Special Eurobarometer 292 – Civil justice
European Commission - MEMO/08/264 23/04/2008
Other available languages: none
Brussels, 23 April 2008
The objective of the Special Eurobarometer survey is to gain insight into the experiences of European Union citizens, their opinions and their preferences with regard to civil justice in the European Union. Interviews were conducted face-to-face in the twenty-seven Member States of the European Union in respondents' homes, in their national language, between 9 November and 14 December 2007.
1. Access to civil justice in other EU Member States
Even if only a very small proportion of Europeans have personally been involved in civil justice procedures in another European Union Member State (2%), this still means in concrete terms that millions of European citizens are directly concerned with cross-border disputes (estimated 9 million). The situation across the Member States is broadly similar in terms of the proportion of citizens who have been personally involved in civil justice procedures in another Member State. There are, however, noteworthy variations in the degree to which respondents consider the possibility that they could become involved in the future as being likely or unlikely. Belgium is the country where citizens have been involved most in a civil justice proceeding with another Member State; and Poland and Hungary are the countries where citizens consider it most unlikely that they could become involved in the future.
Over half of Europeans believe it is either very difficult or fairly difficult to access civil justice in another Member State. 28% cannot judge whether it is easy or difficult to access civil justice in another Member State. Although the majority view in all Member States is that access to civil justice is difficult outside one's own country, the strength of feeling varies from one country to another. The perception that access is easy is at its highest in Slovenia, Italy, Spain, Poland, Finland and Belgium. Greece and Sweden feel that access to civil justice in another Member State is difficult. People's assessment varies significantly according to a number of socio-demographic factors.
Europeans are most concerned that, should they need to access civil justice in another country, they would not know the procedural rules in that country. Language barriers are the second most widely voiced concern by Europeans regarding access abroad. The cost of procedures and lack of trust in the proceedings also concern a considerable proportion of Europeans. In the EU-15, respondents more frequently cite not knowing the rules, a lack of trust in procedures and the length of procedures as concerns. In the twelve new Member States, the cost of procedures and the distance between their country and the country in question are cited most frequently.
2. Methods to improve access to civil justice abroad
A large segment of the EU population believes that additional measures should be taken to help citizens to access civil justice in a Member State other than their country of residence. Close to half of all citizens would prefer these measures to be at EU level through common rules, while just over a quarter would prefer measures at national level through bilateral agreements between the Member States. Only 10% of European are against additional measures. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, citizens would prefer measures to be taken at national level (35% and 34%). Finland is the only country where 21% of respondents said there was no need for additional measures.
Over a third of EU citizens consider that it would be very useful to be able to access civil justice in another Member State via the internet, and a further third are of the opinion that this would be fairly useful. One factor that influences respondents' answers is whether they perceive access to civil justice as being easy or difficult. Those who think it is easy are more positive about the usefulness of being able to access civil justice via the internet than respondents who feel that access to civil justice is difficult.
3. Public opinion of uniform procedures
When signing a contract with a person or a company based in another European Union Member State, there is a clear preference among EU citizens for contractual terms based on harmonised European Union law rather than the national law of the Member State where the other party is based. In all European Union Member States, the preference is for harmonised European law to apply when signing a contract with a person or company based in another EU country. Support ranges from 41% in Portugal to 79% in the Netherlands.
European Union citizens generally agree that uniform procedures across the EU for civil and commercial claims would be an objective worth achieving. However, respondents mostly feel that economic sectors could benefit and 16% know people who they believe could benefit from it. In all European Union Member States except Bulgaria, most people agree that uniform procedures across the EU for civil and commercial claims would be useful but the reasons for this differ considerably. Views are fairly similar throughout Europe: in all countries, uniform procedures across the EU are clearly considered to be useful by citizens.
4. Public opinion of civil court rulings
The majority of Europeans are of the opinion that a civil court ruling given in one Member State should be enforced in another Member State, while a quarter feel that each Member State should be able to decide on the enforcement of rulings in its territory. Most feel that this should be based on conditions agreed at EU level (37%) while the remainder feel that this should be based only on bilateral agreements (23%). Europeans who think access is difficult more often think that these rulings should be enforced on the basis of conditions agreed at EU level than citizens who consider that access is easy.
What respondents chose most frequently as the main difficulty in enforcing rulings in another Member State is the unwillingness of the authorities to enforce a ruling given in another Member State. The next two most frequently chosen difficulties are communicating the ruling to the authorities in another Member State and language barriers. The cost of enforcement and the length of time needed to enforce the ruling were difficulties that respondents chose slightly less frequently. This shows that citizens' fears are based on a mixture of distrust in both the procedures and the authorities in other Member States and on a lack of knowledge.
More than 8 out of 10 European Union citizens feel that the European Union should intervene in the enforcement of civil court rulings in one Member State involving payments to be made in another Member State: 39% consider this to be very important and 43% find it fairly important. In all 27 Member States, the majority view is that it is important for the European Union to intervene in the enforcement of such civil court rulings but the strength of feeling varies considerably. The range of scores for very and fairly important responses runs from 61% in Estonia to 92% in Cyprus. Conversely, the highest "not important" scores are found in Estonia (22%), followed by Slovakia (19%).