COVID – or rather, its consequences on legal relationships – has arrived to the CJEU in the form of a request for a preliminary ruling of the Austrian Oberster Gerichtshof. The question submitted in case C-18/21, Uniqa Versicherungen, relates to Regulation No 1896/2006 creating a European order for payment procedure. It reads as follows:
Are Articles 20 and 26 [of the Regulation] to be interpreted as meaning that those provisions preclude an interruption of the 30-day period for lodging a statement of opposition to a European order for payment, as provided for in Article 16(2) of that Regulation, by Paragraph 1(1) of the Austrian [Federal Law on accompanying measures for COVID-19 in the administration of justice], pursuant to which all procedural periods in proceedings in civil cases for which the event triggering the period occurs after 21 March 2020 or which have not yet expired by that date are to be interrupted until the end of 30 April 2020 and are to begin to run anew from 1 May 2020?
The request was made in the following context.
The District Court for Commercial Matters of Vienna issued a European order for payment on 6 March 2020, which was served on the defendant, who is resident in Germany, on 4 April 2020. The latter lodged a statement of opposition which was posted on 18 May 2020. The court of first instance rejected the opposition as being out of time, on the ground that the objection had not been filed within the 30-day period provided for by Article 16(2) of Regulation No 1896/2006.
The Commercial Court of Vienna, ruling on the appeal on the merits, set that order aside. It held that the period for lodging a statement of opposition under Article 16(2) of the Regulation had been interrupted pursuant to Paragraph 1(1) of the Austrian Federal Law on accompanying measures for COVID-19 in the administration of justice. The applicant’s appeal on a point of law was directed against that decision, and sought to have the order of the court of first instance restored.
Article 20 of the Regulation provides for the review of the European order for payment before the competent court in the Member State of origin in exceptional cases – in the case at hand the relevant para would be 1 (b). According to Article 26, all procedural issues not specifically dealt with in the Regulation are governed by national law.
(And: among the argument of the Austrian OGH to refer its doubts to the Court, the divergent views of scholars on the impact on the Regulation of national procedural measures due to COVID-19 is placed first. Legal literature matters).