Situations involving people living in different countries are proliferating and with them the risks of conflicts of law and jurisdiction.
These cases are often trickier than others because a number of questions will arise even before the issues at stake are considered. For example: which country's courts will have jurisdiction to deal with the case, what law will the court apply, what system of legal aid will operate, how can a judgment given in one country be enforced in another, and so on?
To make life easier for individuals and to help the legal practitioners, the European Union has adopted, or is planning to adopt, a large number of rules to settle all these questions.
Since 1999, with the Amsterdam Treaty, it has been possible to adopt Community rules in the fields of civil and commercial law.
For example the European Union can adopt:
Contrary to traditional international law, which is addressed primarily to States, Community law is addressed to individuals and firms.
Regulations are directly applicable in all Member States, with two chief consequences:
Directives, on the other hand, have to be “transposedâ€� , that is to say the Member States have to incorporate them into their national law. They enjoy some freedom to decide how to go about doing this.
- Anybody can rely directly on a Regulation in support of his argument, in the courts as elsewhere;
- Regulations apply in the same way throughout the Union, which obviously makes it easier to settle conflicts between residents in different countries.
Directives do not have the same direct effect as Regulations, since they do not themselves directly generate rights and obligations for individuals. But national legislation will have to be interpreted in the light of the principles of directives, even if it predates them.
Community regulations and directives are part of the Member States' legal systems, and prevail over statutes and other national sources of law. In other words the courts must disapply a national statute if it is contrary to Community law.
Last update: 02-08-2007