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Last update: 16-05-2007
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Jurisdiction of the courts - Community law

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A complete set of rules on jurisdiction within the European Union determines the courts of which Member State are competent

If you are in involved in a dispute with a company, a professional person, your employer or somebody else from another Member State you have to find out which Member State's courts have jurisdiction. The answer to this question might have significant consequences. If you have to litigate abroad you may have to face additional inconveniences and costs, for example because of the necessity to translate your statements, to hire a lawyer in the Member State where proceedings take place or to travel to court hearings.

In 2000 the European Union adopted Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters that lays down the rules on jurisdiction for court cases with an international dimension involving more than one Member State. It replaced and modified the content of the Brussels Convention on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters that had been concluded by the Member States in 1968.

This Regulation is directly applicable throughout the Union, except in Denmark. Matters of jurisdiction between Denmark and the other Member States are still governed by the 1968 Brussels Convention.

The provisions of the Regulation only direct you to the Member State whose courts have jurisdiction. The determination of the competent individual court within that Member State is left to its domestic procedural law. To obtain useful information on the legislation on jurisdiction in the area of civil and commercial claims in a Member State click on the flag of that country.

What are the main principles of the Regulation as regards jurisdiction?

In general the factor determining jurisdiction is the domicile of the defendant. Persons domiciled in a Member State shall, whatever their nationality, be sued in the courts of that Member State. Nevertheless, the Regulation contains a number of provisions that depart from this principle and allow court proceedings to be brought in another Member State other than where the defendant is domiciled. The most important examples of these special rules are:
  • in matters relating to a contractual obligation a person can be sued in the courts for the place of performance of that obligation. For example, the German vendor of a lorry can be sued in Italy if that is where the vehicle was to be delivered.
  • in an action for damages the courts of the place where the harmful event occurred are competent. Thus, in the case of a traffic accident that happened in Greece between a British tourist and a Greek local, the Greek plaintiff can use the Greek courts. Sometimes the place of the event giving rise to liability in tort (e.g. the emission of toxic substances into a river in France) and the place where that event results in damage (e.g. harm to plants irrigated with the water of the polluted river in Belgium) are not located in the same Member State. In that case the plaintiff is free to choose the courts of either of those Member States.
  • in matters relating to maintenance the maintenance creditor can turn to the courts of the Member State in which he himself is domiciled.
  • in some contractual relationships that are characterised by a marked imbalance of power between the parties such as matters relating to consumer contracts, to insurance and to individual contracts of employment the weaker party is deemed to be in need of special protection. As a general rule, the weaker parties (the consumer, the insured, the employee) can only be sued in the Member State where they are domiciled. The stronger parties (the dealer, the insurer, the employer), on the other hand, can also be sued, sometimes subject to certain conditions, in the Member State where the weaker party is domiciled or (as regards employment contracts) carries out his work.

The rules on special jurisdiction listed above constitute an additional option for the plaintiff who can also choose to sue the defendant in the courts of the Member State in which that person is domiciled. There are, however, also some cases of so-called exclusive jurisdiction that do not supplement but replace the jurisdiction based on the defendant's domicile. For example,


  • in matters relating to the ownership or tenancy of immovable property only the courts of the Member State where the property is situated have jurisdiction.
  • in matters relating to rights that have to be registered such as patents or trademarks the courts of the Member State in which the registration has taken place are exclusively competent.
  • subject to some conditions the parties also have the possibility of freely choosing the Member State whose courts are to have jurisdiction. Such a choice of court agreement usually leads to the exclusive competence of the courts of the chosen Member State unless the parties stipulate otherwise.
Subject to certain exceptions, the mere fact that the defendant enters an appearance in court leads to the jurisdiction of the courts of that Member State even if they are not ordinarily competent.

Please note that the above description of the rules on jurisdiction in the Regulation is neither exhaustive nor sufficiently thorough to allow a reliable assessment of the issue of jurisdiction in a concrete case.

What happens if proceedings concerning the same dispute are brought in two Member States?

It may happen that both parties to a dispute initiate court proceedings on the same matter in different Member States. For example, after a traffic accident between two persons living in Germany and France, respectively, it could be that they both sue one another for damages in the Member State of the other party's domicile. In that situation the Regulation basically establishes a “first come first served” rule. The second court used has to stay its proceedings and wait for the other court to decide on its jurisdiction. If the first court considers itself competent the other court has to dismiss the case. Only if the first court comes to the conclusion that it does not have jurisdiction can the other court continue its proceedings.

Reference documents

  • Opinion of the Court 1/03, 07.02.2006: Competence of the Community to conclude the new Lugano Convention on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters
  • Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters
  • Declaration Fichier PDF (PDF File 70 KB) on Articles 15 and 73 of Regulation 44/2001 by the Council and the Commission
  • 1968 Brussels Convention on jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (consolidated version)

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Last update: 16-05-2007

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