European Commission - Press release
European Commission takes action to ease access to justice in cross-border legal disputes
Brussels, 22 July 2011 – Settling disputes and disagreements through courts is often costly and time-consuming. Cross-border cases are particularly complex due to different national laws and practical matters like costs or language. The European Union Mediation Directive – which was adopted on 21 May 2008 (IP/08/628) and is in force since 21 May 2011– applies when two parties who are involved in a cross-border dispute voluntarily agree to settle their dispute using an impartial mediator. All EU Member States should now have measures in place to transpose the EU legislation. However, nine countries have not yet notified all national measures needed to fully implement the Directive. As a result, the European Commission began legal proceedings by sending “letters of formal notice” to the following countries: The Czech Republic, Spain, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland, Slovakia and the United Kingdom. The countries have two months to respond.
"Access to justice is a cornerstone of the European area of justice," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice. "Mediation is an important alternative to going to court in cross-border disputes and can help parties find an amicable settlement. It saves time, money and spares parties involved in already emotional family cases the additional trauma of going to court. I call on the remaining nine Member States to urgently finalise transposition so that citizens and businesses can fully enjoy their rights."
Member States are to make sure mediated agreements can be enforced. According to an EU-funded study, the time wasted by not using mediation is estimated at an average of between 331 and 446 extra days in the EU, with extra legal costs ranging from €12,471 to €13,738 per case.
Mediation can solve problems between businesses, employers and employees, landlords and tenants, or families, so that they can maintain and even strengthen their relationship in a constructive way – a result that cannot always be achieved through court proceedings. Settling disputes out of court spares justice systems' resources and can potentially cut legal costs. A crucial element in any mediation is trust in the process, especially when two parties come from different countries. EU rules therefore encourage Member States to provide quality control, establish codes of conduct and offer training to mediators to make sure there is an effective mediation system in place.
As of today, 17 Member States have these EU rules in place, while Denmark has opted not to enforce these rules – a prerogative it has under a protocol annexed to the EU Treaties. So far, nine countries (the Czech Republic, Spain, France, Cyprus, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Finland, Slovakia and the United Kingdom) have not informed the Commission that they have put the necessary rules in place to fully transpose the directive.
The Commission can take legal action against Member States that do not correctly transpose EU law or fail to notify that they have passed national measures to implement EU rules. The infringement procedure begins with a request for information (a "Letter of Formal Notice") to the Member State concerned, which must be answered within a specified period, usually two months.
If the Commission is not satisfied with the information and concludes that the Member State in question is failing to fulfil its obligations under EU law, the Commission may then send a formal request to comply with EU law (a "Reasoned Opinion"), calling on the Member State to inform the Commission of the measures taken to comply within a specified period, usually two months.
If a Member State fails to ensure compliance with EU law, the Commission may then decide to refer the Member State to the Court of Justice of the EU. However, in over 90% of infringement cases, Member States comply with their obligations under EU law before they are referred to the Court. If the Court rules against a Member State, the Member State must then take the necessary measures to comply with the judgment.
For more information
Justice Newsroom: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/newsroom
European Commission – civil justice: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/civil
Homepage of EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding: http://ec.europa.eu/reding
Matthew Newman (+32 2 296 24 06)
Mina Andreeva (+32 2 299 13 82)