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Brussels, 28 May 2010

Bringing legal certainty to cross-border marriages: European Commission proposal gains momentum

Germany, Belgium and Latvia have joined nine EU Member States in asking for legislation that will bring legal certainty to international couples wishing to divorce. Under the European Commission proposal of 24 March 2010 (IP/10/347), couples will be able to agree which law would apply to their divorce even when they do not plan to separate. The plan follows a request from nine EU Member States, which wanted to move forward after a 2006 Commission proposal became deadlocked in the Council. 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 aim is to lessen the burden on children and to protect weaker partners during divorce disputes. It would be the first time that EU countries use the so-called “enhanced cooperation” mechanism in EU history. Under the EU Treaties, enhanced cooperation allows nine or more countries to move forward on a measure that is important, but blocked by a small minority of Member States. Other EU countries keep the right to join when they want.

"Germany, Belgium and Latvia have shown that with enhanced cooperation the door is always open. With these countries adding their voice to calls for EU action, we are building momentum for a measure that was stuck in a traffic jam. We are seeing a great example of how the EU can move forward and help citizens with an important family matter," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. "With all the politics involved, let's not lose sight of the real issue: families' lives can be made very hard by legal complications. Politicians' first concern should be doing everything in our power to help them. EU citizens should have certainty and choice about the law that will apply to important events in their lives."

The three new participants (Germany, Belgium and Latvia) will join nine other Member States (Austria, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovenia and Spain). Countries that want to join after the requested Council Decision authorising enhanced cooperation is adopted can do so at any time. Under the Lisbon Treaty, countries that want to participate must notify the Council and the Commission.

Germany, Belgium and Latvia added their requests in the last month (Germany on 15 April 2010, Belgium on 22 April 2010 and Latvia on 17 May 2010). Greece was initially part of the enhanced cooperation procedure, but later withdrew its participation.

At the next Justice Council on 4 June in Luxembourg, EU Justice Ministers will try to reach a political agreement on the Commission proposal for a Council Decision authorising the 12 countries to move forward under enhanced cooperation. The European Parliament also needs to give its consent. The Decision will enter into force immediately once it is adopted.


Under the Commission proposals, couples will be able to agree which law would apply to their divorce even when they do not plan to separate (IP/10/347). This would give them more legal certainty, predictability and flexibility and would help to protect spouses and their children from complicated, drawn-out and painful procedures.

The proposals are also designed to give international couples more control over their separation and protect weaker spouses from being put at an unfair disadvantage in divorce proceedings. Courts would have a common formula for deciding which country's law applies when couples cannot agree themselves.

EU rules governing enhanced cooperation say countries that do not join a request can join at any time after it becomes law, pending a positive analysis by the Commission (Article 331, Treaty on the Functioning of the EU).

The Commission first proposed helping international couples in 2006, but the plan (so-called "Rome III" Regulation") did not get the required unanimous support of EU governments.

For more information


Justice and Home Affairs Newsroom:

Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship:

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