On 26 April 2021, the European Parliament adopted a legislative resolution on the Council position at first reading in a view to the adoption of a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the Justice Programme 2021-2027, repealing Regulation 1382/2013. After the parliamentary debate on 27 April, the final act was signed on 28 April.
The (future) regulation (see here the version of the outcome of the trilogue), based on Articles 81(1) and 82(1) TFEU, lays down the objectives of the Justice Programme for the period 2021-2027, the dedicated European budget, the forms of Union funding and the rules for providing such funding (see Article 1). It is part of the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework.
This regulation is of great interest for Private International Law (PIL) experts since it sketches the key-orientations of the European Justice policy – including its cross-border dimension – for the coming years. Therefore, it should be a source of inspiration for scholars drafting research projects in the field and applying for EU funding.
Background: The 2018 Proposal of the Commission
In its interim evaluation of the implementation of the (previous) Justice Programme for the period 2014-2020 (published in June 2018 here), the European Commission stated that the Programme – and the funds invested – contributed “to upholding EU values (such as the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the effectiveness of the justice) and to supporting Member States to achieve more effective justice systems”. This observation clearly underpinned the proposalmade by the Commission in May 2018 for the regulation establishing the new Justice Programme. Indeed, as underlying by the European Parliamentary Research Service in a recent briefing, the promotion of the rule of law as one of the EU’s founding values pursuant to Article 2 TEU lies at the heart of the proposal. Other key-aspects of the future regulation are the promotion of (gender) equality and the protection of vulnerable individuals such as children.
Looking ahead, these are main avenues for PIL researchers to be explored.
Achievements: The 2020 Amended Regulation
The European Parliament proposed a number of amendments to the EC proposal aiming at strengthening social inclusion within the European Justice system (see the first reading version here). In that sense, the Parliament successfully drafted a “mainstreaming clause” laying down that “in the implementation of all of its actions, the Programme shall seek to promote gender equality, the rights of the child, inter alia by means of child-friendly justice, the protection of victims and the effective application of the principle of equal rights and non-discrimination based on any of the grounds listed in Article 21 of the Charter, in accordance with and within the limits set by Article 51 of the Charter”.
Best Interests of the child and PIL
The great attention drawn to the child within the European Justice system “in progress” is certainly to be read with recent developments of EU PIL, such as the recent recast of the Brussels II Regulation which refers, several times, to the best interests of the child regarding, for instance, the grounds of jurisdiction in matters of parental responsibility, the hearing of the child or the decision on the placement of a child… But also with forthcoming legislation, such as the preparation of a proposal for a regulation on the recognition of parenthood between Member States.
As argued by the European Commission, “the goal of this initiative is to ensure that children will maintain their rights in cross-border situations, in particular where families travel or move within the Union” and the proposal “will be guided by the best interests of the child as its paramount consideration” (see the call for application for the selection of members of the expert group on the recognition of parenthood between member states). As reported in this blog (here), the Court of Justice is also dealing with this topical issue. The main target objective is that the rights derived by children from European Union law following Article 3, (3) 2 in fine TEU and article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights ought to be safeguarded under domestic law – including PIL – within national Justice systems of the Member States.
LGB People and PIL
In addition, the Parliament successfully proposed to specifically refer to LGBTQI people, beside other vulnerable individuals within the Justice system, in the preamble of the regulation. Pursuant to recital 10, “[training] activities should also include training courses for judges, lawyers and prosecutors in relation to the challenges and obstacles experienced by people who frequently face discrimination or are in a vulnerable situation, such as women, children, minorities, LGBTIQ persons, persons with disabilities, and victims of gender-based violence, domestic violence or violence in intimate relationships, and other forms of interpersonal violence”.
Such an amendment echoes recent European legal developments with obvious PIL dimensions. First, the Commission adopted few month ago a communication titled LGBTIQ Equality Strategy 2020-2025. Among various issues to be addressed, the communication highlights the legal difficulties for trans, non-binary and intersex people to be “recognised in law or in practice […] including in cross border situations”, affecting both their private and family life (see point 3). Following a transnational analytical approach, links may be made with ongoing academic research on Gender and Private International Law (see the project conducted at the MPI for comparative and international private Law).
Second, the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions requested, few months ago, a study in the broader context of free movement of LGB persons within the European Union, authored by Alina Tryfonidou (University of Reading) and Robert Wintemute (King’s College London). It states that “in many cases, when a border between EU Member States is crossed, the [rainbow] couple ceases to be legally a couple, becoming instead two unrelated individuals, and their child or children go from having two legal parents to only one legal parent or (in a few cases involving surrogacy) no legal parents” (page 9). One recommendation made by the authors is for the Commission to propose a legislation “requiring all Member States to recognise the adults listed in a child’s birth certificate as the legal parents of the child, regardless of the adults’ sexes or marital status” (page 98). As mentioned above, the Commission is following this path.
The Rule of Law and PIL
Finally, the Justice Programme aims at supporting “the further development of a Union area of justice based on the rule of law, the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, mutual recognition and mutual trust, access to justice and cross-border cooperation” (see Recital 2 and Article 3). In that sense, the amended regulation expressly refers to the newly adopted rule of law conditionality regulation (December 2020, reported here). In simple words, under this legal framework, payments from the EU budget can be interrupted, reduced, or suspended in case of breaches of the principles of the rule of law by an EU Member State. The conditionality regulation will be applicable in the implementation of the new Justice Programme (see Recital 30 of the future regulation).
Under a PIL perspective, respecting the rule of law in the Member States is crucial for ensuring mutual trust between national Justice systems and allowing mutual recognition of decisions in civil matters. Then, from a broader analytical view, one key-issue for PIL experts could certainly be the interrelation between PIL (i.e. its rules, methodology and objectives) and the rule of law, within the European judicial area and beyond. This reflection is in line with the recent caselaw of the Court of justice assessing the conformity with EU law of provisions of national law which are liable to affect the requirements of effective judicial protection, pursuant to Articles 2 and 19 TEU, combined with Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (see the CJEU judgment in Repubblika reported here).
In this context, in case of serious doubts of domestic judicial independence in a given Member State, one could ask whether (and under which conditions) article 47 of the Charter, which enshrines the right to an effective remedy before a tribunal for every person whose rights guaranteed by EU law are infringed, may be duly invoked by a litigant to remove the application of a ground of jurisdiction laying down by EU PIL (see the CJUE judgements in PARKING and more recently in Obala i lučice and para. 129 of the opinion of Advocate General M. Bobek). Or to rely on the public policy exception in a cross-border enforcement proceedings (see already the CJUE judgement in Donnellan)?
New kinds of breach of effective judicial protection in cross-border litigation may also occur in the near future, notably in the “digitalised” judicial system promoted by the EU (as reported here).