Brussels, 27 January 2014
Greece is Member State No. 16 to sign up to EU rules helping international couples
Today, the European Commission gave its green light to Greece's decision to join the 15 countries already participating in EU rules which allow international couples to select which country's law applies to their divorce or legal separation. The new rules, in place since June 2012, followed the first decision by EU Member States to proceed with integration through the ‘enhanced cooperation’ procedure (IP/10/347). Enhanced cooperation – introduced by the Treaty of Nice in 2001, but not used until the Barroso II Commission – today allows a group of at least nine Member States to implement measures if all 28 Member States fail to reach an agreement. In the case of the divorce rules, this made it possible for initially 14 countries (see background) to agree, in 2011, on a Regulation which was joined by Lithuania in 2012 (IP/12/1231) and now by Greece. The Regulation aims to give couples legal certainty and prevent a "rush to court" and forum shopping in divorces, while at the same time avoiding emotionally and financially costly proceedings.
"The EU’s rules on cross-border divorce broke new ground for European integration. They showed the way ahead in areas where a lack of unanimity was a stumbling block to progress, turning the legal innovations of the Lisbon Treaty into a practical reality," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. "It is very encouraging to see that yet another state is joining the enhanced cooperation that helps international couples going through a divorce. While free movement of people enables men and women from all over Europe to meet and fall in love, we have to ensure that there is legal certainty in case of a divorce."
The Regulation on the law applicable to divorce aims to provide assistance to weaker partners during divorce disputes. International couples are able to agree in advance which law would apply in the event of their divorce or legal separation. In case the couple cannot agree, judges will have a common formula for deciding which country's law applies. The Regulation, which applies since 21 June 2012, has no effect on national divorce or marriage laws, nor does it foresee the adoption of rules affecting substantive family law of the Member States.
With almost 1 million divorces in the EU area in 2009 (Eurostat data) the rules help couples of different nationalities, those living apart in different countries or those living together in a country other than their home country and protects them from complicated, lengthy and painful procedures.
The divorce legislation has set an example for overcoming disagreement among Member States in other policy areas where enhanced cooperation has since been used: the EU unitary patent (MEMO/12/971) and the proposal for a Financial Transaction Tax (IP/13/115).
Under the EU Treaties, enhanced cooperation allows nine or more countries to move forward with 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 TFEU).
EU governments adopted the Council Decision authorising enhanced cooperation on the law applicable to divorce and legal separation on 12 July 2010 (IP/10/917, MEMO/10/100). It was published in the EU's Official Journal on 22 July 2010. The 14 participating countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain) then negotiated and, on 20 December 2010, adopted a Council Regulation that contains the detailed rules that will apply to international divorces (which was published in the EU's Official Journal on 29 December 2010).
Other Member States that wish to participate can submit their request at any time. Under the Lisbon Treaty, they must first notify the Council and the Commission. After Lithuania, Greece is the second additional Member State to notify the institutions of its desire to participate in the enhanced cooperation.
European Commission – Family matters and successions:
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:
Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU