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14th Aug 2022

Two-speed Europe may emerge over divorce rules

  • Some 170,000 out of the 845,000 divorces annually in the EU involve couples of different nationalities (Photo: European Commission)

In the face of long-lasting deadlock, a group of nine EU states have decided to take the unprecedented path of closer co-operation and apply common rules for divorce between couples of different European nationality.

A Friday (25 July) debate between EU justice ministers once again demonstrated that the 27-nation bloc was unable to introduce pan-European rules allowing mixed-nationality couples a certain degree of autonomy in choosing the court and applicable law in case of divorce.

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Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovenia and Spain have teamed up in order to formally request the European Commission launch the so-called enhanced co-operation mechanism - allowing a group of countries to move ahead in one particular area, even though other states are opposed.

It is expected that they will make the request on Monday (28 July), one diplomat told the EUobserver. It is the first time such a move has been made.

It will then be up to the commission to make a legal proposal based on the request. This proposal will then go back to member states where it needs to be approved by a qualified majority of governments.

A controversial and politically sensitive issue anyway, this route for dealing with the divorce question has further irked some capitals because, under normal procedures, a decision in this area would have to be taken by unanimity.

Reacting to the move by the nine member states, EU justice commissioner Jacques Barrot said: "The commission will have to examine all the political, legal and practical implications of such an enhanced co-operation."

"We need to get a clearer idea," he added.

Currently, some 170,000 out of the 845,000 divorces annually in the EU involve couples of different nationalities.

"With free movement, it is surely reassuring for [couples] to know that when something were to happen and they break up then they will have the same rights and they will be protected wherever they are in the EU," French justice minister Rachida Dati said.

Under the foreseen rules, if a Czech-German couple living in Belgium decide to divorce, spouses would be allowed to choose the competent court and the law to apply to their case. Should they fail to agree, the couple would be automatically referred to a court in Belgium, their place of residence.

Malta and Sweden are widely considered the most reluctant to give the go-ahead to a EU-wide divorce scheme.

Strongly Catholic Malta does not recognise divorce, while Stockholm fears that EU harmonisation in the area could threaten its liberal family law.

Should the pioneering group achieve closer cooperation in this area, the mechanism must remain open to other countries as well. Germany, Belgium, Portugal and Lithuania are also believed to be considering joining the initiative.

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