Vice-President of the European Commission,
EU Justice Commissioner
The European Law Institute – Tracing the Path towards a European Legal Culture
Opening of the European Law Institute
Vienna, 17 November 2011
Dear Rector Heinz Engl,
dear Heinz Mayer,
dear Sir Francis Jacobs
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure and an honour for me to inaugurate the premises of the European Law Institute here at the University of Vienna today. The European Commission has wholeheartedly supported this project from the beginning. I am delighted to see that the little apple tree we planted together is now bearing fruit.
Indeed, only one year ago I was addressing a small group of you in Florence, promoting the creation of a European Law Institute. You have come a long way in the meantime. I can only thank you all for the hard work you have invested to make it happen.
I would like to congratulate Sir Francis Jacobs on his election as President of the European Law Institute. I would also like to congratulate Heinz Engl, President of the University of Vienna, on the successful application of his university to host the European Law Institute. You are already well-known for your legal studies programmes. The fact that you are now also hosting the European Law Institute will strengthen your expertise and reputation in this field even more.
With its location in Vienna, there is no doubt that the European Law Institute is at the geographic heart of Europe. I am also convinced that it will be at its intellectual heart in building a European area of law and justice.
Building bridges between Europe's different legal families
If you examine the money in your wallet, you will notice that the different denominations of the Euro bank-note all feature bridges. This is not by accident; it is what the European Union is all about. As the European Commission's first dedicated Justice Commissioner, I have understood my mission to be that of a builder of bridges between Europe's different legal families. As Vassilios Skouris, President of the European Court of Justice put it, at the inaugural congress of the European Law Institute in June: "the European legal culture is made of the diversity of legal systems progressively brought closer to each other".
Europe's legal diversity is a source of strength. Article 67 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is clear that respect for the different legal systems and traditions of the Member States underpins the Union's area of justice. Through more cooperation between legal practitioners from the different Member States, exchanges of experience and judicial training, we can strengthen the mutual trust between these different legal systems. We can indeed bring these different legal cultures together without eliminating the differences.
The European Law Institute: the path towards a European legal culture
This is where the European Law Institute comes into the equation. As any builder of bridges can tell you, you need a reliable and sound surveyor to advise you where and how to build the foundations of the bridge on both sides of the river. You need expert engineering advice on how best to design your bridge.
This is the important role I see for the newly created European Law Institute. You, the members of the European Law Institute, will provide practical advice to policymakers and authorities across Europe on how to build these bridges. Advice that will ultimately help to build the European area of law and justice for the benefit of our citizens.
The institute must trace the path towards a European legal culture. It should help the Commission make the European area of law and justice concrete and real – a place where European Union citizens and traders can carry out their daily business in a secure and stable legal environment and exploit all the opportunities provided by the Single Market.
The most useful contribution that the European Law Institute could make is one that helps to make a difference: to consumers that buy across borders and want to know which rights they have; to businesses which trade across borders and experience problems with the contract law of another Member State or the procedure for collecting their debts in another Member State; to people who have been arrested abroad and do not know what they are being accused of because they don't speak the language of that country – all concrete problems to which EU law can offer solutions. These solutions should be based on the very best of our different legal systems. And they should be consistent with these different legal systems, so that legal practitioners can easily understand and apply them in the advice they give their clients.
Inspiration drawn from the American Law Institute
In its work, the European Law Institute can build on the experience of the American Law Institute. It can draw inspiration from it.
This is not to deny the differences that exist. The European Law Institute and the American Law Institute will be different in many ways – not only because they are evolving in different contexts. We do not have a single common language for starters. Our private law is more statutory than the judge-made law in the United States. In the background will of course be a greater variety of legal traditions.
But, in the end, both the American Law Institute and European Law Institute are joined by what they have in common. They both aim to bring more clarity, consistency and simplicity into the legal environment. In these difficult economic times, Europe needs the help of a body that can realise these worthy objectives.
Research that helps in the concrete application of EU law
The European Law Institute will help to improve legal consistency in Europe by carrying out top-level legal research.
As I mentioned earlier, it will bring added value to research in the European Union if it adopts a practical orientation in the vital research it undertakes. This must pave the way for the concrete application of EU law by legal practitioners, including judges, and for concrete solutions for judicial cooperation in cross-border cases for example.
The input of the European Law Institute can in the first place help shape the proposals that the Commission is drawing up. Expert knowledge of the different national legal contours, and what commonalities already exist between those systems, can be most useful in improving the quality of European legislation.
The European Law Institute can also help the Commission in its role as guardian of the Treaties. It will bring added value to comparative research on the implementation of European Union law. In this way it can also help in guiding an effective implementation of those rules.
The fact that it carries out its functions in full independence is very important. It increases the reliability of that advice. It makes it more likely that the Commission will listen carefully to suggestions for the further development of the acquis or for the better implementation of Union law by the Member States.
As you are in your start-up phase, it is only natural that you are still exploring which research projects to engage in first. You will make your choices in full independence of course. If you allow me, I would still like to mention some of the areas where the European Commission would welcome your analysis and suggestions.
European administrative procedural law
The development of European administrative procedural law may be one such topic of interest to the European Law Institute, the Commission and also the European Parliament. As George Bermann, one of your founding members, puts it: the " combination of rulemaking and adjudicatory power has enabled the European Union to become an arena of administrative law activity as intensive as any to be found on the globe ". There are horizontal administrative procedural laws at EU level, several policy procedural laws coexist, not to mention their complex relationship with national legislation. So there may well be room for rationalising, clarifying and maybe even suggesting improvements to the body of rules and principles that govern the implementation of European Union policies by the European Union and by the Member States.
European criminal law
European criminal law is another field which merits further exploration. The legal framework has changed under the Lisbon Treaty and the Commission is in the process of developing a more coherent approach when legislating in the criminal law field. The first step was the adoption in September of a strategic Communication "Towards an EU Criminal Policy: Ensuring the effective implementation of EU policies through criminal law". The Communication focuses on the role of criminal law in strengthening the enforcement of EU policies. It is clear that criminal sanctions are not always the best tool to enforce policy. Rather, criminal law should be a last resort. However, there are policy areas where the current non-criminal sanctioning systems may not be a sufficient deterrent. One example of such an area is market abuse: The Commission therefore proposed on 20th October a Directive on criminal sanctions for insider trading and market abuse. Another priority area is the protection of the EU budget against fraud. The Communication on Criminal Policy sets out the legal and policy questions which should be explored further. The aim of this Communication is to kick-start a debate. Therefore, contributions from important stakeholders such as the European Law Institute will be important to inform our work on a coherent and consistent EU Criminal Policy.
The Commission is also working actively on a series of proposals for improving minimum rights during investigation and trial. EU governments adopted the Roadmap on procedural rights and gave the Commission the political mandate to press ahead in this very important area. Concrete examples include the Directive on the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings adopted in October last year, the right to receive a letter of rights where a political breakthrough was achieved last week and the Commission's proposals on the right of access to a lawyer and the right to notify a third party and consular authorities of the detention. Procedural rights will not just guarantee vital human rights: they are a crucial building block of the mutual trust upon which European criminal justice will be constructed.
Still in the field of European criminal law, Article 86 of the Lisbon Treaty now gives us the possibility to create a European Public Prosecutor's Office from Eurojust. I have already mentioned that I would like to put forward a proposal to establish the European Public Prosecutors Office during my mandate. So now is the time for any interested party to provide input and ideas.
There is perhaps no better example of how valuable the work of the European Law Institute is for building the European area of law and justice, than the contribution it can make in the field of European contract law. The first ever workshop the Institute has organised will kick-off this afternoon and it will be on the optional Common European Sales Law proposal, which the Commission adopted on 11 October. This proposal is itself the fruit of intensive cooperation between legal experts and practitioners from right across the EU, work that has been going on for many years. The text of the optional instrument is inspired by the dedicated work of comparative law experts, the same spirit that I know will infuse the workings of the European Law Institute. I know that many of those attending today will have contributed in some way or another to this worthwhile project, a project which has been orientated by the Commission to ensure its usefulness to ensure that businesses and consumers can get the most out of our Single Market.
But the work will not end when the proposal is adopted. In the long run, the Common European Sales Law needs to become embedded in all our legal cultures. And this is where you come in. I count on your continued support to make the Common European Sales Law a success everywhere in Europe.
As I said earlier, I look to you to do research that is relevant, and that can be turned into concrete advice for decision-makers. Knowledge alliances can help to achieve that. Under Europe's Strategy for Growth (Europe 2020) one of the so-called Flagship initiatives is called "Innovation Union". Its aim is to build knowledge alliances. These can link academics and legal practitioners, to ensure that research projects are useful for legal practitioners and are practice oriented. Knowledge alliances can also foster partnerships between universities and businesses, to help modernise their curricula and to improve the link between research and concrete industrial developments.
Involve both academics and legal practitioners
It is clear that to be successful the European Law Institute will have to involve both academics and legal practitioners in its work. Judge Irmgard Griss, the President of the Network of Presidents of EU Supreme Courts, underlined this on several occasions: networks and exchanges of views between judges are crucial to help them adapt to the evolving legal environment. The same goes for exchanges between academia and legal practitioners.
One way of working with legal practitioners is to involve them in the selection of projects, to ensure that research projects carried out by the European Law Institute are relevant to practitioners.
Legal practitioners have already suggested a number of topics for in-depth research. This clearly shows their interest in the work and the results of the European Law Institute. It is neither necessary nor desirable that the institute should work on too many projects at the same time. Your added value is quality of research, not quantity. Nevertheless, suggestions from practitioners may provide some inspiration.
I hope that the Institute will see itself not only as a research institute but also as a forum of debate for lawyers from different walks of life. Whether they are academics or legal practitioners, specialists of administrative, criminal or civil law, common or continental law, all of the Institute's "fellows" should be driven by a common interest in European legal and judicial developments.
One difference from the American Law Institute is the under-representation of legal practitioners at the European Law Institute. I would like to come back here before the end of my mandate and see Europe's diversity in practice: geographical diversity with representatives coming also from outside Western Europe, professional diversity with academics and legal practitioners and finally diversity of the fields of law with specialists in civil and administrative but also criminal law. Unity in diversity – this is how the European Law Institute will build its legitimacy. By making a difference in its way of working, by making a difference in its way of conducting research and by making a difference in the results it presents.
Ladies and gentlemen,
At a housewarming party, it is customary to bring a gift. I would like to give you three good wishes for the journey that lies ahead of you.
I wish the European Law Institute ambition, in choosing your projects and achieving results. I wish you patience, to build a solid structure and working methods, and to deliver quality. And last but not least, I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours. Now it is time for celebration.