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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: March 2019

EU Civil Justice at the Harmonisation Crossroads?



At a conference in 2016, Professor Marcel Storme looked back at the plea he had made over 30 years ago, in 1986, in favour of the unification of civil procedural rules within the EU. He noted that the project that he later headed and that resulted in the so-called Storme Report of 1993 had removed a taboo and opened the doors to civil procedural harmonisation at the EU level. However, despite the time that has passed since Professor Storme's plea and the Storme Report, we have yet to see a comprehensive civil procedural harmonisation project in the EU. At the same conference, Professor Storme eloquently referred to Erasmus of Rotterdam in stating that, ‘Indeed, only fools can dream of such a simple approach.’ I will in this chapter argue that there are several current developments that indicate we may be closer than ever before to the harmonisation crossroads of EU civil justice.

First, it is pertinent to set out some of the background and context to these current developments in EU civil justice, taking the institutional perspective into account. In depicting the state of play, the various strands of civil justice will first be briefly presented (section 2.1). Next, the results of the institutional positions and regulatory choices made so far will be analysed (section 2.2). These practices and choices have led to the fragmented landscape of EU civil justice that we have today. This fragmentation in itself may be a trigger factor that occasionally calls for further harmonisation. However, there are additional ostensible pressure and trigger factors for harmonisation that will be presented (section 3), namely: (i) mutual trust, (ii) the rule of law, and (iii) soft law. Against this backdrop it will be possible to analyse whether any institutional and regulatory changes are likely to emerge at the potential harmonisation crossroads (section 4).



Traditionally, the EU was not considered to have competence in the field of procedural law, and the Member States were considered to have autonomy over national civil procedure. The awareness that the Member States ‘procedural autonomy is de facto limited has emerged gradually, and various developments mean that today the traditional perception is no longer correct.

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