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Procedure : 2009/0157(COD)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0045/2012

Texts tabled :

A7-0045/2012

Debates :

PV 12/03/2012 - 19
CRE 12/03/2012 - 19

Votes :

PV 13/03/2012 - 8.3
CRE 13/03/2012 - 8.3
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2012)0068

Debates
Monday, 12 March 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

19. Succession and the European Certificate of Succession (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the report (A7-0045/2012) by Kurt Lechner, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs, on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and authentic instruments in matters of success and the creation of a European Certificate of Succession (COM(2009)0154 - C7-0236/2009 - 2009/0157(COD))

 
  
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  Kurt Lechner, rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, for European citizens who have assets in another country or who live in a country other than their home country, it is currently practically impossible to plan their succession properly and with legal certainty. The heirs, for their part, face disputes that are to some extent irresolvable but always cost time and money.

Twelve million EU citizens live in another Member State. Many have assets in another country. Thirteen per cent of marriages are mixed-nationality, and around 20 million citizens of third states reside in the European Union. They are all affected. The need for uniform European regulation in this area is obvious. In future, citizens will be able to choose, and to decide that the inheritance law of their home state should apply to their succession. For the majority of Member States, this right to choose is something entirely new. Where a citizen fails to make a choice of legal system, the inheritance law of the country in which they were habitually resident at the time of their death, where they had the main focus of their life, will apply to their succession.

The inheritance law and of course also law on indefeasible interests that will subsequently apply in each individual case will then apply to the whole succession. This includes land and property, wherever it is located. Successions will thus no longer be fragmented. In most cases, courts will be able to apply their own law and, in contrast to the status quo, in future, court decisions will be mutually recognised.

For the heirs, who hitherto had to do battle with authorities and courts in multiple states, it is particularly important that there is to be a European Certificate of Succession, which must be recognised as proof of inheritance in all Member States and can be used in all Member States for entries in land and property registers, but also for disposal over succession assets, for example over bank accounts. This will make things enormously simpler and easier for citizens. It will provide real benefits, and save time and money.

I would also briefly like to bring up a few individual points. First of all, the regulation does not apply to inheritance tax, which remains unchanged. That is always the first or second question that citizens ask, and it is something that would, in fact, merit an initiative of its own.

Secondly, the relevant national law concerning inheritance and indefeasible interests also remains unaltered. Thirdly, the new rules will only start to apply three years after the entry into force of the regulation. Fourthly, the United Kingdom and Ireland have made use of their opt-out. We hope that they will join in later. The same applies to Denmark.

In contrast to other regulations covering this field, such as Rome I and II, we are not dealing here with a codification and finishing-off of existing agreements – rather, this is a fundamentally new creation for all Member States. For that reason, the outstanding quality of the Commission proposal deserves specific recognition and respect. Nonetheless, considerable improvements were still achieved in the course of the two-and-a-half years of discussions, which is down to the intensive collaboration of all the institutions. I would like to thank the members of the Committee on Legal Affairs for the important contributions they had to make and for their support, which led to a number of significant improvements and additions.

I would specifically like to thank the Council, too, which worked intensively in all its configurations on this dossier and helped provide clarifications and improvements. I would particularly like to thank the Danish Presidency, which brought the discussions to their conclusion and effectively sealed the deal. Finally, I would like to thank the Commission again, as it not only brought forward a sound proposal, but was also excellent in the way it assisted and influenced the discussions in both technical and content-related terms.

Given that we were just debating gender policy, Commissioner, I feel I should just point out that the consultation and assistance from the Commission came exclusively from women, as far as I could see. Please do pass on my thanks to the relevant people. This regulation is relatively simple and comprehensible for the citizens. There were, however, difficult issues to be tackled and resolved in the negotiations. Everybody showed the willingness to find a common solution for the benefit of the citizens. As a result, everyone made concessions for the common good. For this, too, I would like to offer my sincere thanks.

 
  
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  Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the Commission. Mr President, believe me, I am very glad to see that this proposal is on the agenda of this plenary sitting because citizens have been waiting for a long time, for too long. The Council identified this problem back in 2000 as an area for action and this is now the first time that an EU instrument has been adopted in the area of succession. This is not just for a few people, because around 10% of the total number of successions in the EU involve an international dimension. The value is about EUR 120 billion, so this regulation provides a unique opportunity to show that Europe is taking action to make life easer for citizens in difficult human and legal situations.

I am very much aware that succession is a delicate, sensitive area which is intrinsically linked to national policies on family protection and judicial systems, and that there are considerable differences between the national laws, but fortunately we have had a wonderful rapporteur, Mr Lechner. By the way, I think this is one of the last actions he will take in this Parliament, because he will be retiring. I think, Mr Lechner, with this action you have left a stamp on the European Parliament and I think we can all thank you for the work you have done in the interests of the citizens of Europe.

The result which the rapporteur is proposing is remarkable and the Commission lends its full support to it. The resolution which is for adoption tomorrow maintains the main policy objectives set for the Commission, namely that successions will be governed by one single law – that of the country of habitual residence of the deceased. People will be able to plan their succession in advance by choosing the law of their country of nationality wherever they move in the European Union, and there will be free movement of court decisions and of authentic instruments in Europe. The cherry on the cake is, of course, the European Certificate of Succession which will enable people to prove their status as heirs and exercise their rights throughout the EU.

I absolutely agree with the rapporteur that the text which has been under discussion for such a long time has been very much improved thanks to the arduous work of the rapporteur and the committee. The rapporteur insisted in particular on ensuring legal certainty for people who drafted wills prior to this regulation, so thank you very much for the work you have done on this. I am sure this is one of the points we can put on the table during the European Year of Citizens in order to show that, yes, we care for citizens.

 
  
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  Klaus-Heiner Lehne, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, rapporteur, it is a shame, really, but this House never learns. We find ourselves here at this ungodly hour debating an extremely important legislative proposal that, according to Commissioner Reding, directly affects 10% of the citizens of the European Union, some 50 million people. They are joined by a far bigger number, the potential heirs, who are probably also indirectly affected to a considerable degree. Despite this, because of the circumstances that find us sitting late at night, there are not many of us here. Perhaps there should be some consideration at some point in the Conference of Presidents of whether, once in a while, we could be spared a strategic debate about a meaningless summit with no end in sight and instead a subject such as this, which has a real impact on people, could be given a more prominent place on the agenda. I believe that the reputation of this House would then be considerably better than it currently is in the eyes of many members of the general public.

The truth is that this is an incredibly important proposal, and it has also been an incredibly difficult one. It proved to be a very complex proposal, and at this point, as the Chair of the Committee on Legal Affairs, I would like once again to offer my very sincere thanks to Mr Lechner, who worked for a long time in this committee, where he showed himself to be one of our best and most competent members, for his work. Mr Lechner’s legacy to the committee and to this House is a real leaving present, and one that is very significant, important, politically and also legally valuable, and that is something that I think bears reiterating at this point, in this debate, as he has decided to relinquish his seat at the end of the week, which will unfortunately mean – and I feel entitled to lament this once again at this point – that he is leaving us.

I can only hope that the Council is impressed with what has been decided in this report. Preliminary negotiations to that effect were, of course, carried out. I believe the Council would do well to simply approve the Lechner report. That would mean that we would ultimately have a finished dossier that would help the citizens of this, our Europe, and that would be a sound piece of work that would also represent progress in creating a Europe for the citizens.

 
  
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  Luigi Berlinguer, on behalf of the S&D Group. (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I too would like to echo the warm greetings extended to Mr Lechner and the assessment of his work, which he carried out with competency, tenacity and determination: a labour of love, sometimes this draft regulation met with an obstacle and he withdrew it and began negotiating again with the Council, with the Commission, and with the Committee on Legal Affairs. I believe he can be proud of this. I note that there is unanimous consensus in his favour.

Turning to this regulation of ours, I too am convinced that this is an important thing, which may not hit the headlines in the press, may not be considered high politics, but the construction of the European Union also involves meeting the needs of citizens in their daily lives – first and foremost of those millions of people with interests in more than one Member State dealing with procedures that are difficult to unravel, tedious and which sometimes touch on sensitive issues at the heart of a family which politics generally finds difficult to grasp. The European Union should take pride in being based on such sensitive attention.

The solutions that have been proposed are new and intelligent ones. For example, those drawing up a will have been given the freedom to choose between their habitual residence and their state of origin. This makes decision-making more flexible, since there are such major differences between one State and another that the question of succession could always be rather tricky.

But the law has also been made more certain, because once the legal solution has been chosen – either habitual residence or country of origin – this requires limitations of the jurisdiction and of the conflicts that can arise and therefore it is a more peaceful way of proceeding in this area and so there is more freedom and more certainty.

Then there is the certificate of succession: now, we may believe that certificates are of little importance, but they create the conditions to ensure the heir is in a condition of greater flexibility and certainty with regard to all the possible difficulties that may arise. That is a positive aspect of this law.

It is true, this law is by no means perfect: there are problems concerning whether there is an executor of the will or not, the feasibility of direct inheritance, and so on, but I just want to say another word of a political nature. We hope that the Council will approve this text, and we hope it will become law. However, we must not lay this text to rest, because we cannot have England in a different condition – with the United Kingdom left like that – because Europe cannot do without the United Kingdom, and so we must therefore make sure that we overcome these difficulties. Thank you.

 
  
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  Alexandra Thein, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, we are in the process of re-regulating succession and family law in respect of which law is to be applied, which courts have competence and the recognition and enforcement of judgments from other countries. We have done so already in respect of the arrangement of child support and divorce law. Tomorrow we will be voting on the law of succession, and marital property law will follow.

As Mr Lehne has already said, in the plenary today we are not discussing any old abstract political issues. Instead, we are helping our citizens in a quite tangible way to solve what are currently in some ways irresolvable problems. In the worst case scenario it can happen in a cross-border succession case that the heirs appeal to the highest instance of the courts in different Member States, spend a great deal of time and money and that there are then two contradicting decisions because each of the courts applies the law in that Member State. The aim is for such situations to be avoided in future.

We are on the verge of a change of system when it comes to succession law. In future, the entire succession will be in the competence of the courts of the Member State in the territory of which the bequeather was habitually resident at the time of their death. This is because we are working on the basis that people have a stronger relationship with the country in which they reside. However, someone who, by way of example, as a German permanently resident in Strasbourg, regards him- or herself as having a closer connection with Germany, can choose to have German law apply to their succession. In order to avoid a French court having to apply complicated German succession law, there is, in such circumstances, also a provision for the succession to be brought before a German probate court. Meanwhile, those who like to winter in Mallorca need have no fear either, as, wherever you go on holiday, it does not constitute habitual residence in the country in which you holiday.

Furthermore, this regulation will not affect inheritance tax. Denmark, the United Kingdom and Ireland, as we have heard, will not initially be involved as a result of their opt-outs. That is a shame, as so many Britons, in particular, have holiday homes in southern Europe and these would then also be subject to the common law and not, as up to now, to the law of the Member State in which the land is located. A major information campaign will be necessary. I would also like to thank Mr Lechner once again for his comprehensive work and for the solution that he reached. His work shows how important it is that this Parliament should contain not only career politicians but also professionals from other walks of life.

 
  
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  Eva Lichtenberger, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(DE) Mr President, I would like to begin by thanking Mr Lechner, who really did excellent work in a very open way and also always managed to integrate all the shadow rapporteurs really well. The current decision actually only brings inheritance law into line with a development that has been growing over recent years. People are mobile. They are living outside their countries of origin and building a life there, yet when it comes to their succession, in the end they always had to fall back on their country of origin. This can give rise to enormous difficulties and major irritation. I am therefore very pleased that this decision has now finally been made, with the one sour note being the failure – for the 536th time – of the United Kingdom to participate. Each Member State has many, many reasons not to participate, but this case is particularly tragic.

There was one thing that I was looking out for, namely that same-sex couples could not be discriminated against under reference to public policy when it comes to them actually exercising the inheritance rights that they claim with their choice of legal system. For me, that is a key desideratum of modern times. Lifestyles have changed, after all.

 
  
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  Sajjad Karim, on behalf of the ECR Group. Mr President, there are some colleagues in the room who have been pointing at me and gesturing as other comments have been made regarding the United Kingdom’s position on this.

Can I start off by saying, first of all, my very sincere thanks to our colleague Mr Lechner for the tremendous amount of hard work that he has put into this dossier over a period of about two years or so? I thank him for everything he has done in making sure that he has made his contribution and I wish him well for whatever he chooses to do after he leaves us. He is going to be missed.

Can I also echo the comments that were made by Mr Lechner about the timing of debates that take place in this House? This debate is significantly overrunning. No fault of yours, Mr President, but the fact of the matter is I was due to meet with Mr Lidington, the United Kingdom Minister for Europe, this evening. This was one of the issues I wanted to discuss with him. That is not now going to happen.

Can I also express my real disappointment at the decision in the Council whereby the UK and Ireland found themselves in a position where they did not feel they were able to opt into this regulation?

I have always said that the lack of an opt-in is always going to be very theoretical because the practical effects will remain and will be very real for many EU citizens. For instance, more than 15% of successions that have been carried out in the United Kingdom had a cross-border element: 3.1% of the UK population comes from another EU Member State and I consider that the failure to resolve the issue of clawback is a fundamental flaw in the final regulation as it will close off its benefits to a huge number of citizens from other Member States who happen to be living in the UK and Ireland, and conversely the large numbers of expat UK citizens spread throughout Europe.

I note that there remain concerns within delegations in the Council regarding other aspects of the regulation such as the provisions relating to administration. Practices vary widely across the European Union in this area, and we must consider whether the final article agreed between Parliament and Council will meet the needs of citizens and practitioners from all Member States.

May I suggest finally that a second reading, even if very short, would allow us a period to refocus and approach the difficulties that still remain with a freshness of mind, because quite clearly it is in the interests of all of us, this House and the Commission, to see if we can resolve the difficulties that we set out to resolve at the outset.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška, on behalf of the EFD Group. – (SK) Mr President, I have studied with interest the European Commission's proposal for a regulation on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and authentic instruments in matters of succession and the creation of a European Certificate of Succession. I understand the fact that the increasing migration of EU citizens can bring some problems for the heirs of the deceased who have settled in another country. In my opinion, the binding of the determination of jurisdiction and applicable law of succession to some kind of habitual residence of the testator or deceased, which as a key concept is not properly defined or clearly defined in the regulation, seems to be unfortunate. This broad and loosely formulated term allows courts in different countries to expound the law differently and I therefore believe it is necessary to select more precisely worded definitions for such a sensitive regulation in the next course of action.

 
  
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  Dimitar Stoyanov (NI).(BG) Mr President, matters relating to judicial disputes over succession are among the most difficult areas in interpersonal relations governed by law. They are usually among the most complicated to resolve. It is no coincidence that the case which I had to resolve as part of the exam in civil law to complete my law course and studies was precisely on this subject. The question was about dividing up an inheritance, of course within the scope of my Member State, which made it simpler to some extent. However, precisely this event in my life gives me a definite idea of basically how complex this subject is. I also have a definite idea of what a huge job Mr Lechner has done. I think that this report, which is his last in the European Parliament, is a fine crowning achievement, like an award which he will be able to have with him until the end of his days, and everyone in the European Parliament will remember him for this.

However, I also wish to mention another matter relating to what I am saying, taking into account my own reports which I have received in the Committee on Legal Affairs and how much work Mr Lechner has done. Commissioner, it has struck me that the quality of the legislative proposals tabled by the Commission is slightly poorer than we have been used to. I know that you rely on us as committed European politicians to do such a good job, like Mr Lechner. However, I would like to ask the Commission to make a more serious effort and submit acts of better quality.

 
  
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  Tadeusz Zwiefka (PPE).(PL) Mr President, Commissioner, we are frequently, and unfortunately, justly accused of discussing matters which are far removed from the day-to-day problems experienced by citizens of the European Union. Sometimes, we also discuss matters over which European institutions have no legislative power. Today, at this precise moment, we can say that we are talking about an issue which is extremely important and crucial for EU citizens. It is these EU citizens who will be served by this very document. It will assist them in situations that are inherently very difficult, since when we have lost someone close to us, the situation is already very traumatic. The ensuing regulatory jungle people then have to face in order to deal with the estate of a deceased relative is a real nightmare.

The regulation which we have worked on, and which Mr Lechner in particular, has worked on - and I would like to extend my sincere thanks to him for this - will afford both future testators as well as future heirs much greater legal certainty when negotiating their way through this regulatory jungle. It is a perfect example of an effective EU legislative measure. Given that succession law differs wholly or at least partially across the various Member States, these EU measures build a legal bridge of sorts in order to make life easier for those of our citizens who are scattered across Europe and living outside their home country, without encroaching on or altering national law. The introduction of a European Certificate of Succession will allow the administrators of an estate, the heirs and the executors of the will to formally establish their succession status. This report, on which Mr Lechner has worked for over two and half years, backed, of course, by the outstanding support of the European Commission and a number of successive presidencies, most certainly provides added value.

It should be pointed out that the reconciliation of succession regulations, which often relate to deeply rooted traditions, and are derived from such an enormous variety of legislation, required great skill. Here, both the Commission and our rapporteur have risen to the challenge, a notable achievement on which they deserve to be commended.. I would, moreover, like to draw attention to the fact that conflict of law rules have been established, for cases where the law to be used to govern succession has not been chosen in advance. This is also important.

As I conclude, Mr President, I would just like to refer to an important issue. Adequate information is essential for citizens to benefit from this legislation. I therefore appeal to the Commission and to the governments of the Member States disseminate information effectively.

 
  
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  Evelyn Regner (S&D).(DE) Mr President, Ms Reding, Mr Lechner, the new Succession Regulation will make life easier for many testators and heirs and dramatically reduce the number of cross-border disputes in succession matters.

There is a rapidly growing number of people who have assets in other Member States or who live in another Member State. The new Regulation should provide them with greater legal certainty when drawing up their wills or planning the provision for their survivors. I stress the word ‘should’, because once again there would seem to be a large fly in the ointment. It seems that the Council is blocking a uniform Europe-wide result on account of the stubbornness of some Member States.

The United Kingdom and Ireland have now negotiated an opt-out on two points: in relation to estate administration and, as already mentioned, in connection with the clawback clause as a result of the contestation of gifts on account of a reduction of indefeasible interests.

However, this derogation will not only be disadvantageous for the people of the United Kingdom and Ireland. Heirs who are citizens of other Member States will also be negatively affected by this. In that regard, we cannot talk about a purely British or purely Irish problem. With regard to the clawback clause, we must ensure that no systematic opportunities for forum shopping are created, where people settle in another Member State simply to circumvent the inheritance law of their own Member State.

In all of the negotiations, the European Parliament advocated a common solution with the participation of all Member States. As the Member States, in the Council in particular, were not able to reach an agreement on the issue of gifts on account of a reduction of indefeasible interests and the administration of the estate, these areas will now remain almost unregulated, which will result in legal uncertainty.

The Member States are now called on to reach a compromise on the two outstanding issues for the sake of simplification of the legislation and greater legal certainty. We must not make the life of heirs more complicated and expensive unnecessarily. For that reason, I am calling for the Council to truly take Parliament’s concerns to heart. The new Succession Regulation is practical and right, but it must not become a cherry-picking regulation where people who deny the indefeasible interests move to Ireland or the United Kingdom.

Mr Lechner, could you please stay for a while longer in order to resolve the remaining problems with your tenacity and problem-solving skills?

 
  
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  Janusz Wojciechowski (ECR).(PL) Mr President, we are debating an issue which makes clear to us the extent to which the European Union can be needed by ordinary people, ordinary citizens. Succession law is one of the branches of law that concerns most people, virtually each and every one of us. There may be some individuals who do not accumulate any assets during their lifetime and I am not sure whether they should be commiserated with or congratulated. The vast majority of people, however, leave behind an estate of some sort and sooner or later, succession becomes an issue.

Mr Lechner’s proposal deserves respect and esteem. Sterling work has indeed been done. The Commission’s proposal developed by Parliament is beneficial to inividuals, and it simplifies procedures in matters of succession. The principles of recognition of decisions and choice of law applicable to a succession case are of particular importance. This truly is an enormous achievement, and I would like to pay tribute to Mr Lechner for the work he has done.

In my opinion, the provisions contained in this regulation will assist European citizens in managing their succession rights without unnecessary formalities and bureaucratic obstacles. The situation will be transparent in terms of the rules to be applied in order to resolve frequently complicated international relations in the area of succession law.

I would like to extend my sincere thanks and congratulations to the rapporteur.

 
  
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  Gerard Batten (EFD). - Mr President, this regulation is the thin end of yet another wedge. The danger is that it will lead to an EU law of property ownership. An EU certificate of succession is a short step away from a European probate registry and the introduction of an EU property tax.

Now, I doubt that many people in England realise that we are debating the EU’s intention to take control of inheritance law. The one good thing I can say about this is that the British Government has exercised its opt-out. It has not done that out of any principle – it does not have any any principles where the EU is concerned and there is only so much that you can get past the British public at any one time. What amazes me is not that they have opted out but that there was ever any serious intention of opting in.

I was going to address myself to the MEPs here but as there are so few of them it is quite a redundant statement this evening. Anyway, some MEPs might like to consider the wisdom of handing yet more control to the EU in this area and vote with MEPs from the UK Independence Party against it.

 
  
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  Raffaele Baldassarre (PPE).(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, there are almost 450 000 international successions opened each year in the European Union, for a total value, as has already been said, of over EUR 120 billion. Nonetheless, there are still numerous difficulties for citizens to face to establish which State, and which authorities shall have jurisdiction in matters of succession. To that we should add that most Member States do not allow the citizen to choose the jurisdiction applicable at the time of succession.

There are also numerous questions arising regarding the judicial recognition of official notarial acts in a Member State other than the one where they were drawn up. These serious shortcomings, these tangible needs on the part of European citizens, are addressed by the regulation which we are about to adopt, and in doing so, ladies and gentlemen, we are not approving a classic piece of legislation, but rather we are creating an instrument to regulate a crucial aspect of institutional organisation within every society: indeed, the concepts of inheritance and succession as well as the rules governing its effects and individual details have huge repercussions for the organisation of any society.

For that reason, I would like to sincerely thank everyone who contributed to this challenging project and in particular Mr Lechner for his work and for his efforts during the difficult legislative process that is now coming to its conclusion. I thank him first and foremost on behalf of those millions of European citizens who will benefit from a tool that fully meets their needs and makes a substantial contribution to the process of European integration. Thank you.

 
  
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  Katarína Neveďalová (S&D). - (SK) Mr President, I believe that we should endorse the basic policy line in the Commission proposal. The proposal, of course, does not affect the existing laws of the Member States, but will for the first time allow a new cross-border succession regime. This is obviously an important step towards strengthening the internal market and I regret the fact that some Member States continue to hamper progress in this matter.

The proposal creates legal certainty, it is comparatively clear and straightforward and, with regard to the key issues, can also be understood by the man and woman in the street. Fragmentation of successions would be avoided. Because habitual residence would be the connecting factor, the competent court would be able, as a rule, to apply its own law. The new choice-of-law right would make citizens more autonomous. The restriction to the law governing nationality would maintain the public policy function of law on succession and safeguards for relatives. It would prevent evasion or abuse of the systems to as great an extent as possible.

Naturally, the regulation cannot resolve all problems and should not regulate every detail, but it would considerably improve the present legal position. Individuals would be given a clear and secure basis for arranging their succession and they would be able to exercise their rights on the internal market more effectively. Legal clarity and legal certainty are central qualities within law on succession in particular. The regulation would strengthen these legal values, benefit the public and create considerable European added value.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the proper functioning of the internal market should be facilitated by removing the obstacles to the free movement of persons who are currently facing difficulties asserting their rights in the context of a succession having cross-border implications. The scope of this regulation should include all civil-law aspects of succession to the estate of a deceased person, namely all forms of transfer of assets, rights and obligations by reason of death. This regulation should allow citizens to organise their succession in time by choosing the applicable law. The law applicable to their succession shall govern the determination of the beneficiaries for all types of successions and regulate the succession as a whole from its opening to the transfer of ownership of the property forming part of the inheritance to the beneficiaries.

Documents issued by notaries in matters of succession in the Member States should circulate under this regulation. The European Certificate of Succession, issued under this regulation, should constitute a valid document for the registration of succession property in a register of a Member State. The registration authorities may require the person seeking registration to provide additional information and documents required under the law of the Member State where the register is kept, for example information or documents relating to the payment of taxes.

The application of this regulation to all Member States would have been very important in order to achieve the internal market and remove the obstacles to the free movement of persons. This is why we hope that the current situation, where the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark are not bound by and are not subject to the application of this regulation, will be resolved.

 
  
 

‘Catch the eye’ procedure

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) Mr President, this report brings clarification that will facilitate the mobility of European citizens. I welcome the establishment of jurisdictions according to the area of the succession, according to Amendment 6 to the Commission’s text. Moreover, mutual recognition of succession rights will eliminate existing bureaucracy by using the European Certificate of Succession. In this way, the long-term cross-border mobility of persons is encouraged.

In addition, a predictable legal regime for inheritance throughout Europe is provided by eliminating conflicts of jurisdictions. I would like to point out, in this context, the clarifications brought by the new Romanian Civil Code with regard to this matter. The inheritance law is fundamental to the civil system of my country and its adaptation to today’s realities ensures the optimal functioning of the legal circuit of assets.

 
  
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  Alajos Mészáros (PPE).(HU) Mr President, all EU citizens are entitled to exercise their rights as heirs, and their right to dispose of their property when they die. The regulation on succession reinforces these rights. In cases of cross-border succession the heirs are often faced with administrative difficulties and barriers to the assertion of their rights. Thanks to this regulation, in the future citizens will have at their disposal streamlined rules and legal instruments uniformly applicable in all Member States. The introduction of the European Certificate of Succession facilitates the demonstration of one’s status as an heir. This document will contain uniform data on heirs and their rights across all official languages and Member States, thereby facilitating the work of the authorities and enabling the rapid, cost-effective conclusion of succession proceedings.

The appropriate issuance of official documents required for the proceedings, such as certificates of vital records, in minority languages must also be ensured in future so as to guarantee equal rights for all EU citizens. Finally we would like to bid farewell to Mr Lechner. We thank him for his work and wish him all the best.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI).(DE) Mr President, if we consider how long we have had the fundamental freedoms in the EU, it is astonishing that the EU has only in the last few years started to pay greater attention to the legal problems that arise as a result of the freedom of movement. These problems are caused, above all, because a great deal of land and property has been acquired in Member States other than a person’s own, and because the working environment is becoming ever more flexible and there is therefore an increasing amount of mobility of workers, not to mention cross-border marriages and divorces. It is therefore important to ensure that there is legal protection.

It makes sense to establish rules that it is possible for the average citizen to understand. The possibility in relation to inheritance law of people being able to choose the law of their home country fulfils this condition, as this is the law that citizens are familiar with, at least in a rudimentary way. In view of the change in circumstances for families in Europe in particular, citizens must be able to be sure which law is applicable in their particular case. That is something that we must guarantee for citizens at all costs.

 
  
 

(End of the ‘catch the eye’ procedure)

 
  
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  Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the Commission. Mr President, I do believe that this is very good news for European citizens. There are 450 000 successions per year which have an international background. We are now giving citizens the freedom to choose and we are reducing red tape. That is what we should do in order to allow citizens to exercise their right to free movement.

The negotiations on this file, which represent the first cross-border cooperation in this area, have involved a lot of technical work and a lot of time in order for delegations to understand the underlying issues and the differences between the legal systems. An important part of this work went into trying to accommodate the concerns of the UK and Ireland. The future regulation, which is now on the table, already constitutes a fair compromise which the UK and Ireland should be able to accept because there are substantial benefits in it for their citizens. At any rate, even if we decide on this without the participation of the UK and Ireland, they will of course always have the possibility of opting in later.

On the information question, I agree absolutely with Members of this House that it will be important, once this piece of legislation comes into force, to inform citizens about their rights and their possibilities. The European Council of Notaries has designed a website, with the financial support of the Commission, in 22 languages, in order to inform citizens about what the new rules will bring to them. I think it is very important that notaries in all the participating Member States will be informed and will inform their clients about the new possibilities available to them.

 
  
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  President. – Mr Lechner, my dear Kurt, please accept my congratulations and my wishes for your good health; I trust that your knowledge and experience will be invested for the good of Europe of the people.

I consider myself to be very lucky to have had the good fortune to work with you during our previous term of office in the Committee on Legal Affairs.

 
  
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  Kurt Lechner, rapporteur. (DE) Mr President, thank you very much for your kind words regarding my departure. That will take place in exactly four days’ and 150 minutes’ time, and I can say that I will make every effort to ensure that it is as long as possible before the blessings of this Regulation are applicable to me.

I would like to thank all of my fellow Members for their valuable contributions and also for their appreciation. However, I would, in particular, like to thank the Commission once again. We worked together splendidly and that is why we have succeeded in achieving a result here.

It is in the nature of this matter and the diversity in the way in which people live and the conflicts of aim in this complex situation that there cannot be an all-round satisfactory solution for every possible scenario. Questions and problems will always remain. In this regard, I agree with everything that Mr Berlinguer said here. However, I would like to say to Ms Regner that there has probably been a misunderstanding here. It is not the case that clawback and estate administration are not regulated. In the case of clawback, it is a question of how gifts are covered by the indefeasible interests during the person’s lifetime, and this matter is regulated. It is just that it is not regulated in the way that the United Kingdom or Ireland would have liked. Whether a different common solution will be arrived at at some point is another question, and Mr Batten has clearly overlooked the fact that for citizens of the United Kingdom who live in France or Belgium or who have land or property in France, Belgium or even in other Member States, the law of a foreign country rather than that of the United Kingdom already applies.

Let us now get a few years of practical experience and clarification under our belts and then consideration can be given to how we can take this further. I personally could imagine, for example, that we could extend the freedom of testators to choose their arrangements and also the options for the choice of law somewhat in 10 or 20 years’ time, but that is a matter for the future.

In any case, we are making a huge improvement that will benefit citizens, as well as the courts and authorities. This Regulation represents a huge step forward for citizens and sets a milestone in European legal history.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at 12:30 tomorrow, Tuesday, 13 March 2012.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Sebastian Valentin Bodu (PPE), in writing.(RO) The importance of cross-border successions within the European Union has been repeatedly emphasised. The diversity of substantive law rules, the rules on international jurisdiction or applicable law, the multitude of authorities that can notified in the case of an international succession, as well as the fragmentation of successions that may result from these divergent rules constitute obstacles to the free movement of persons within the European Union. Citizens are currently facing significant difficulties asserting their rights in the context of an international succession. These different rules prevent the full exercise of the private property right which, according to the settled case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, is an integral part of the fundamental rights whose observance is ensured by the Court.

In my opinion, there must be clear indications of the situations where the issuing of a European Certificate of Succession is required. If the succession does not have cross-border implications, the national procedure shall continue to be followed. Since the European Certificate of Succession replaces the national certificate and since the legislation of a Member State contains different stipulations relating to the national certificate of succession, I think the European Certificate of Succession needs to contain both European elements considered minimal and mandatory and any additional elements stipulated by the national legislations.

 
  
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  Louis Grech (S&D), in writing. I welcome the Lechner report as it will help to establish further clarity and legal certainty for both the testator as well as for his heirs on his demise. With an estimated 12.3 million Europeans living in another EU country and 450 000 international successions per year which are in total valued at more than EUR 120 billion, it makes sense for the implications linked to cross-border successions to be discussed and even tackled at EU level. Nevertheless, the public policy aspects and principal national traditions in the field of succession distinct to each Member State should be respected, and should neither be encroached upon nor undermined by this Commission proposal. The fact that certain Member States have utilised the opt-out clause sends a strong message that certain countries disagree with elements of this proposal. This should be addressed and resolved – the main objective of this regulation is to eliminate or at least minimise the fragmentation which is currently prevalent in the field of succession at EU level and not to construct further barriers between Member States.

 
  
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  Erminia Mazzoni (PPE), in writing.(IT) This proposal for a directive introduces a system of judicial cooperation between Member States on matters of succession, where the deceased has widespread interests in countries other than that of their habitual residence. I would like to express my appreciation for the work done by the rapporteur, Mr Lechner, who has succeeded in encapsulating the various approaches into one text, summarising them in a comprehensive set of rules. At a juridical level, it protects the primary interest which is to obtain a simplified succession procedure, firmly linking provisions to worthy principles (protection of heirs, legatees and creditors until now penalised in cross-border successions) and innovative procedures (introduction of the European Certificate of Succession and the freedom of testators to choose which law to apply to their succession). At a political level, the removal of barriers between Member States, of any kind, even regarding the law, is a great step towards the creation of a common space governed by shared laws, where people can truly identify themselves as European citizens.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI), in writing. – (DE) Around 10% of successions in the EU have foreign elements relating to another Member State. It represents a total value of around EUR 123 billion. As the various rules in inheritance law are so different throughout Europe, cross-border successions can be very complicated. In order to establish which legal system is applicable, it makes sense to link this to the testator’s place of residence. On the other hand, people who live in a foreign country, but who wish their succession to be handled in accordance with the law of their home country, must be able to specify this in their will. It is important that we do not see the disintegration of inheritance in Europe. In this regard, a European Certificate of Succession will enable relatives to prove their position as heirs without a great deal of red tape. The process is thereby simplified and disputes avoided. However, the European Certificate of Succession should be restricted to cross-border cases. Harmonisation beyond that is not necessary.

 
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