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EC’s Initiative on Recognition of Parenthood – An Update

The European Commission (EC) set out an initiative Recognition of parenthood between Member StatesAs underlined by the EC, the initiative aims to ensure that parenthood, as established in one EU country, is recognised across the EU, so that children maintain their rights in cross-border situations, in particular when their families travel or move within the EU. Currently, in certain circumstances they might see the parenthood not recognised, which in turn might result in adverse consequences for the child (for example, obstacles in obtaining a passport or an identity card).

These problems might be easily illustrated by the background of the case, which resulted in a very recent judgement of the Court of Justice in Stolichna obshtina, rayon “Pancharevo” (C-490/20). See posts on this blog on the attitude of administrative authorities of some Member States, on the example of Bulgaria and AG Kokott’s opinion as to its implications in EU law, especially the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU – respectively – here and here.

Inception Impact Assessment

As reminded in the inception impact assessment published in Spring 2021, there is currently no instrument on the recognition of parenthood at the international level. The Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) is engaged in exploring the possibilities of tackling this issue (information about these works might be found at HCCH website here). In the EU, each Member State applies its own law on the recognition of civil status records/judgements on parenthood handed down in another Member State. On the one hand, under EU treaties, substantive family law falls within the competence of Member States. Their substantive rules on the establishment and recognition of parenthood differ. On the other hand, the EU has competence to adopt measures concerning family law with cross-border implications pursuant to Article 81(3) TFEU. These measures can include the adoption of common conflict rules and the adoption of common procedures for the recognition of judgments issued in other Member States. The EC plans to present a proposal of the regulation by the third quarter of 2022.

Public Consultation

The EC has also lunched a public consultation. The outcome of the consultation was recently published (and is available here). Although collected answers are not necessary representative for the whole EU (interestingly, out of 389 answers 112 come from Slovakia), they indicate that indeed there are instances where parenthood was not recognised as between Member State.

(…) the cases mainly involved a child born out of surrogacy (37% or 116 responses), followed by a child born out of assisted reproductive technology (ART) (23% or 73 responses) and second parent adoption by the partner of the biological parent (21% or 65 responses). Other cases in which parenthood was not recognised included parenthood established by operation of law (14% or 45 responses) and adoption by two parents (10% or 30 responses). Adoption by one single parent and establishment of parenthood over an adult were not recognised according to 6% (or 18 responses) and 3% (or 8 responses) respectively.

As specified by respondents, the primary reason for not recognising parenthoods established in another Member State is that the recognition of parenthood is contrary to the national law of the Member State [or rather a public policy of that Member State? – AWB] where recognition is sought (72% or 184 responses) (…)

Expert Group

The Expert Group was set up to advise EC on the preparation of this new legislative initiative. The Group has met already on several occasions. As  minutes of these meeting reveal (see here for details), the Group was discussing, inter alia, the very notion of “recognition” with respect to parenthood, which often is confirmed by an administrative document, for example the birth certificate.

(…) existing Union instruments address the circulation of authentic instruments under three possible forms: acceptance, only enforcement and recognition and enforcement, and that by definition enforcement is not applicable to the status of persons. The group considered that acceptance may refer only to the evidentiary effects of the facts recorded in the document but not to the existence of a legal relationship, such that only recognition would be relevant for the purposes of the planned regulation on parenthood. 

It was thus agreed that the term ‘recognition’ should be used in the proposal as it refers not only to the factual elements but also to the legal effects of the authentic instrument. 

Enhanced Cooperation?

It might be added that adoption of a regulation under Article 81(3) TFEU requires unanimity. As a result, so far regulations aimed at unifying international family law were adopted within enhanced cooperation, due to lack of such unanimity (for example, the Divorce Regulation). The side effect is that these regulations are applied only in participating Member States, which undermines the unification efforts of the EU. Hence, there is a risk that non-participating Member States could be the ones, in which the problem of non-recognition of parenthood established in another Member State is more pressing than in other ones.

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