces in the 27 Member States in 2007, of which 140,000 (13%) had an "international" element.
The Commission proposed the measure on 24 March 2010 (IP/10/347) in response to a request by nine Member States that were frustrated with the Council’s failure to move forward on a 2006 Commission proposal (Greece was initially part of the plan and later withdrew its request). Five additional countries – Germany, Belgium, Latvia, Malta and Portugal – then asked to be part of the EU action (IP/10/628).
Other countries that want to participate can do so at any time. Under the Lisbon Treaty, they must first notify the Council and the Commission.
Under the EU Treaties, enhanced cooperation allows nine or more countries to move forward on a measure that is important but is blocked by a small minority of Member States. Other EU countries keep the right to join when they want (Article 331, Treaty on the Functioning of the EU).
The Commission first proposed helping international couples in 2006, but the plan did not get the required unanimous support of EU governments. The proposed Regulation has no effect on national divorce or marriage laws.
For more information
The Council Decision is available at:
The Commission proposals are available on the Justice and Home Affairs Newsroom:
Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship: