On 10 February 2020, the European Commission announced its intention to open a process of consultation to get feedback from citizen and stakeholders on whether the EU should join the Hague Convention of 2 July 2019 on the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments in civil or commercial matters (the Hague Judgments Convention).
In the words of the Commission, the EU has put in place a highly developed internal acquis for the cross-boder recognition and enforcement of judgments, as a necessary complement to its single market. By way of contrast, at the international level the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters has, until recently, not been successfully regulated, even if some bilateral agreements between States exist.
Currently, civil or commercial judgments rendered by courts in the European Union can be recognised and enforced in a third country only in a limited number of situations, namely: (i) based on the 2005 Choice of Court Convention, which has a limited scope; (ii) in Iceland, Norway and Switzerland based on the Lugano Convention; (iii) based on a limited number of bilateral treaties between individual Member States and third States; (iv) based on multilateral treaties related to particular matters; or (v) on the basis of the national law of third States, sometimes subject to reciprocity.
The Commission believes that the adoption in July 2019 of the Hague Judgments Convention may change the situation just described. Moreover, it claims that a future proposal for EU accession to the Judgments Convention would be in line with the objectives set out in the Political Guidelines for the European Commission (2019-2024), in particular related to “An economy that works for people”.
The policy objectives of the EU accession to the Judgments Convention would be: to enhance access to justice for EU businesses and citizens through a system that facilitates the recognition and enforcement of judgments everywhere in the world where the debtor happens to have assets; to increase legal certainty for those involved in international trade and investment; to reduce costs for businesses and citizens involved in international dealings or in international dispute resolution; to allow the recognition and enforcement of third-country judgments in the EU only where fundamental principles of EU law are respected, such as for instance the right to a fair trial, and which do not affect the EU acquis related to the internal recognition and enforcement of judgments.
As for the policy options, the Commission puts forward the following:
Option 0: Baseline scenario: no policy change. The Union will thus not accede to the Judgments Convention and the current status quo will continue. However, given the EU’s active involvement in these negotiations and the fact that its results reflect EU’s policy interests, this scenario is taken into account mainly as a benchmark in order to assess the other options.
Option 1a: The Union will accede to the Judgments Convention without making any declaration.
Option 1b: The Union will accede to the Judgments Convention, excluding certain matters reflecting the EU’s policy objective of protecting weaker parties, such as consumers, employees or, in matters relating to insurance, the policyholder, the insured or the beneficiary, or/and certain matters falling under the exclusive jurisdiction of EU courts, for instance with regard to disputes relating to tenancies or commercial lease of immovable property.
Option 1c: The Union will accede to the Judgments Convention excluding State entities from the application of the Convention
Option 1d: A combination of options 1b and 1c
The Commission’s preliminary assessment of acceding to the Convention points to a positive outcome in economic terms, coupled with an improvement of growth and investment, thus of employment (the Commission acknowledges nontheless that as trade and investment of companies from outside the EU might also increase, some negative economic impacts in the short term cannot be excluded for EU competitors).
From the point of view of access to justice, signing the Convention would have postive implications as well. In terms of administrative burdens, the Commission is once again optimistic: although some Member States with a simple system for recognition and enforcement would face some negative impact if the new system based on the Judgments Convention is implemented, the Commission believes that such possible negative impacts would be offset by the important economic benefits.
The public consultation on the above-mentioned policy objectives and options, and on the likely impacts of signing the Convention, will be launched in March/April 2020 and run for a minimum period of 12 weeks. It will be available via the Commission’s central public consultations page; the questionnaires will be available in English, French and German but the replies can be made in any of the 24 official languages.
An in-depth Study on the Hague Judgements Convention Draft of November 2017, requested by the JURI Committee of the EU Parliament, to a large extent, still valid under the final version, can be downloaded here; it includes a chapter devoted to the relationship with the EU rules, and policy recommendations on the position of the EU vis-à-vis the Convention. A detailed explanation of the Convention as adopted is provided by A. Bonomi (Professor at the University of Laussane) and C. Mariottini (Senior Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute Luxembourg) at the Yearbook of Private International Law, vol. 20 (2018/2019), pp. 537-567.