I was pleased to be able to attend the European Law Institute’s annual Projects Conference and General Assembly in Vienna in early September 2015. (The event took place in the Grosser Festsaal of what is now the Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, where Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was first performed on 8 December 1813. Schubert also performed there, but his famous string quartet, Der Tod und das Mädchen, was not published until 1831, three years after his death.)
The ELI was founded in June 2011 as an independent organisation that seeks to contribute to the formation of a more vigorous European legal community, integrating the achievements of the various legal cultures, endorsing the value of comparative knowledge, and taking a genuinely pan-European perspective.1 As such, its work covers all branches of the law: substantive and procedural; private and public. The Institute has high ambitions and is studying and stimulating European legal development in a global context.
To accomplish this, ELI operates on its own initiative. It is also, however, available for consultation with institutions involved in the development of law on a European, international or national level. As its perspective is not limited to the European experience, ELI is cooperating with non-European and international organisations such as the American Law Institute, the US Uniform Law Commission and UNIDROIT.
I joined ELI as a Fellow in 2013 and STEP is also an observer organisation. ELI now has over 1,000 members and 88 institutional observers.
Diana Wallis continues as President of ELI and opened and presided over proceedings.
Harriet Lansing, the immediate past President of the US Uniform Law Commission,2 delivered the opening keynote speech and offered advice gleaned from the experience of this long-standing institution, while recognising ELI’s unique position as a unifier of diverse legal traditions and cultures.
The current EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová, gave the main keynote lecture, highlighting the Commission’s views on the importance of party autonomy in family and succession matters and the forthcoming review of Brussels II bis. The Commission believes that there are now 16 million international couples (where one partner is living in a member state not of their own nationality), and that 13 per cent of new marriages and 20 per cent of new registered partnerships are international.
Christiane Wendehorst, Professor of Law at the University of Vienna, and Vice-President of ELI, led a plenary session panel discussion on ‘Empowering European families: towards more party autonomy in European family and succession law’. Christiane, Kerstin Bartsch from the Hague Conference on Private International Law, Michael Shotter, Head of the Civil Justice Policy Unit at the European Commission Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers, Wendy Schrama from the University of Groningen and I discussed various issues around divorce, succession and property.
Clearly we are all waiting and hoping for the EU Regulation on Matrimonial Property Regimes to make further progress and be finalised. It seems to have been waiting for final lift-off for some time. In the meantime, the Commission’s review of Brussels II bis may well introduce a further choice of law for jurisdiction on divorce, adding to the choices available for clients in their inheritance and matrimonial contracts. The need of citizens and practitioners for easy access to clear information, and the protection of weaker parties, were the main themes raised by the audience. I was pleased to have kept issues of succession law and the international protection of adults on the agenda of ELI.
A fascinating mix of European lawyers, academics and judges continues to attend ELI events. One concern, however, was that there were not enough practitioners involved.
For anyone interested in the law in Europe, do consider joining as a Fellow. Come along to the next conference in Ferrara, Italy, from 7–9 September 2016. It is an amazing opportunity to rub shoulders with practitioners, academics and supreme court judges from all around Europe. I always learn so much – for example, as to the forthcoming changes to Polish succession law, but that is for another day.
The US may look to the uniform; the EU is always diverse.
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