Thursday

19th Oct 2017

Academic handbook could form basis for EU civil code

Academic researchers are finalising a big European Commission-funded legal handbook containing the core principles of EU member states' private law.

EU officials say the catalogue, to be presented to the commission in December, could in future form the basis for a full-blown European civil code.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Napoleonic code - The word 'code' makes the Brits fear Napoleon is approaching the white cliffs of Dover (Photo: Wikipedia.org)

More than 150 law researchers from across Europe are drawing up a so-called 'Draft Common Frame of Reference' which will consist of legal articles related to the exchange of goods and services - for example on leasing, damage, the right to withdraw from contracts and unjustified enrichment.

The articles will seek to describe what is the common core of European private law (in this case, mainly contract law), the bulk of which is currently covered by the 27 EU member states' national private law systems.

Private law is deeply rooted in national legal traditions which are often centuries-old, such as the UK's common law or France's Code Civil introduced by Napoleon. Any possible EU interference in the area of private law is therefore seen as highly sensitive.

One of the leading researchers involved in the project, Osnabrück university professor Christian von Bar, told EUobserver that "with the Common Frame of Reference we would have a common basis of private law, with common legal terms."

"Currently, words like 'intention' or 'damage' can have extremely different meanings in different member states' legal systems. At least with the Common Frame of Reference we would have a set of model rules covering the common core of our private law systems," he added.

Commission is cautious

The document will in an initial paperback edition count between 300 and 350 pages, but a second, full version - to be finalized by 2009 – is likely to contain no less than 3,000 pages, including not only law articles but also comments plus extensive footnotes.

Mr Von Bar stresses that at the moment, the draft framework remains a purely academic exercise which has no legal or political status in the EU.

"We as academic researchers are developing the technique - but it fully depends on a political decision of the European Commission, the [EU] Council and the European Parliament if in the end, the Common Frame of Reference will be adopted as an EU instrument", he said.

The commission - which has funded the project to the tune of €4.3 million through its research budget – publicly takes an extremely cautious line on the issue.

It says it sees the Common Frame of Reference merely as a "tool box" for updating existing and preparing new EU private law in the consumer- and business areas, for which it will "select carefully" the "parts of the draft" it needs.

"The scope is not a large scale harmonisation of private law or a European civil code," The EU executive stated in a report in July this year.

The commission's low-key approach to the project reflects member states' deep unease with even a small attempt by Brussels to harmonise their private law systems or - seen as even worse - to create an EU civil code.

MEPs have less taboos

But the European Parliament has less taboos about the similarities between the planned Common Frame of Reference - draft articles of which can already be found online - and a European Civil Code.

A parliament resolution adopted in March 2006 said "Even though the Commission denies that this is its objective, it is clear that many of the researchers and stakeholders working on the project believe that the ultimate long-term outcome will be a European code of obligations or even a full-blown European Civil Code."

"In any event the project is by far the most important initiative under way in the civil law field," it added.

German Christian Democrat MEP Klaus-Heiner Lehne said "The draft Common Frame of Reference indeed comes down to a European Civil Code. But as this is a pure academic piece of work it is up to the responsible political bodies to decide how to further proceed."

Diana Wallis, UK liberal MEP, said "At the moment, this is an exercise by academics. Will it ever form the basis of a Civil Code? I have no crystal ball. Perhaps in very many years. Currently the political climate is not ripe, but perhaps at some point it will be."

"In my own country the word 'code' sounds very foreign," said Ms Wallis who in an earlier speech remarked "Napoleon is immediately seen to be approaching the white cliffs of Dover!"

She added that the current EU treaties as well as the new Reform Treaty offer "no legal basis" for a European civil code.

What kind of EU code?

If ever adopted in the future, an EU civil code could be based on the Common Frame of Reference blueprint. It would harmonise member states' contract law, as well as other legal areas which do not strictly fall under contract law such as tort law.

It is however not expected to include the most sensitive parts of national civil law systems - notably family law and inheritance law.

A European civil code could replace domestic civil law codes or - what is more likely - exist alongside national systems as an "optional" scheme.

Consumers and businesses could in that case choose to be protected by EU civil law when operating in another member state, in order to avoid the bureaucracy and legal uncertainty of foreign contract rules.

"This could take the form of a European 'blue button' for internet purchases," Mr Lehne said. "A consumer buying a product or service on the internet may choose to be protected under EU contract rules by clicking on a blue button, next to buttons for national contract law."

Court hearing in MEPs 'private' expenses battle

The European parliament claims the media and public do not have a right to supervise or monitor the public role of MEPs, says Natasa Pirc Musar, a lawyer representing journalists, in a transparency battle against the assembly.

Eurogroup closes Schaeuble era

Eurozone finance ministers bade farewell to their longest-serving and most influential colleague, while preparing to also replace its chairman at the end of the year.

EU agencies defend research ahead of glyphosate vote

As the renewal of the weedkiller glyphosate is a hot potato on the EU agenda, with a vote in the Parliament on Thursday, the role of two closely-involved EU agencies has come under scrutiny.

Europeans more positive about EU, survey shows

On balance, 55 percent of British respondents said the UK had benefited from EU membership. Among all European respondents, 47 percent said their voice counted in the EU.

News in Brief

  1. EU summit moved to previous building after fumes scare
  2. Catalonia will 'not back down'
  3. New toxic incident in EU building ahead of summit
  4. Murdered Malta journalist's family invited to Parliament
  5. EU food safety chief denies keeping studies 'secret'
  6. EU states pledge 24,000 resettlement places so far
  7. US ready for arms sale to update Greece's F-16 fleet
  8. Austria's Green leaders step down following election failure

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  2. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  5. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  6. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  7. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  8. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  9. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  10. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness
  12. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year

Latest News

  1. EU okays Privacy Shield's first year
  2. EU seeks to decrypt messages in new anti-terror plan
  3. EU agencies defend research ahead of glyphosate vote
  4. Spain points at elections as exit to Catalan crisis
  5. How EU can ensure Daphne Caruana Galizia's legacy survives
  6. Juncker dinner to warm up relations with eastern EU
  7. Court hearing in MEPs 'private' expenses battle
  8. The unbearable lightness of leadership

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  2. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  3. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  4. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  6. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  8. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement
  9. CESIJoin CESI@Noon on October 18 and Debate On: 'European Defence Union: What Next?'
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Support Start-Ups
  11. ILGA EuropeInternational Attention Must Focus on LGBTI People in Azerbaijan After Police Raids
  12. European Jewish CongressStrong Results of Far Right AfD Party a Great Concern for Germans and European Jews