Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Reding on the future of European contract law

Last Friday, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding delivered a keynote speech at the “Towards a european contract law” conference in Leuven. Unfortunately, this speech did not have the same aesthetic elegance as an earlier speech on the topic of cloud computing by Reding, but it is still worth devoting a couple of lines to it.

In her speech, Reding gives a brief overview of the development of European contract law. The speech comes in the usual politically correct forms, but some lines may come in handy the next time you write about European consumer policy. For example. Reding argues that “In many ways, today is a “moment of truth” for European Contract Law.”

In her speech, Reding gives a brief overview of the development of European contract law, including the recent developments concerning the work of the expert group (existing of mainly academics) and the sounding board, made up of representatives of the legal profession, businesses and consumers. Reding also shortly discusses the contributions to the public consultation, presenting different options for the future of European contract law, concluding that the responses show ‘a high degree of controversy about what the Commission should do next.’

Not surprisingly, Reding does at this point not favour full harmonisation of European contract law, nor a compulsory European Code. As expected, the way forward in the view of the Commission is an optional instrument. In a climate of – be it mild – euroscepticism, taking little steps seems the Commission’s only way forward in the process of the development of European private law.

Reding stresses that in the process of making an optional instruments, four issues of concern deserve special attention:
1) It must be made sure that if consumers opt for the instrument they do this consciously, i.e. not by accident;
2) The optional instrument must take into account the reality of the modern information society;
3) The optional instrument must be made effective for small- and medium sized companies;
4) It must be decided whether the optional instrument can only be applies in cross-border transactions or also to domestic transactions.

A proposal by the Commission is expected in November this year.

To read the speech, click here.

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