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Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner
Civil Justice at the service of citizens and business
European Civil Justice Day /Luxembourg
25 October 2013
Ladies and gentlemen,
It's a pleasure and an honour for me to be here today on the occasion of the European Day of Civil Justice.
In our daily lives we depend on the certainty and stability that a well-functioning system of civil justice brings. Civil law serves citizens and businesses in their commercial, professional and private dealings. Today is therefore a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect on the importance of civil justice for the functioning of our societies. It is also the moment to acknowledge the important role of the actors involved: those who ensure that our civil justice systems operate smoothly.
I know that the notarial profession plays a very fundamental role in many of our legal systems. I have seen at first hand its engagement in the task of making the European area of justice a reality. Today's conference organised by the Council of the Notariats of the EU (CNUE) is simply further proof of this.
European Civil Justice
Article 67 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union is clear in the task it sets the Union: the Union shall facilitate access to justice, in particular through the principle of mutual recognition of judicial and extrajudicial decisions in civil matters. 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.
I have also understood my task as making Europe's civil justice policy a fully integrated part of the Union's wider legal and policy framework. That is why I have focussed on what I call Justice for Growth and Justice for Citizens. That means identifying how justice policies can help to reinforce stability, jobs and growth in Europe. It means responding to the realities of an integrated Europe for citizens.
European civil justice should create a reliable legal environment so that people can fully benefit from the opportunities the Internal Market offers. More than 500 million Europeans and more than 20 million SME's rely on this legal framework. And they rely on you, the notaries, to help them extend their business to an additional Member State, to enforce their consumer rights when shopping cross-border, or to get a succession abroad sorted out when a relative passes away.
Let me refer to one of the instruments you will discuss later: the Regulation on cross-border successions. The Regulation will facilitate the lives of those having to deal with the complexities of handling one of the 450,000 cross-border successions that takes place each year in the EU. As you know, we are now in the transitional phase before the Regulation becomes applicable to successions as of August 2015. For its part, the Commission is preparing the forms that are foreseen under the Regulation, and in particular, the European Certificate of Succession, which will allow people to prove that they are heirs or administrators of a succession without further formalities throughout the EU. This will represent a considerable improvement from the current situation in which citizens have great difficulty exercising their rights cross-border. The result will be faster and cheaper procedures, saving people time and money in legal fees.
Thanks to the contribution of the Council of the Notariats of the EU, information concerning national successions law is available online. This is a useful because if people do not know where to find information about the law they will not be able to benefit from it. It further improves citizens' access to justice under the Regulation once it becomes fully applicable.
I also welcome the training programme that the Council of the Notariats of the EU started this year on the changes that will occur in the handling of cross-border successions. This investment will facilitate the successful implementation of the new rules.
Almost 14 million Europeans use their right to free movement and live in a different EU Member State than the one they are from. Currently, citizens and businesses have to spend a lot of time and money to prove that the public documents issued by their Member State of origin are authentic. Public documents can be birth or marriage certificates for citizens, and legal status documents for businesses. To make life easier for businesses trading across borders and for people to move around freely, I want to simplify the acceptance of public documents in the EU. That is why the European Commission brought forward a proposal in April for a Regulation simplifying the circulation of public documents. If people move freely, their documents should too. I am pleased by the support it has received, including from the Parliament's rapporteur Bernhard Rapkay. I am sure that you will have a productive discussion on this subject later in the day.
An attractive business environment needs effective justice systems: independent, efficient, high-quality and trustworthy justice systems reduce costs for companies and attract investment.
When efficient electronic tools are available to communicate with courts, judicial proceedings may appear less daunting to businesses and citizens who are considering or facing judicial actions. For businesses, effective and good-quality alternative dispute resolution methods offer a good alternative to court proceedings. These are only some of the many concrete examples in which an efficient justice system can reduce costs for business.
Predictable, timely and enforceable justice decisions all have a key impact in making a country an attractive location for business and investment.
The benefits of effective justice are not limited to one country. We must bear in mind that whenever a national court upholds EU law, it acts as a European court. That is why effective justice systems in one Member State are also important for the whole of the EU. National courts play a crucial role in enforcing EU competition law, intellectual property law, public procurement and consumer legislation, all areas which are essential for the Single Market.
This is why in March I launched a new tool, the Justice Scoreboard, to provide objective, reliable and comparable data on parameters relating to the quality, independence and efficiency of national justice systems. Its focus is on parameters relevant to improving the business and investment climate, in particular in civil and commercial justice. To that end, it is designed as a tool to be used as part of the Annual Growth Survey. At the end of that annual process, the Commission can make Country-Specific Recommendations, which take fully into account our different national traditions.
These are important developments, and I welcome this opportunity to encourage the notarial profession to engage with the Commission in an open dialogue on the role of Justice in the European Union. Part of that dialogue will take place next month in Brussels at the Assises de la Justice. The Commission has published discussion papers online, including one on civil law, which I hope will stimulate your feed-back on the future direction of European civil justice.
We have come a long way in creating the reliable legal framework that businesses and citizens need to benefit from the Single Market. We have put rules in place that help companies to trade cross-border, consumers to shop across borders, and families to live and move with the minimum of hassle throughout Europe. I know that you, the notaries, have been making a huge contribution to this achievement. You are at the service of European citizens and businesses every day. I would like to thank you for that. And I would like to thank you today, on European Civil Justice Day. I hope you will continue to support us in our work to place Civil Justice at the service of citizens and business.