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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 6 June 2012

Justice Council: 8 June in Luxembourg

European Union Justice Ministers will meet in Luxembourg on 8 June 2012. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding will represent the European Commission.

Main agenda items:

  • Successions Regulation

  • Reform of ‘Brussels I’ Regulation: Cutting red tape in cross-border court cases

  • Fair Trial Rights: Access to a Lawyer

  • Common European Sales Law

  • Reform of EU data protection rules

1. Successions

On 14 October 2009, the Commission proposed rules to ease the legal burden when a family member with property in another EU country passes away (IP/09/1508). The rules will allow one authority to deal with a succession under a single law, which would – by default – be the habitual residence of the deceased.

What is expected at this Council? Adoption of the Regulation on Successions by the Council.

Commission position: The adoption of the Regulation as proposed by the European Commission will provide a substantial simplification of the settlement of international successions.

Background: The rules applicable to international successions are currently highly complex and difficult to predict. The rules governing jurisdiction and the law applicable vary considerably from one Member State to another and it is difficult plan your estate. This leads to great legal uncertainty and distress for people who want to plan their succession and for their heirs who may become embroiled in legal and administrative difficulties when inheriting property in another Member State. The Commission's proposal already received broad backing in the European Parliament on 1 March of this year (IP/12/209).

2. Reform of ‘Brussels I’ Regulation – Cutting red tape in cross-border court cases

At the end of 2010, the Commission proposed a sweeping reform of the so-called ‘Brussels I’ Regulation of 2001 (see IP/10/1705), a set of EU rules that determine which court has jurisdiction in cross-border cases and how court judgments issued in one EU Member State are recognised and enforced in another EU country.

What is expected at this Council? The Commission has been working with the Danish Presidency to reach an agreement on a general approach on the main building blocks of the proposal, including the abolition of the exequatur procedure. Work will continue at technical level and the file will be taken up by the incoming Cypriot EU-Presidency for finalisation.

Commission position: Abolishing the exequatur procedure will do away with pointless and costly formalities; this will lead to savings of up to €47 million a year. The strengthening of the rules relating to the choice of courts where disputes are settled will improve legal certainty for citizens and companies and avoid further unnecessary and costly court proceedings. The overall reform will improve the legal framework for doing business in Europe, to the benefit of EU companies – especially small and medium-sized firms – during the economic crisis. The reform will strengthen the legal underpinnings of the Single Market, cut red tape and boost economic growth. In a single EU area of justice, court judgments should flow easily across borders thereby making life easier for citizens and businesses.

Background: The Brussels I Regulation facilitates civil judicial cooperation in the EU by identifying the most appropriate jurisdiction for solving a cross-border dispute and ensuring the smooth recognition and enforcement of judgments issued in another Member State. This helps the Single Market function properly. The European Council has been calling for the abolition of the exequatur procedure since 1999. The reform proposed by the Commission in December 2010 will foster the free circulation of judgments. With the abolition of the exequatur procedure, any judgment in any EU Member State will be recognised and enforceable in any other EU Member State. On average in the EU, the exequatur procedure costs a company or individual around €2 000 in a straightforward case. For more complex cases, the costs can exceed €12 500. It could also take several months in some countries to have a judgment recognised and enforced. Once the Commission's proposal is adopted, judgments in civil and commercial matters rendered by a court in one Member States will be automatically enforceable across the EU (while allowing courts to stop the execution of the judgment under exceptional circumstances).

3. Ensuring fair trial rights in the EU – Access to a lawyer

On 8 June 2011, the Commission adopted a proposal to guarantee suspects' right to speak with a lawyer from the moment he/she is held by police until the conclusion of proceedings (IP/11/689). Under the proposal, suspects will also be able to talk to a family member or an employer and inform them of their arrest. If suspects are outside of their country, they will have the right to contact their country’s consulate.

What is expected at this Council? The Commission and the Danish Presidency aim to reach agreement on a general approach.

Commission position: Access to a lawyer rights are essential for building confidence in the EU’s single area of justice, especially when suspects are arrested under a European Arrest Warrant. This proposal is the third in a series to guarantee minimum rights to a fair trial anywhere in the EU. These measures aim to establish clear rights across the EU and safeguard people's fundamental rights to a fair trial and to a defence.

Background: The Commission has been committed to establishing common EU standards in relation to criminal proceedings since the beginning of the Barroso II Commission and has proposed a series of measures to strengthen fair trail rights in the EU. The first such measure – the right to translation and interpretation – was approved in record time in 2010 (see IP/10/1305). The second measure the right to information in criminal proceedings was approved on 27 April 2012 (see IP/12/430) and entered into force on 1 June 2012. Under the Directive, suspects in the EU will soon receive a ‘letter of rights’ listing their basic rights during criminal proceedings.

4. An Optional Common European Sales Law

On 11 October 2011, the Commission proposed an optional Common European Sales Law to break down barriers to cross-border trade in the Single Market. It will give consumers more choice at cheaper prices and a high level of protection (IP/11/1175). It will allow businesses to export their products on the basis of one single set of rules for cross-border sales and one single IT platform in all EU countries. The Common European Sales Law will be optional. It will exist alongside national contract laws but not replace them.

What is expected at this Council? Ministers are expected to agree to move forward with this file in an accelerated manner in view of its importance for growth and the internal market.

Commission position: The optional Common European Sales Law is crucial to foster growth. It will bring European businesses – in particular small- and medium-sized ones – cost savings. The Common European Sales Law will not be compulsory, but optional. This means it can be chosen by traders and consumers for the cross-border sale of goods and related services if it presents an economic advantage for them. Now that the Council's Legal Service approved the choice of the internal market legal base (Article 114 TFEU), the European Commission is looking forward to working with Member States on the details of the proposal (see also SPEECH/12/385) which has strong backing in the European Parliament.

Background: Despite the success of the EU's Single Market, barriers to cross-border trade remain. Many of these result from divergent contract laws in the 27 Member States. They can make selling abroad complicated and costly, especially for small firms. In economic terms, at least €26 billion in trade is lost annually because of contract law related obstacles. In June 2011, the European Parliament called for such an optional contract law regime in a resolution voted with a 4/5 majority (see IP/11/683).

5. Lunch debate on the Data Protection Reform

Two lunch discussions are scheduled on the reform of the EU's data protection rules put forward by the Commission on 25 January (IP/12/46), one among Ministers of the Interior on 7 June and one among Ministers of Justice on 8 June. The data protection reform package proposed by the Commission contains a Regulation setting out a general EU framework for data protection and a Directive on protecting personal data processed for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences and related judicial activities.

The current patchwork of 27 different and often contradictory rules stands in the way of European businesses wanting to operate cross-border. The Commission's proposal for modernised and uniform data protection legislation will remove barriers to market entry and lead to savings of about €2.3 billion per year.


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