21st Oct 2016

Divorce rules could divide EU states

  • International divorces amount to some 20 percent of all divorces taking place in the EU each year. (Photo: European Commission)

Nine EU states are getting ready to reinforce their legal co-operation at the EU level by agreeing a common divorce law, by-passing Sweden's veto and posing questions about a "two-speed Europe."

France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Luxembourg and Romania are set to implement the so-called enhanced co-operation procedure, while other countries - including Germany, Belgium, Portugal and Lithuania - are also currently considering joining the initiative, according to the AFP news agency.

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If the nine countries go ahead, it will be the first time the legal mechanism - allowing a minimum of eight EU states to present the European Commission with a demand for "enhanced co-operation" - will have been activated.

Provided that the commission accepts the move, it then has to be approved by a qualified majority of the bloc's 27 member states.

Enhanced co-operation is seen as one of the ways to avoid EU-wide paralysis, which may increasingly come into play if the EU fails to quickly overcome the Irish No vote and implement the new Lisbon treaty.

But critics of the procedure say that it would lead to a "two-speed Europe."

"Enhanced co-operation is a very sensitive issue because it has never been implemented. It allows several member states to go forward faster than others, and it is not necessarily the image we want to give of the EU," a source from the French EU presidency is quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.

EU countries have for a long time failed to agree on common rules on divorce between couples of different European nationality.

Under the proposal, currently blocked by Sweden - which would prefer to keep its own liberal national law - the couples would be able to choose which country's law to apply for their divorce proceedings.

If they cannot agree, their joint connection to a country - notably related to the time of residence - determines which country's courts would deal with the divorce case.

Divorce rules currently vary strongly within the EU, with Nordic countries being traditionally more liberal and predominantly Catholic countries being more conservative in the matter.

Malta does not permit divorce at all.

The enhanced co-operation measure will be discussed during a meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers in Brussels on Friday (25 July).

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