On 19 October 2021, the European Commission adopted its 2022 Work Programme, setting out its key initiatives and the next steps in the agenda for the year ahead towards a post-COVID-19 Europe greener, fairer, more digital and more resilient.
The Commission Work Programme, by informing how political priorities will be coped to turn them into concrete action, is composed of four Annexes: the first addresses new policy and legislative initiatives; then, the second is in charge of simplifying existing legislation; it follows the third, focused on pending priority legislative files the Commission would the co-legislators to take the swiftest action on; finally, as consequence of the previous ones, the forth, based on intended withdrawals of pending proposals.
Among the new policy initiatives under the Annex I, the one dealing with private international law and having Article 81 TFUE as legal basis to be relied upon relates to the recognition of parenthood between Member States.
While the establishment of this civil status governing the legal relationship between a child and another person is disciplined by the domestic family law, the recognition of the parenthood already established abroad, crucial in cases of acquisition of nationality, residence, EU citizenship, maintenance and succession, is dealt with by private international law rules. Because currently parenthood established in one Member State may not be recognised in another, problems when travelling or moving to another Member State arise, endangering the child’s rights resulting from parenthood.
This is why, in the absence of uniform private international law rules on this issue, both on applicable law and on procedures for the recognition of judgments, a Commission Proposal aimed to ensure that parenthood, as established in one Member State, is to be recognised across the EU is expected in the 2022, so that children maintain their rights in cross-border situations, in particular when their families travel or move within the Union. Surely, if this initiative combines the work to ensure that the Union of equality becomes a reality for all and the need for a less bureaucracy, in so far as promoting the free movement of public documents and recognition of the effects of civil status records, the crux of the matter, politically speaking, will relate to the recognition obstacles new forms of parenthood day-by-day face in the EU when exercising their parenthood-based rights. A tough challenge? Yes, but the Union is full of colors and “if you are parent in one country, you are parent in every country” is urgent to come a reality from a legal point of view too.
Another private international law issue pointed out to be dealt with will be to strengthen judicial cooperation on the protection of vulnerable adults in cross-border situations.
The absence of uniform private international law rules on this field of law, the diversity of Member States’ law on jurisdiction, applicable law and the recognition and enforcement of protection measures, and the limited accessions to the key international instrument in this area, mainly represented by the Hague Convention of 13 January 2000 on the international Protection of Adults, raise considerable problems. However, it remains to be discovered how this will be pursued since no specific legislative initiative is expected to be addressed in the 2022, at least at EU level by the European Commission. A missed opportunity? Given the need, it seems so.
Finally, the new policy initiatives across the six headline ambitions put forward by the President von der Leyen in the Political Guidelines, building on her 2021 State of the Union speech (i.e. “The European Green Deal”, “A Europe fit for the digital age”, “An economy that works for people”, “A stronger Europe in the world”, “Promoting our European way of life”, “A new push for European democracy”) will affect lots fields of law, private international law included; on the other, Annexes II, III and IV will not.
Therefore, the European Commission will start discussions with the Parliament and Council to establish a Joint Declaration on the EU’s legislative priorities the co-legislators agree upon to take swift action.