Full text 
Procedure : 2005/0251(AVC)
Document stages in plenary
Select a document :

Texts tabled :


Debates :

PV 06/09/2006 - 16
CRE 06/09/2006 - 16

Votes :

PV 07/09/2006 - 7.1
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :


Wednesday, 6 September 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

16. Accession of the EC to the Hague Conference on Private International Law Involvement of the European Parliament in the work of the Hague Conference following the accession of the Community (debate)

  President. The next item is the joint debate on

- the recommendation by Diana Wallis, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs, on the proposal for a Council decision on the accession of the European Community to the Hague Conference on Private International Law (COM(2005)0639 7591/2006 C6-0138/2006 2005/0251(AVC)) (A6-0250/2006), and

- the oral question by Giuseppe Gargani, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs, to the Commission on the involvement of the European Parliament in the work of the Hague Conference following the accession of the Community (O-0076/2006 B6-0324/2006).


  Diana Wallis (ALDE), rapporteur. Mr President, we all know that Europe’s citizens are on the move. We have overtly encouraged this within our own borders through the principle of free movement. However, our citizens are also mobile throughout the world and they can end up in all sorts of improbable situations and scrapes that involve them dealing with civil law in the courts. Such is the nature of modern life. So far as it is feasible we want to be able to offer them some sort of certainty at these moments of personal crisis.

For more than 100 years, The Hague Conference on Private International Law has worked tirelessly and with an ever-growing number of countries across the globe to put together numerous international conventions on civil law subjects: sale of goods, testamentary dispositions, child abduction, maintenance obligations and road-traffic accidents. They have striven to provide a coherent legal framework in an increasingly mobile world.

When I was a practising lawyer, I often had recourse to Hague conventions to assist clients caught up in troubles with a cross-border dimension. Those clients had reasons to be thankful for the existence of this rather unknown organisation. Over the last years as a parliamentarian, I have had the privilege, on behalf of this House, to attend many of The Hague meetings, to get to know the people behind this apparently rather technical and distant exercise, to see the officials and national experts at their work, drafting and negotiating very complex and technical agreements to assist our citizens. It is difficult work, taking account of an ever-increasing number of legal traditions and cultural values. Whilst it may seem to be technical work, there are very big political choices underlying many of these apparently dry legal issues. This work should increasingly see the light of day and I hope that our involvement will assist that process.

Up until now, the Community has been represented by all its individual Member States and, from my limited observations, that also brings a richness and strength to the work of the conference because of the diversity of our own legal traditions and our own comparative legal experience. However, it is also clear that, given the new Community competence post-Amsterdam, there is every reason why the Community should operate as a Community within the conference. In every practical sense it already does this through joint coordination meetings and, in any event, the conference works by consensus. Therefore, I have absolutely no problem in recommending to colleagues that this House should give its assent to the accession of the Community to The Hague Conference. It is a good thing, a positive and timely development.

However, there is a caveat; it is contained at the end of the explanatory statement to my report and set out in more detail in our chairman’s motion for a resolution. In passing this competence to the Community, Parliament is in some measure possibly detracting from its own hard-won legislative powers. I say ‘possibly detracting’, because tonight we look to the Commissioner for reassurance that Parliament will continue to be fully involved in the future work when new conventions are negotiated and new or old ones ratified by the Community. We have to find new working methods that fully respect Parliament’s position as co-legislator with the Council.

Much as I have enjoyed over the last years attending Hague Conference meetings as a sort of ad hoc representative of this House, we now need something much more formal and transparent that reflects the new role of our institutions in this process.

I hinted earlier that the conventions negotiated at The Hague deserve much more attention. They deserve that attention because they not only achieve positive outcomes for our citizens but also, increasingly, involve making political choices and balancing interests. This is work that cries out for more parliamentary involvement and I know that this is something The Hague Conference would also welcome. There have been initial discussions about some kind of parliamentary forum. This is something we should pursue.

However, this should not be seen as in any way excusing the need for this House to be fully involved in the Community’s legislative process in relation to the work of the Conference. This would be by way of an additional activity that is within our powers to undertake. I hope colleagues will agree that we should be initiators in this regard, perhaps hosting a first meeting.


  Franco Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Mrs Wallis for her report and Mr Gargani for the question he submitted this evening.

The two topics are obviously linked, and I can confirm that I also very much welcome the recommendation contained within Mrs Wallis’s report, that the European Parliament consent to the accession of the Community to the Hague Conference. I also agree with what is said in Mrs Wallis’s introduction on the importance of the Hague Conference and of the work done over the past few years.

It is quite clear, however, that acceding to the Hague Conference will enable the Community to obtain a status that effectively corresponds to its new role as a leading player on the international stage, thus as an actor that needs to play a practical and formal part in the activities of the Hague Conference.

Acceding may mean more coherence – I could say more consistency – between the rules existing within the Community, within the European Union, and the international instruments in preparation. This need for more coherence justifies and warrants the Community’s formal accession to the Hague Conference.

As all Members are aware, once the European Parliament has given its consent, the Community can formally accede to the Hague Conference as soon as two-thirds of the States signatory to the Conference have endorsed the amendments to the statute. I feel in a position to say to you that this particularly large majority will be reached by the end of this year, thus fairly soon. Some Member States have still not voiced their opinion, but I am confident that consent will be given by December of this year.

Both Mrs Wallis and Mr Gargani highlight the problem of what Parliament’s role will be once the Community has formally acceded to the Hague Conference. I can tell you that I am personally and institutionally committed to ensuring that there is full cooperation with Parliament, including after the Community’s accession to the Hague Conference.

We all know that the framework agreement concerning relations between the Commission and the European Parliament has been amended recently: the agreement clearly permits the involvement, including at a formal level, of Parliament in the negotiation of international agreements in areas of Community competence, and this certainly comes under Community competence.

I can assure Mrs Wallis and all Members both that Parliament will be kept fully and constantly informed about the negotiating activities and that it will be involved in the delegations, in the negotiating activities. As Mrs Wallis is well aware, I fully agree on this aspect; as far as the delegations are concerned, it is certainly possible to imagine MEPs being included in the formal delegation. Finally, I can confirm this possibility straight away and, when the Community has formally acceded to the Hague Conference, it will become a reality.


  Jean-Paul Gauzès, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, fellow Members, the accession of the Community to the Hague Conference on Private International Law is certainly a good thing. The Community will thus be able to take an active part in defining the Conference’s priorities and ensure that these fit in well with the Commission’s work programme. There should, however, be no delay in providing for support measures so that the civil judicial area is not weakened but retains its familiar characteristics: enhanced political solidarity within the framework of a community of values, the principle of the mutual recognition of legal decisions and the construction of an integrated internal market.

The support measures might include definition by the Council and Parliament of the mandate in matters relating to codecision, production of a legal and economic impact study at the beginning of negotiations and systematic reflection on the appropriateness of inserting disconnection clauses into the draft conventions.

Like our rapporteur, whom I congratulate, I consider it necessary for Parliament to be consulted when it comes to the draft conventions and to defining the priorities of the Conference’s work programme. Moreover, the principle must not be that the Community adhere systematically to all the existing conventions. Such adherence to existing conventions needs to be subject to case-by-case examinations by the Council and the European Parliament.


  Manuel Medina Ortega, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (ES) Mr President, after Commissioner Frattini’s speech, I have the impression that we have achieved the objective that we had set ourselves with this exercise, despite it being so late.

In short, the Commissioner has told us that this possibility for Parliament to participate in the procedure for adopting agreements within the Hague Conference is laid down in the institutional framework agreement and that the European Parliament could therefore formally take part in these negotiations. In particular, he has indicated that it is possible for Members of the European Parliament to be included in the formal delegation. I believe that we must begin by acknowledging the generosity of the Commissioner’s words, since there is no legal obligation.

Furthermore, I would like to express my agreement with what previous speakers have said, that judicial cooperation in civil matters is now a European Union competence, pursuant to the Treaty of Amsterdam, and that, furthermore, we have the Hague Programme for implementing that cooperation. This field is not therefore peripheral to the very essence of the European Union, but rather it is central to it. That means that the three institutions will have to work on this issue, and cooperation is therefore highly appropriate.

In the motion for a resolution presented by Mr Gargani, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs, there is another very interesting proposal, and that is that it is not just a matter of the European Parliament cooperating with the Commission in the negotiations at the Hague Conference, but also of setting up a kind of parliamentary forum – a job that this Parliament could do – which would bring us together with members of national parliaments. European Union law in the private field is still largely national law and therefore the creation of that parliamentary forum would enable us to harmonise positions.

The great problem with private international law, as we all know, and with private law in general, is that it involves national laws that come from differing traditions. At a time when we are thinking about harmonising, codifying and unifying private law, however, the creation of that parliamentary forum, perhaps with this specific aim for now, would be a good way to begin to send out the message that the European institutions are not disconnected from national legal traditions.

Those of us who have worked in this field have seen the enormous difficulties hindering any progress in the field of private law, given the differences between national traditions, but this proposal, which is aimed more at Parliament than at the Commission, would be very positive, because it would enable us to harmonise positions with the national parliaments and take those harmonised positions to the Conference, through our participation in it.


  Ignasi Guardans Cambó, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (ES) Mr President, what we are debating today is truly a sign of the European Union’s maturity. Not so many years ago, when I met with other people teaching private international law in different universities, mixing up private international law or private law with European Union law was a heresy, because the European Union simply dealt, at most, with fishing, international trade and competition, but did not really deal with private law issues.

Today, the European Union is very much involved in private law, because today, although we still have much to do, the European Union deals with the private consequences – private law – of European citizenship, its direct impact on people’s private domain and the consequences of freedom of establishment and movement on private law for persons and companies.

All of that is what led this field to be introduced in the Treaty of Amsterdam, allowing a situation to evolve that has given the European Union – the European Community, to be precise – these competences, which have made it possible to draw up a large amount of legislation or to turn instruments into European legislation that were not previously part of it, though they did to a certain extent fall within the Community sphere, such as the Brussels Convention and others.

Within this context, therefore, the accession of the European Union – the Community, strictly speaking – to the Hague Conference is a very important step and, I would insist, demonstrates the maturity of the European Union; it demonstrates that we still have a long way to go, including, amongst other things, in how these rules should be drawn up: third pillar, first pillar, etc. This is not the time to discuss it, but it is something that will improve the quality of our legislation and will undoubtedly enable the European Union to bring its own priorities to the Hague Conference.

Despite the fact it is midnight and there are very few people in the Chamber, this is therefore a true indication and measure of the European Union’s maturity in areas that affect the citizens very directly.


  Daniel Strož, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (CS) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, regarding the motion for a Council decision on the accession of the European Community to the Hague Conference on Private International Law, I should like to point out that this is an absolutely essential step, as the Community would acquire under the Amsterdam Treaty the authority to adopt measures for judicial cooperation in civil cases with a cross-border dimension, where such measures are conducive to the proper functioning of the internal market. Many of the steps that the Community has adopted, or is preparing to adopt, by means of that authority coincide with the activities of the Hague Conference. Given that the adoption of the above-mentioned internal instruments has led to a transfer of external authority from the Member States to the Community in the areas regulated by these instruments, it is essential for the Community to become a full member of the Hague Conference. I believe that the continual strengthening legal certainty for our citizens is also undoubtedly an issue here.


  Andrzej Jan Szejna (PSE) (PL) Mr President, since the implementation of the Amsterdam Treaty, the competences of the European Union have included measures concerning judicial cooperation in cross-border civil matters necessary for the proper operation of the internal market. It is a fact that, to date, a series of legal instruments has been adopted in this area, with others in the pipeline. Full membership of the Hague Conference on International Private Law will also give the EU negotiating powers in the Hague Convention in areas within its competence. This will make it easier to harmonise EU regulations with subsequent international instruments, whilst the Community will become subject to the rights and duties arising from such conventions.

Furthermore, acquiring full membership constitutes an important step towards deeper European integration, by placing the EU in a new international role in the field of judicial collaboration in civil matters.

I am pleased to note that amendments have been made to the Statutes of the Conference to allow the Community, which is to be accepted as a full member very soon, to join.

I would like to stress that I myself was pleased to hear Commissioner Frattini’s words, because from the perspective of the European Parliament, which has played an active role in the Community legislative process, and in particular from the perspective of the Legal Commission, which is responsible for the issue of private law, we must pay special attention to the procedural frameworks that define the methods and the rules for future cooperation of Parliament in matters pertaining to the Hague Conference, and for consultation on convention projects.


  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 12 noon.

Legal notice - Privacy policy