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A German Perspective on the French Draft PIL Code

This post was written by Stefan Leible and Felix M. Wilke (both University of Bayreuth). It is the fourth in a series of posts on the French draft code of private international law of March 2022 (the previous posts in the series discussed the issues of renvoiforeign law and the recognition of marriages celebrated abroad). It is based on an article by the authors (in French) forthcoming in the Revue critique de droit international privé. The English manuscript of that article can be found here.

The outlook that France might soon have a full private international law (PIL) code can cause some envy in a German PIL scholar. After all, Germany does not have – nor will it have it in the foreseeable future – such a code. To be sure, a big part of German conflict-of-laws provisions can be found in one place, i.e. the Introductory Act to the Civil Code (EGBGB). But this Act overall is not limited to PIL issues. Moreover, there is no piece of legislation exclusively and comprehensively devoted to questions of cross-border proceedings in civil matters. International jurisdiction outside the scope of EU law typically must be determined by applying the rules for local jurisdiction/venue “double-functionally” (on the prevalence of this concept in the EU, see here). And while the German Code of Civil Procedure (ZPO) expressly addresses other cross-border issues (such as service abroad or recognition and enforcement of foreign decisions), it only does so in the context of the respective subject matter (e.g. service in general and effects of decisions in general). Hence, these provisions are scattered across the Code.

Nevertheless, we hope some remarks from a German perspective may be of interest. At the risk of coming across as stereotypical German (PIL) scholars, we focus on the General Part of the Draft Code in this contribution. The readers may rest assured that our forthcoming article in the Revue critique de droit international privé has a broader approach.

Idea and Scope of the General Part

The general part (Book I: “General Rules” = Articles 1-33) of the Draft Code contains provisions on conflict of laws as well as on procedure, including four “general general” provisions applying to both areas. The idea of “factoring out” provisions in this way obviously speaks to us, with the German Civil Code (BGB) arguably being the pinnacle of this legislative technique. True, to organize provisions in this way can run contrary to the accessibility of a legal instrument and therefore could be detrimental to one of the main goals of the Draft Code (see the Report of the Working Group (“Report”), p. 7). As the level of abstraction is still rather low, however, the advantage of not having to repeat the same provisions over and over (or at least to insert a plethora of references across the code) outweighs this risk. Furthermore, some of the general issues of PIL tend to appear to outsiders as arcane. Hence, it is beneficial for legal clarity to make some of them explicit.

The general part in the field of conflict of laws contains many of the usual suspects. It comes as no surprise in particular that there are provisions on renvoi (Article 8 of the Draft Code) and public policy (Article 11 of the Draft Code); we are not aware of any code of private international law anywhere in the world that fails to address these issues. It is commendable that a provision on characterisation (Article 6 of the Draft Code) has been drafted, following trends in other countries. The basic German approach (characterisation lege fori) is the same as in the Draft Code, but there is no provision to this effect. Of course, one of the main problems with characterisation concerns institutions unknown to the lex fori. Special conflict-of-laws provisions for such institutions make life much easier. It is thus a very good idea to have included provisions on trusts in the special part (Articles 107-114 of the Draft Code).

Renvoi and the Sword of Damocles

Article 8 of the Draft Code on renvoi has already been the subject of an insightful post by Gilles Cuniberti on this blog. We are in agreement with him that the respective reference in the Report to insights from comparative (private international) law are vague and misleading. We can add that Germany would be another example of national PIL allowing renvoi in general (Article 4(1) EGBGB).

We do not think that legal clarity is improved by making renvoi mandatory only if one of the parties so requests (Article 8 cl. 2 of the Draft Code). This would mean that applicable law at least for a considerable time has the sword of Damocles hanging over its head: Assuming that application of renvoi would lead to a different applicable law than if renvoi was excluded, the applicable law ultimately would be subject to one party choosing to “trigger” the application of renvoi or not. And why should one party have the unilateral power to change the applicable law in this way, possibly to the detriment of other parties?

The Conundrum of Overriding Mandatory Provisions

Article 7(1) of the Draft Code contains a definition of lois de police (overriding mandatory provisions). Paragraph 2 sets forth that French overriding mandatory provisions must be applied; pursuant to paragraph 3, foreign overriding mandatory provisions can be applied under certain conditions. The legislative technique thus is rather similar to Article 9 Rome I. There is no comparable provision in the EGBGB (Article 34 EGBGB – implementing the respective provision of the Rome Convention – was abolished at the end of 2009). Again, we consider it beneficial for legal clarity to have a written rule on this issue.

But the function of Article 5(2) of the Draft Code is not clear to us in this regard. It states that a conflict-of-laws rule is “excluded” (écartée) by a material rule for certain international situations or by an overriding mandatory provision. Why is this statement even needed if Article 7(2) and (3) of the Draft Code contain precise instructions of how to deal with overriding mandatory provisions? Additionally, we object to the idea arguably expressed in Article 5(2) of the Draft Code that a rule of substantive law can take precedence over a conflict-of-laws rule. This would mean to conflate two areas of law that – analytically speaking – must be strictly kept apart.

Even More General Provisions?

While the German EGBGB with only four articles in the section on “General Provisions” does not serve as an inspiring example in this context, one might consider addressing even more issues in the general part of the Draft Code. (The Report does not indicate whether this was on the Working Group’s agenda.) In particular, we are thinking of the incidental question and the triad of adaptation, substitution and transposition. All of them concern a stage in the analysis of a case in which the applicable law has seemingly already been determined. There is a certain risk that especially those not well-versed in PIL could overlook that not necessarily all aspects of the case will be governed by the law just determined and/or that some adjustments still must be made under substantive law. To include provisions on these issues, even if phrased rather broadly, could at least draw attention to them. And the French PIL Code could be something of a trailblazer here.

2 comments on “A German Perspective on the French Draft PIL Code

  1. Thanks for this very interesting post.

    Your critique on Art 5(2) of the draft code reveals that the adoption of the code would be a welcome opportunity to clarify the very French concept of “règles matérielles de droit international/du droit de l’arbitrage”. They are not only substantive rules, but substantive rules that French courts apply directly, and thus which displace choice of law analysis (like overriding mandatory provisions). In other words, they contain a implied choice of law rule providing for their systematic application by French courts. These rules dominate the French law of arbitration and in particular, the regime of the arbitration clause.

    For the sake of clarity, I think that the code should clarify the concept of règle matérielle in the meaning of the code. Yet, it is unclear whether the French want to recognise that it is a doctrine of systematic application of the lex fori. The preferred analysis is that of their truly international origin, in particular in the context of international arbitration. It would be interesting to see whether the French lawmaker would really want to assert this clearly.

  2. In arbitration or many other matters, mostly in the human rights field, there are many substantive rules with their implied international dimension, which do not call for associated conflicts of laws rules. Thus I feel that the criticism of art. 5(2) goes too far. There is a need for modernising PIL-thinking !

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