Friday, 11 November 2011

European (legal) culture & consumers

The best part of my working day today consisted of reading a part of a thesis manuscript dedicated to the cultural dimension of national resistance against the 'Europeanisation of private law'. Having come to the end of the chapter, it seemed interesting to look at possible references to 'legal culture' in the recent proposal for a Common European Sales Law. So here is what I found..

Recital (1) of the proposed Regulation states:
'(...) From the range of obstacles to cross-border trade including tax regulations, administrative requirements, difficulties in delivery, language and culture, traders consider the difficulty in finding out the provisions of a foreign contract law among the top barriers in business-to-consumer transactions and in business-to-business transactions. (...)' (emphasis added)

And the conclusions of the Communication accompanying the proposal say:
'It is also an innovative approach because, in line with the principle of proportionality, it preserves Member States’ legal traditions and cultures whilst giving the choice to businesses to use it.'

It shows that the current initiatives in the field of European contract law steer clear, as far as possible, from interference with the legal traditions and cultures of the Member States. This is confirmed by the fact that the proposed CESL does not include any provisions on topics that generally engage (culturally determined) values, in particular the morality of contracts. It differs in this respect from previous academic proposals for comprehensive sets of contract law rules, such as the PECL and DCFR.

Does this mean that the CESL should be considered not to touch upon any questions of legal culture? Interestingly, in a speech that Commissioner Viviane Reding gave in Leuven in June of this year (on which we posted earlier) she remarked that:
'In the long run, the optional instrument on European Contract Law needs to become embedded in a European legal culture where lawyers, judges and academics progressively develop a joint understanding of the principles of private law as they are common to the legal systems of our Member States and of the evolving acquis communautaire.'

But what then is meant by a 'European legal culture'? In this context, more food for thought can be found in a recent article by Jürgen Habermas on 'Europe's post-democratic era', in which he submits that:
'A Europe-wide civic solidarity cannot emerge if social inequalities between the member states become permanent structural features along the fault lines separating poor from rich nations. The union must guarantee what the constitution of the German Federal Republic calls the "uniformity of living standards". This "uniformity" refers only to a range of variation in social living conditions that is still acceptable from the perspective of distributive justice, not to the levelling of cultural differences.' (emphasis added)

To be continued...

And as a final note here: European legal culture will be the theme of a conference that is being organised in Oxford mid December (more information will follow on this blog), which promises an interesting discussion and - talking about culture & consumers - presents an excellent opportunity to go and see Leonardo in London.

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