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Procedure : 2010/0383(COD)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0320/2012

Texts tabled :

A7-0320/2012

Debates :

PV 19/11/2012 - 17
CRE 19/11/2012 - 17

Votes :

PV 20/11/2012 - 6.1
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2012)0412

Debates
Monday, 19 November 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

17. Jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. − The next item is the report (A7-0320/2012) by Tadeusz Zwiefka, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs, on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (recast) (COM(2010)0748 – C7-0433/2010 – 2010/0383(COD)).

 
  
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  Tadeusz Zwiefka, rapporteur. − (PL) Mr President, Commissioner, from the outset of our work on the report on the recasting of the regulation on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters, I realised the great complexity of the material we had to deal with. Improving and facilitating the application of a regulation whose operation is generally considered to be very satisfactory has proved no easy task. Many matters have required our attention over the year or so, but I believe that, on all the issues, both the more and less controversial, we have managed to work out satisfactory compromises. A large number of informal tripartite discussions held during the Polish, Danish and Cypriot Presidencies have enabled us to reach a degree of rapprochement and mutual understanding such that today it is possible to speak of agreement at first reading.

The most important issue with which we began our work on the regulation was abolition of the exequatur procedure. During the Polish Presidency, we arrived at a joint approach that was, in the great majority of cases, consistent with the amendments proposed by me in the report. The exequatur procedure will accordingly be abolished, thus facilitating the circulation of court judgments in civil and commercial cases, shortening the time needed to enforce judgments and considerably reducing the procedural costs.

At the same time, all the safeguards for the defendant that provide a basis for suspending or refusing enforcement of a judgment will be maintained, including the public policy clause. The introduction of such a change was possible because of the greater level of confidence in the legal systems of the Member States, and today we can consider the abolishment of the exequatur procedure as our joint success.

Both in the Council and in Parliament, the question of widening the scope of application of the Regulation to third countries, and the corresponding ‘rebound effect’, was a highly emotive issue. From the outset, I was very sceptical, not about the idea itself, but rather about taking an over-hasty decision to make such wide-ranging changes to the Brussels I Regulation.

The compromise reached in the course of our meetings provides that a widening of jurisdiction be introduced for consumer contracts and individual employment contracts. That means that a consumer will be also be able to sue a seller from outside the Union in his own Member State, the State in which he lives. That concept proved a very attractive solution both for its advocates and for those who considered full harmonisation of the jurisdictional provisions to be premature. It is without doubt a step in the right direction, extending the administration of justice for the weaker party. At the same time, thanks to the inclusion of the revision clause, we retain the possibility of taking another look at the issue of judgments in such cases in the coming months and years, and of making any necessary changes to harmonisation of the jurisdictional rules.

The question of arbitration agreements proved rather complicated. After numerous discussions, Parliament took the view that the best solution was to retain the status quo in this area, i.e. to leave arbitration wholly outside the scope of application of the regulation. The European Parliament’s position was reflected in the final compromise, since we retain the status quo in the operative part of the Regulation while explaining the application of the rule in great detail in the preamble.

The next issue whose importance for Parliament I wish to stress is the question of delegated acts. They were included in the Commission’s original proposal but were deleted during negotiations in the Council. However, following a rapid intervention by Parliament, delegated acts were reinstated by the Danish Presidency, to our full satisfaction.

A great deal of reflection was also required by the issue of choice-of-court agreements. I would pay tribute to the Cypriot Presidency for setting out, in the preamble, the specific areas of application of the relevant provisions. I believe they are sufficiently detailed to be of assistance when it comes to interpreting the provisions of the operative part of the regulation.

In conclusion, Mr President, I wish to thank most heartily all the parties involved in this legislative procedure: the Commission (especially Commissioner Reding), the Polish, Danish and Cypriot Presidencies, my colleagues on the Committee on Legal Affairs, and all those who were actively committed to the same end – a very positive conclusion to the work.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: OTHMAR KARAS
Vice-President

 
  
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  Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, I am very pleased to see the reform of the Brussels I Regulation on the agenda of this plenary session, and I would like to thank all those very dedicated politicians and administrators who have managed to bring this forward.

Firstly, of course, your rapporteur, Mr Zwiefka, has done a wonderful job, together with this committee and, secondly, the Presidencies – the Polish and Danish Presidencies and now the Cyprus Presidency – have ensured a smooth finalisation of this file in the upcoming December Council. Now this is a real success story, for citizens, for companies and for the Single Market, and it is one of those success stories which builds a European area of justice. It also shows that justice can contribute to growth.

We are speaking here about 500 million consumers; we are speaking about companies, mainly SMEs, which are reluctant to use the potential of the Internal Market because of many legal obstacles. Forty per cent of companies would be more inclined to trade cross-border if the procedures for settling disputes were simplified, so that is precisely what we are doing here: removing bureaucratic obstacles which impose extra costs and legal uncertainty on companies; and this is part of our central objective to create a single market which is attractive also to our SMEs.

With the reform of Brussels I we are making an important contribution. As the rapporteur has already said, we are abolishing the exequatur procedure, a procedure which in most cases is not necessary but which costs money – usually EUR 2 000 per case wasted on this formality. In future we will get rid of this red tape; the benefits to companies will be EUR 47 million per year and we will actually do what the United States has been doing for a long time under Article IV of the Constitution, which says that there is a principle of full faith and credit. By abolishing exequatur we will also have a ‘full faith and credit’ principle in the European Union.

Then there is the question of the choice-of-court agreements, which will be better respected in the future. The overwhelming majority of EU businesses – almost 70 % of all companies and 90 % of large companies – use choice-of-court agreements. The parties involved need to be sure that their choice will be respected; the review which is on the table now provides greater legal certainty.

On the external aspects of Brussels I, when there are proceedings with third states, and also with respect to the weaker parties, we have taken decisions to ensure that all consumers and employees in Europe will have access to the courts in Europe no matter where they live. This is a real concrete benefit for our European citizens.

Finally, on the difficult question of arbitration, Mr Zwiefka, I can accept the compromise, which I believe marks a step in the right direction. In conclusion, Mr President, this is an important step towards a real European area of justice. I would like to thank Parliament for its support and I look forward to defending the proposal of Parliament in the Council, and then to celebrating a success in December.

 
  
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  Evelyn Regner, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. − (DE) Mr President, Commissioner Reding, after two full years of talks, I must begin by thanking our dogged and patient rapporteur, Mr Zwiefka, for the way in which he has guided our deliberations. Thanks are also due to the Cypriot Presidency, sadly not represented here today, and to the Danish and Polish Presidencies which preceded it and did a great deal of very constructive work.

We do not have anything revolutionary, but in terms of what we as legislators can achieve, we have ended up with a reasonable result which improves things for employees and consumers. Even before this recast version, the Regulation on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments within the EU was already one of the flagship single market regulations that worked well. I should like to highlight a few positive points which are especially important to my group, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament.

First of all, there are clear rules on access to justice and the enforceability of the individual’s rights, something that is important to members of the public, businesses and the functioning of the single market as a whole. Abolition of the exequatur process was, of course, the core task we had to complete, and despite initial doubts we have succeeded. Application of the Regulation is to be extended to non-EU countries; the intention of the European Commission is that this should not apply in all cases, but it will at least apply in consumer affairs and matters of individual employment contracts, with protection for the weaker party. That is extremely important. The negotiations on this Regulation have been with us since the 2009 Green Paper, so since the start of the parliamentary term, and this recast version has been two whole years in the making.

I find it very odd that the Commission has presented this reworked version as a ‘recast’ text. In my view, recasting is supposed to be a procedural simplification of non-controversial subjects, designed to speed up the procedure for adapting legal texts. Brussels I is most definitely not uncontroversial, so as a result the process was neither simple nor brief. I can only imagine that the Commission’s motive in choosing to recast is the desire to restrict the legislative power of Parliament, but also of the Council. To my mind, the democratic legitimacy of that is highly suspect. For that reason, I ask that the interinstitutional agreement with the Commission be revised accordingly. We cannot have the executive restricting the legislative process like this and, at the same time, proposing radical changes to the Regulation.

Now to what I see as the most important thing, right at the end. Looking to the future of the Brussels I Regulation, I recommend, as rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, that the Commission introduces jurisdiction for industrial action, in order to stop proceedings brought as the result of strikes from dragging on. Apart from anything else, this would at last establish coherence between procedural law and materially applicable law. The Rome II Regulation determines which law is applicable to claims or damage which have a cross-border impact. This rules that, in cases of damage suffered in connection with strike action, the law of the country where the industrial action was taken should apply. Why should the same not apply in respect of the jurisdiction of the courts? I would ask the Commission to give thought to this. We in the European Parliament most certainly shall.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Dimitar Stoyanov (NI), blue-card question. – (BG) Mr President, Ms Regner, you stated several times that you were speaking as a member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. You presented the position of your political group, but in fact you were given the floor to speak on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, and about the position of that committee. You had three minutes but chose to focus on that position only in the last 30 seconds of your speech. My question is whether you could answer by explaining in more detail the position of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.

 
  
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  Evelyn Regner (S&D), blue-card answer. – (DE) Mr President, Mr Stoyanov, it is true that I get carried away sometimes by my excitement at being a member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament but, to the best of my recollection, I have only once mentioned being a social democrat, something that is great and something I am proud to be. It is true that the position of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs focused primarily on industrial action, and perhaps I spoke rather too slowly. I have, however, given an accurate presentation of that position.

 
  
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  Raffaele Baldassarre, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Commissioner, at a time when, for some nostalgic nationalists, speaking of closer European integration sounds provocative, we are about to vote on amendments to a regulation which forms the basis for the difficult but necessary process of harmonising and bringing closer together the national legal systems. Allow me therefore to congratulate Mr Zwiefka on the excellent work carried out and his success – after around two years of difficult negotiations – in bringing to a close the process of revising a regulation which has been of fundamental importance to citizens of the Union. Brussels I in fact establishes provisions which are of the utmost importance in ensuring sufficient access to justice and equality of treatment before all the courts which have competence in the European Union.

It sets up common standards in civil and commercial matters, clarifying which Court has competence in a cross-border dispute, and making the sentences issued enforceable in the different States. The amendments made to the regulation are required in order to put into practice the wish to create a European area for justice which promotes judicial certainty and predictability of decisions, thus making transnational trade easier and strengthening the single market. That said, I believe that progress towards an ever deeper harmonisation of the standards of substantive law must proceed with the appropriate caution and attention in order to ensure certainty of law and to protect less favoured parties.

For this reason, I agree with the approach taken by the rapporteur in favour of consumers, who will benefit from the principle of protection for the weaker party. A basic principle under which, in a legal dispute between consumers and businesses, the consumer will always be able to choose a court in the Member State of his or her residence.

Similarly, I share the prudent approach taken by Mr Zwiefka regarding the abolition of the exequatur: while on the one hand abolishing the exequatur would allow recognition of sentences to be speeded up at a later stage, on the other I believe that measures for safeguarding defendants’ rights must be maintained. It is therefore necessary for defendants to have the possibility of contesting a decision if their right to a fair trial has been breached and if the decision goes against ordre public in the reference State.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my compliments to the rapporteur and the shadow rapporteurs. I hope we shall reach broad interinstitutional and political consensus on a regulation which forms the template not only for cooperation in the civil courts but also for political determination based on the process of European integration.

 
  
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  Antonio Masip Hidalgo, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (ES) Mr President, those who have some professional experience in the legal field or who have had cause, as users of the judicial system, to endure its slowness and cost, will appreciate the step that we are taking to abolish the exequatur process and, to put it plainly, the lack of confidence of some Member States in the judgments handed down in others.

This step does not just simplify unwieldy proceedings; it is a step towards that longed-for European unification, unity even, for which we strive every day and which is the real rationale of this parliamentary institution.

Eight years ago, I began my time with the Committee on Legal Affairs by debating this very issue with two ministers from the Netherlands Presidency of the time, an issue which is now being successfully resolved, for which I would like to thank the rapporteur, Tadeusz Zwiefka, the Commission, naturally, and all subsequent Presidencies, especially the Spanish Presidency and the fine minister, Francisco Caamaño Dominguez and his team, the Secretary of State Juan Carlos Campo and Aurora Mejía, the Director General, among others.

 
  
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  Eva Lichtenberger, on behalf of the Verts/ALE-Group. – (DE) Mr President, sincere thanks first of all to the rapporteur and to those honourable Members who, like me, have worked on this matter for two years. We all felt slightly desperate when we next met with the Council and all the old obstacles surfaced yet again. In the end, though, an important principle gained acceptance: acting across borders – something that is increasingly common in the European Union – requires rules which are enforceable, clear and framed in a way that does not place the weaker party in an untenable position right from the start. Therefore, in this piece of legislation, what we have done is attempt to improve access to justice, to make the law comprehensible and clear.

This brings us to a major difficulty: mutual recognition. Each of the 27 Member States represented in this House believes that its legal system, and its system alone, is the best in the world. However, if we are to work together, we must learn to recognise the decisions, documents, etc. of other systems. Hitherto there has always been a significant lack of trust in this area.

Of course everyone, in any given instance, will be able to find an example of how his law is better than someone else’s. That does not mean, though, that it is always the case. I therefore think this is a good and important step. I think it is important that we have strengthened the position of the weaker party, and I think it is important that we have given consumers, who shop internationally these days, new ways of enforcing their rights faster, better and more clearly.

Thank you too for the revision clause. We shall see if we can expand these matters further, but as I say, a revision clause takes care of that. I regard what we are proposing and will be voting on as an important step. It will not be the last, certainly not in this field of legal rules, but it will help us to show the public more clearly what the European Union can do, and what it does, on their behalf.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška, on behalf of the EFD Group.(SK) Mr President, although I very much appreciate the Commission’s efforts to create a solid mechanism for resolving cross-border disputes on civil and commercial matters in the European Union, I think the proposal put forward is not moving settlement of those issues in the right direction.

The legal systems of the Member States have developed along their own lines over centuries, and the way the written law is applied in individual countries has taken shape differently, according to their traditions of civilisation and culture. In Spain, for example – where a court wanted to remove a child living in Slovakia from his mother – or in the UK – where courts act as a shield for the controversial practices of its local social welfare system in removing the children of families going to Britain for work – experience shows us the way that courts operate, handing down specific rulings that favour the interests of citizens or legal persons from their own countries. This is an everyday reality in the European Union. When the administration of justice is in that state, the abolition of certain protective mechanisms – such as the right to challenge recognition or enforcement of a judgment on the ground of incompatibility with recognising and enforcing a Member State’s public policy, for example – is, in my view, absolutely divorced from real life.

If we have different assessments of legal questions in the individual Member States of the European Union, we cannot really just transfer the judgments of the courts from one country to another. After all, a legal entity affected by a judgment given abroad must also have the right to have enforcement of this judgment reviewed from the point of view of the law of his country – the one in which he lives or operates.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8)).

 
  
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  Tadeusz Zwiefka (PPE), blue-card question(PL) Mr President, honourable Member, does Mr Paška not think it would have been far more sensible and practical, and have led to a better result, if his political group had joined in the substantive deliberations during the whole time we were working on the Brussels I Regulation, rather than making statements in plenary that have little to do with our work?

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD), blue-card answer.(SK) Mr President, Mr Zwiefka, thank you for asking, but I am not personally involved in your committee; I cannot take part in this work, as I am a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. However, I am very glad to exchange experiences with you and I shall be very pleased if you accept my opinions; then maybe I shall be able to work with them in future.

 
  
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  Jacky Hénin, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (FR) Mr President, in practice, the European Judicial Area operates to the detriment of ordinary citizens and small businesses. By contrast, it is especially useful to large businesses and those of our fellow citizens who have the wherewithal to pay teams of national and international lawyers.

The murky affair of the extradition of Aurore Martin from France to Spain is a case in point. The case is a disgrace to France and the European Union. The text before us, far from being an improvement on the current situation, proposes to increase inequality between persons subject to law. A judgment given in one Member State would become enforceable, without any intermediate procedure, in another Member State.

Challenging the right to object to recognition or enforcement of a Member State judgment on the ground of manifest incompatibility with the enforcing Member State’s public policy is a genuinely backward step. Almost no review of the jurisdiction of the courts of origin would be possible. Justice would function on autopilot. I can in no way endorse a text of this nature, especially in the light of the scandalous Aurore Martin case.

In short, this document is a perfect illustration of the authoritarian slide, to put it mildly, of European institutions whose ultraliberal economic model is in crisis. Indeed, we are moving from a liberal Europe to an ordoliberal Europe.

 
  
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  Dimitar Stoyanov (NI).(BG) Mr President, based on what Mr Zwiefka said, I ask myself the following question: Why, if the regulation has worked well so far, do we have to change it? I come up with two answers that I find very disturbing. These come from what Ms Reding said. The first one, regarding the choice of court, is in response to Ms Reding’s statement that 90 % of large companies use choice-of-court agreements. This is because a large company is the stronger party in a deal. It will want to choose a court that it considers would be more favourable towards it. That is why I do not think that small companies will benefit from changes to the regulation. On the contrary, it is the large companies that will gain. The second point concerns what Ms Reding said: that we would get closer to the system used in the United States, that is, the regulation would bring greater federalisation of Europe. As an MEP who is fighting for a Europe of nation-states, of nations, I completely agree with what Mr Paška said on this issue, and find this position of further integration and greater federalisation of Europe unacceptable.

 
  
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  Roberta Angelilli (PPE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Vice-President Reding, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on the completion of this complex dossier, which comes at the end of a long and involved debate which has finally arrived at agreement with the Council and which fully reflects the position of Parliament on the abolition of the so-called exequatur without any exceptions. This is a particularly important step because, by abolishing this exequatur, we automatically eliminate an intermediate judicial procedure – which, by the way, has been found in practice to have become nowadays a mere formality – and we bring down the costs and time required by cross-border disputes.

There is sure to be better protection for citizens once they can apply to a court in their own country of origin in respect of disputes with companies who also operate in third countries. In particular, there will be better agreements on the choice of the competent court, to avoid so-called abusive litigation tactics. This represents considerable progress in further facilitating the free circulation of judgments and, in particular, enhancing access to justice and guaranteeing less bureaucracy and less waste, in terms of both time and money, and regulations with certainty which are also more accessible.

I think that, in a time of crisis, citizens, families and businesses will all very much appreciate this streamlining of bureaucracy and simplification of procedures.

 
  
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  Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D).(SK) Mr President, for the gradual establishment of a real area of justice, it is vital that we adopt measures relating to judicial cooperation – and these will have cross-border implications.

However, certain differences between national rules governing jurisdiction and the recognition of judgments still present an obstacle. Members from Slovakia and from other countries have already mentioned examples of citizens affected by this, and it is precisely so that such cases do not arise that we need provisions to unify the rules of conflict of jurisdiction in civil and commercial matters and to ensure rapid and simple recognition and enforcement of judgments given in a Member State. Therefore, the Brussels I Regulation is also exceptionally important for citizens of the European Union and for European businesses. Although the measure is partially satisfactory in its current form, some of its provisions need to be amended. I unequivocally support, for example, the abolition of exequatur, as our aim is to facilitate the free circulation of judgments and to enhance access to justice for our citizens. Overall, we must improve the Regulation in order to guarantee predictability and a high level of legal certainty.

However, in every case, our priorities must be the protection of weaker countries, the right to fair legal proceedings and clear reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the European area of freedom, security and justice facilitates access to justice, in particular through the principle of mutual recognition of judicial and extra-judicial decisions in civil matters. For the gradual establishment of such an area, the EU needs to adopt measures relating to judicial cooperation in civil matters having cross-border implications, in order to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market.

Mutual trust in the administration of justice in the EU justifies the principle that judgments given in a Member State should be recognised without the need for any special procedure, and cross-border litigation needs to be made less time-consuming and costly. To ensure the protection of consumers and employees, to safeguard the jurisdiction of the courts of the Member States in situations where they have exclusive jurisdiction and to respect party autonomy, certain rules of jurisdiction in the current Regulation should apply regardless of the defendant’s domicile.

To protect employees’ rights, we stress the importance of the provisions of Articles 19 and 20, particularly the provision by which an employer not domiciled in a Member State can be taken to court in a Member State. In relation to consumer and employment contracts, the weaker party should to be protected by rules of jurisdiction more favourable to his interests than the generally applicable rules.

Mr President, I close by commending the direct reference to compliance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

 
  
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  Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, this proposal is indeed a major reform that this Parliament and all the institutions should be proud of, because it will enable us to build bridges between the different judicial systems in our Member States.

I think that this is an important step, even if it was not possible to agree on everything, for instance arbitration or jurisdiction rules applied to industrial action. But it is certainly an important step in the right direction, and other steps will follow. I also thank those colleagues who have underlined how long the discussion on such subjects has already been going on, with no possibility of moving forward until we got the Treaty of Lisbon, which allowed us to take the steps which are needed in order to build up the contributions of all systems in all Member States in a way that can be taken seriously.

We are putting into practice a principle of ‘full faith and credit’ in the mutual recognition of judicial decisions. This means that we recognise and implement decisions by the national courts, ensuring that they are implemented in another jurisdiction as if they were being implemented domestically. That is what mutual recognition is about and that is what we need if we want to have freedom of movement, not only of goods and services, but also of citizens and of judicial decisions.

This project which you have put on the table today will really benefit citizens and businesses and, historically speaking, it will also be one of those important steps in order to have a real continent of justice tomorrow.

 
  
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  Tadeusz Zwiefka, rapporteur. − (PL) Mr President, I wish to thank all colleagues heartily for this discussion and for putting their views. I thoroughly agree with the summary Commissioner Reding has just made.

Let me add that, when we began work on this document two years ago, each of the institutions – Commission, Parliament and Council – had its own ambitions and ideas of how the work should proceed, and what the end result should be. Today, I can say one thing: I am quite certain that we have not damaged the proper functioning of the legal instrument but have improved it. I am quite certain that European legal culture, its European scope, has been strengthened, that citizens, consumers, lawyers, managers and owners of firms are being given an instrument that will help them function more effectively in the common, single market.

I am deeply convinced that Parliament will adopt this document, and I shall impatiently await its adoption by the European Council, so that we can say together that we have done a good job. Once again, my hearty thanks.

 
  
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  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday at 12.00.

 
Last updated: 1 March 2013Legal notice