Developments in PIL Policy statements

European Commission 2023 Work Programme: A Union Standing Firm and United

On 18 October 2022, the European Commission adopted its 2023 Work Programme. As explained in the press release that accompanies the document, the programme aims to set out a bold and transformative agenda in the face of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, rising energy prices and the knock-on effects on the economy, while defending Europe’s democratic values and pursuing long-term goals and interests.

The initiatives that the Commission plans to take, or pursue with particular interest, in the course of 2023 are listed in three annexes.

Annex I is concerned with the new policy and legislative initiatives that the Commission intends to propose. None of the items in this Annex is based on Article 81 TFUE, on judicial cooperation in civil matters. No reference is made in the document to two topics that formed (and still form) the object of discussion among academics and stakeholder, namely the recognition of parenthood and the protection of vulnerable adults.

Annex II, on REFIT initiatives (i.e., initiatives aimed at making EU law simpler, less costly and future proof), contemplates, among other things, a revision of alternative dispute resolution and online dispute resolution framework to improve enforcement of consumer law. A strong alternative dispute resolution (ADR) framework will enable consumers and businesses to solve their disputes rapidly and at a low cost, out-of-court. The increase in online shopping during the pandemic has shown that there is room for overall simplification notably in cross-border disputes and cost-effective measures, e.g., through digital tools and collective ADR disputes mechanisms. The idea is to modernise the ADR framework in view of the rapid development of online markets and advertising and the need to ensure that consumers have access to fair, neutral and efficient dispute resolution systems.

Various procedures involving aspects of private international law are featured in Annex III, about the pending procedures that the Commission regards as a priority.

The proposed Directive on adapting non-contractual civil liability rules to artificial intelligence (the AI Liability Directive) appears in this list. Liability ranked amongst the top barriers to the use of AI by European companies. This is so because current national liability rules, in particular based on fault, are not suited to handling liability claims for damage caused by AI-enabled products and services. Under such rules, victims need to prove a wrongful action or omission by a person who caused the damage. The specific characteristics of AI, including complexity, autonomy and opacity (the so-called “black box” effect), may make it difficult or prohibitively expensive for victims to identify the liable person and prove the requirements for a successful liability claim. In particular, when claiming compensation, victims could incur very high up-front costs and face significantly longer legal proceedings, compared to cases not involving AI. Victims may therefore be deterred from claiming compensation altogether. Therefore, the objective of this proposal is to promote the rollout of trustworthy AI to harvest its full benefits for the internal market. It does so by ensuring victims of damage caused by AI obtain equivalent protection to victims of damage caused by products in general. It also reduces legal uncertainty of businesses developing or using AI regarding their possible exposure to liability and prevents the emergence of fragmented AI-specific adaptations of national civil liability rules. From a private international law perspective, the impact of the Directive and the (possible) future implementation in national rules and the relationship with the Rome II Regulation shall be investigated.

The list of priority pending procedures also include the proposed Directive on liability for defective products. Directive 85/374/EEC, which the proposal aims to repeal, has the objective to provide an EU-level system for compensating people who suffer physical injury or damage to property due to defective products. Since its adoption in 1985, there have been significant changes in the way products are produced, distributed and operated, including the modernisation of product safety and market surveillance rules. The green and digital transitions are underway and bring with them enormous benefits for Europe’s society and economy, be it by extending the life of materials and products, e.g. through remanufacturing, or by increasing productivity and convenience thanks to smart products and artificial intelligence. Therefore, the revision of the Directive seeks to ensure the functioning of the internal market, free movement of goods, undistorted competition between market operators, and a high level of protection of consumers’ health and property. In particular, it aims to: ensure liability rules reflecting the nature and risks of products in the digital age and circular economy; ensure there is always a business based in the EU that can be held liable for defective products bought directly from manufacturers outside the EU; ease the burden of proof in complex cases and ease restrictions on making claims, while ensuring a fair balance between the legitimate interests of manufacturers, injured persons and consumers in general; ensure legal certainty.

Also in the list of the Commission’s priorities is the proposed Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence. An overview of the Commission proposal has already appeared on this blog. As suggested in a recommendation of GEDIP that has recently been brought to the attention of the readers of this blog (see here), the Proposal may need to be reconsidered and improved in various respects.

Another priority pending procedure is the proposed Directive on protecting persons who engage in public participation from manifestly unfounded or abusive court proceedings (“Strategic lawsuits against public participation”, or SLAPPs). The initiative has been the object of a dedicated post on this blog.

Finally, the Commission intends to include among its priorities the initiatives it has taken regarding the digitalisation of judicial cooperation in cross-border civil and commercial matters, i.e., the proposed Directive on digitalisation of judicial cooperation and the proposed Regulation on the digitalisation of judicial cooperation and access to justice in cross-border civil, commercial and criminal matters. An illustration is found in this post.

The proposed Directive on consumer credits and the proposed Regulation on the law applicable to the third-party effects of assignments of claims equally feature in the list of the priority pending legislative proposals.

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