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Contract Law Workshops on the 2003 Action Plan

On 16 and 23 June 2003, the Commission held workshops on the European Contract Law Action Plan.

The first workshop (16 June) provided a forum for Member States, Acceding Countries and stakeholders to express their views on the Action Plan. This initiative was carried out further to our commitment in the Action Plan to an "open, wide-ranging and detailed debate". The second workshop (23 June) consisted of an information session for researchers wishing to conduct research under the 6th Framework Programme. DG Research provided practical information on the application procedure for funding and aimed to answer any queries on this subject.

During the second workshop researchers were informed of any feedback from the first workshop which may be relevant to their research.

Operational results from the June 2003 Workshops

The first workshop (16th June) provided a forum for Member States, Acceding Countries and stakeholders to provide us with feedback. Discussion was focused on Measure I: 'To increase the coherence of the EC acquis in the area of contract law' and in addition time was set aside for general comments on Measure III: 'To examine non sector-specific measures such as an optional instrument'.

It has already become clear from the consultations and discussions in Council and European Parliament (EP), which are still ongoing, that Community institutions and stakeholders want to be involved in the preparation and elaboration of the Common Frame of Reference (CFR). Therefore the more focussed discussion on Measure I thus input was sought along the following lines.

  • The first aim was to receive input from Member States, Acceding Countries and stakeholders on the research priorities for the CFR. Particular emphasis was placed on the question of which areas would, in their opinion, require further research to ensure that the preparation of the CFR takes into account the practical needs of economic operators.

  • Participants were asked for suggestions on how to involve Member States, the EP and stakeholders during the preparation via research and elaboration by the Commission of the CFR. The above-mentioned expression of the importance of the involvement of EC institutions and stakeholders was unambiguously confirmed during the workshop.
There seemed to be a consensus that this involvement has to take place in an efficient and systematic manner. The use of a-hoc consultations or questionnaires as a means of engaging stakeholders was criticised. A distinction has begun to emerge between involvement at the political level and involvement at the expert level. At the technical level it was suggested that access to relevant drafts via a web-site and regular discussion fora with practitioners would be practicable and would further facilitate stakeholder involvement.

Concerning the sources of the research work, there was a large consensus that existing research should be used as far as possible and that international agreements such as the Convention on the International Sale of Goods should be taken into account. In general, the existing acquis communautaire and national legal orders should form the basis of research on the CFR. In particular, stakeholders from the Common Law Member States made the point that the legal traditions of the Common law should not be neglected. Concerning the possible structure of the CFR, it was envisaged to have some general principles - comparable to recitals - as a basis for common definitions and rules. The need for a common terminology was underlined by numerous participants.

With respect to the CFR the points mentioned relating to general contract law are as follows: conclusion of contracts, circumstances under which declarations of intent are held to be valid, rules on form requirements, duties to inform and sanctions for failure to inform, rights of withdrawal, prescription periods, non-performance and remedies, the rules governing the authority of agents, rules governing liability and extent of liability and the rules governing the method by which standard contract terms are accepted by the parties. In particular, attention was drawn to the importance of mandatory national provisions. Among the specific contract types, the contracts of sale and the services contracts were mentioned. The need for the inclusion of rules on insurance contracts was repeatedly put forward. Finally the rules on credit securities on movable goods and clauses relating to the retention of title were also mentioned.

The second workshop (23rd June) was primarily for researchers who may form networks of excellence.

Participants had the opportunity to ask questions on the Action Plan. They presented their research projects. Member States as well as research groups also had the opportunity question the researchers on the basis of their proposed plans for research. A representative of DG Research introduced the 6th Framework Programme and answered questions on practical details.

The Commission also intends to hold a third workshop on the Action Plan, which is scheduled to take place in autumn 2003. This workshop will aim to focus more on Measure II: 'To promote the elaboration of EU-wide general contract terms'.



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