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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: February 2019

European Private International Law and the National Judge. Some General Refl ections by a Belgian Judge



Fifty years ago the first European instrument in the fi eld of judicial cooperation in civil and commercial matters saw the light of day: the 1968 Brussels Convention on jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments. Its rules, as amended in 2002 by the Brussels I Regulation and in 2015 by the Brussels Ibis Regulation, very soon became the core of European Private International Law (PIL). Of all the instruments in this field, the ‘Brussels rules’ are most oft en applied by the national courts, as evidenced by the numerous preliminary rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

The purpose of the 1968 rules was ‘to strengthen in the community the legal protection of the people therein established’. The 1999 Tampere Council further explored this idea by introducing the concept of ‘one European Area of Justice’: an area where citizens can easily enter into cross-border relations and just as easily have access to judicial redress in case the relations go awry. The underlying idea is, with the risk of oversimplifying matters, that a Belgian citizen shopping in Brussels, Paris or Milan should always have the same degree of judicial certainty with regard to the competent court, the applicable law and the swift enforcement of a judicial decision.

Since then, ample use has been made of the new judicial basis inserted in the Treaty of Amsterdam, now Article 81 TFEU, that allows the European legislator to enact directly binding rules to strengthen this European judicial area. At present more than 20 regulations were adopted, which harmonize large parts of national PIL. More initiatives are planned, albeit of a less ambitious nature as the European legislator currently has been focussing on the consolidation and improvement of the existing instruments.

Needless to say that European PIL as it exists today is no longer a topic for the happy few. The European rules on jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of judgments, on the applicable law or on judicial cooperation in civil, commercial and family matters have penetrated the day-to-day practices of most legal practitioners.