Strasbourg, 16 June 2010
European Parliament approves European Commission plan to bring legal certainty to cross-border divorces
The European Parliament, meeting in Strasbourg today, approved a European Commission plan to allow 14 EU countries to implement rules giving international couples the ability to agree on which law would apply to their divorce. The approval follows a request from nine EU Member States, which wanted to move forward after a 2006 Commission proposal became deadlocked in the Council. EU Justice Ministers endorsed the measure on 4 June (MEMO/10/236). 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. It is first time in EU history that EU countries use the so-called “enhanced cooperation” mechanism.
"Today's vote shows that there is a strong spirit of cooperation in the EU after the Lisbon Treaty took effect,’’ said Vice-President Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. “I’m very pleased the European Parliament has taken such quick action to add its support so hundreds of thousands of international couples can start benefiting from this measure. I also thank the Spanish Presidency for its great efforts in building a consensus around this historic vote."
On 24 March 2010 (IP/10/347), the Commission responded to a request by nine EU Member States that were frustrated with the Council’s failure to move forward (Greece was initially part of the plan and later withdrew its request). Since then, five additional countries – Germany, Belgium, Latvia, Malta and Portugal – asked to be part of the EU action.
The proposal aims to lessen the burden on children and to protect weaker partners during divorce disputes. The need for EU action is clear: There were more than 1 million divorces in the 27 EU Member States in 2007, of which 140 000 (13 %) had an "international" element.
The package has two parts: first, a proposal for a Council Decision that authorises enhanced cooperation for the 14 EU Member States (which was agreed on 4 June); second, an EU Regulation with the actual measures that would apply in participating countries. The Council will discuss the second measure in the next few months.
The proposed EU rules have no effect on national divorce or marriage laws. 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, drawn-out and painful procedures.
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, 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 did not get the required unanimous support of EU governments.
Following the Parliament’s approval today, the Council will now discuss the Regulation implementing the enhanced cooperation measure. The Council must approve it unanimously.
For more information
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: