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Coherence and Consistency in European Consumer Contract Law: a Progress Report

The European Commission's Action Plan COM(2003) 68 final and the Green Paper on the Modernisation of the 1980 Rome Convention COM(2002) 654 final

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2019

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“Certainty is so essential, that law cannot even be just without it”, Francis Bacon once observed in the good old times. In the context of the general 20th century's trend from formal to substantive justice, however, policy objectives such as distributive justice, democratic political governance, or effective transnational regulation increasingly came to the focus of private law legislation. The rise of “consumerism” in contract law is the paradigmatic example of this development, which – at least from a German perspective – was triggered mainly by European measures on the harmonisation of private laws. While all intellectual capacities were absorbed by “regulating contracts” in the light of the new principle of “contractual solidarity”, the basic need of a legal system for overall consistency as a prerequisite for the administration of justice (“treating like cases alike”) obviously got out of sight. The critique with regard to pointillism and eclecticism in the European approach to private law harmonisation (“piecemeal legislation”), which lead to the patchwork character of the acquis communautaire, is a common place today, even within the European Commission. However, the conclusion, that has to be drawn, is not formulated straight forward: As consistency goes, arbitrariness comes, an inconsistent law is a contradictio in adjecto.

Type
Private Law
Copyright
Copyright © 2003 by German Law Journal GbR 

References

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35 Spindler, Herkunftslandprinzip und Kollisionsrecht - Binnenmarktintegration ohne Harmonisierung? Die Folgen der Richtlinie im elektronischen Geschäftsverkehr für das Kollisionsrecht, RabelsZ 2002, 633Google Scholar

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37 See only Grundmann/Stuyck (eds.), An Academic Green Paper on European Contract Law, (Kluwer) 2002; von Bar/Lando/Swann, Communication on European Contract Law: Joint Response of the Commission on European Contract Law and the Study Group on a European Civil Code, ERPL 2002, 182-248; Staudenmayer, The Commission Communication on European Contract Law and the Future Prospects, 51 International and Comparative Law Quarterly (2002), 673-688; Schlechtriem, Wandlungen des Schuldrechts in Europa – wozu und wohin, ZEuP 2002, 213 ff.; Kötz, Alte und neue Aufgaben der Rechtsvergleichung, JZ 2002, 257 ff.; Schwintowski, Auf dem Weg zu einem Europäischen Zivilgesetzbuch, JZ 2002, 205 ff.; Sonnenberger, Privatrecht und Internationales Privatrecht im künftigen Europa: Fragen und Perspektiven, Recht der Iinternationalen Wirtschaft (RIW) 2002, 489 ff.; Grundmann, Internationales Privatrecht als Verfassungsordnung, RIW 2002, 329 ff.; Ott/Schäfer, Die Vereinheitlichung des europäischen Vertragsrechts. Ökonomische Notwendigkeit oder akademisches Interesse, in: Ott/Schäfer (ed.), Vereinheitlichung und Diversität des Zivilrechts in transnationalen Wirtschaftsräumen, 2002, p. 203 ff.; Eidenmüller, Obligatorische versus optionales europäisches Vertragsgesetzbuch, in: Ott/Schäfer (ed.), Vereinheitlichung und Diversität des Zivilrechts in transnationalen Wirtschaftsräumen, 2002, p.237 ff.Google Scholar

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56 See again Grundmann, Europäisches Schuldvertragsrecht, 1999.Google Scholar

57 There are, of course, general mandatory protection rules like § 138 BGB, which protect any party, including, but not limited to consumers: an example is the protection of private guarantors (see BVerfG, NJW 1994, 36), which are not protected by Community measures, if the credit agreement secured by the guarantee is not a consumer contract: see ECJ Case C-45/96 – Dietzinger, ECR 1998 I-1199.Google Scholar

58 This was illustrated by the Heininger-Case of the ECJ and the resulting reform of the German reform of the law of obligations: see Calliess (supra note 7) www.germanlawjournal.com/past_issues.php?id=175; see as well Safferling, Re-Kodifizierung des BGB im Zeitalter der Europäisierung des Zivilrechts – ein Anachronismus?, in: Jahrbuch Junger Zivilrechtswissenschaftler 2001, p. 133Google Scholar

59 Rauscher, Gran Carnaria - Isle of Man - Was kommt danach? Plädoyer für einen europäischen Ordre Public, Europäische Zeitschrift für Wirtschaftsrecht (EuZW) 1996, 650 – 653; BGHZ 135, 124 = NJW 1997, 1697: no right to revocation under HWiG (legislation transposing Directive 85/577/EEC on contracts concluded away from business premises into German law) in case of a contract on a time-share in a flat located in Spain, concluded between a German tourist and a business domiciled on the Isle of Man on ocassion of a promotion event in the respective holiday resort, to which the tourist was invited while walking around in the streets of the Spanish city.Google Scholar

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61 See Green Paper at 3.1.1.1.Google Scholar

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82 All three problems are implicitly adressed by the solutions proposed by the Grenn Paper at 3.2.7.3Google Scholar

83 See Reich/Nordhausen, Verbraucher und Recht im elektronischen Geschäftsverkehr, 2000, which propose to generally apply the acquis of the European consumer protection directives as the “mandatory law of the forum” instead of the law of the consumers’ home-state. See as well Grundmann, Binnenmarktkollisionsrecht - vom klassischen IPR zur Integrationsordnung, RabelsZ 69 (2000) 457-477, proposing the application of the business’ home-state law in combination with a direct application of the acquis, where necessary.Google Scholar

84 Art. 5 Rome Convention is interpreted by many authors in the light of the solution of Art. 2 a) CISG (see hereto Ferrari, in: Schlechtriem (ed.), CISG-Kommentar, 3rd ed. 2000, Art 2 N. 15 ff.), which interpretation builds on the report of Guliano/Lagarde (OJ C 282 of 31/10/1980 S. 1-50): see Magnus, in: Staudinger (2002), Art. 29 EGBGB N. 38; Heiss, in: Czernich/Heiss, EVÜ, Art. 5 N. 8; Glatt, Internetverträge, 2002, p. 105109; Foss/Bygrave, International Consumer Purchases Trough the Internet, International Journal of Law and IT 2000 8(99). However, this interpretation is contested and not yet supported by precedence.Google Scholar

85 See e.g. Fallenböck, , Internet und internationales Privatrecht, 2001, at 61 (commenting on the solution of the UCITA), and 107; see as well Nimmer, Through the Looking Glass: What Courts and UCITA Say About the Scope of Contract Law in the Information Age, 38 Duq. L. Rev. (2000) 255, 262 ff.; Art. 109 b) UCITA 2002 reads as follows: (1) An access contract or a contract providing for electronic delivery of a copy is governed by the law of the jurisdiction in which the licensor was located when the agreement was entered into. (2) A consumer contract that requires delivery of a copy on a tangible medium is governed by the law of the jurisdiction in which the copy is or should have been delivered to the consumer.Google Scholar

86 See Magnus, , in: Staudinger (2002), Art. 28 EGBGB Note 653-655; Glatt, Vertragsschluss im Internet, 2002, p. 123 ff.; Maack, Die Durchsetzung des AGB-rechtlichen Transparenzgebots in internationalen Verbraucherverträgen, 2001, p. 155 ff., 186; Reich/Nordhausen, Verbraucher und Recht im elektronischen Geschäftsverkehr, 2000 at 86 ff.Google Scholar

87 See only Heiss, , RabelsZ 2001, 634 ff., 650: ”Wo Art. 5 EVÜ greift, will er [der Unternehmer, GPC] überhaupt keine Rechtswahl, zumal sie ihn nur belasten kann.“ (Where Art. 5 is applicable, the business does not want a choice of law, since it will result to the detriment of the business)Google Scholar

88 After the accession of the 10 candidate states in 2004.Google Scholar

89 For the use of that term see generally Beck, Gegengifte – Die organisierte Unverantwortlichkeit, 1988; in the context of private law legislation see only Safferling, supra note 58.Google Scholar

90 I.e. an illusion or fabrication of the mind or fancy. This term was used by Christian Joerges at the May 2002 Conference of SECOLA in London, in this context indicating that the “active consumer” is a fabrication of the Commission in order to annex competencies in consumer protection law.Google Scholar

91 According to a survey of the European Mail Order and Distance Selling Trade Association (EMOTA) of 30.09.2002 (www.emota-aevpc.org/) this is true even for distance selling: ”Sales to consumers in other states directly across borders are still insignificant (no more than 3%) as a part of total sales due to existing barriers. Companies prefer to work together with or acquire a local firm in order to profit from their knowledge of the local market, consumer attitude and interpretation of local legislation (”think international, act local“).“Google Scholar

92 It has to be taken into account, that a transformation of the Consumer Sales Directive (1999/44/EC) limited to consumer contracts would have led to an unbearable fragmentation of the German civil law codification “BGB”. Therefore, the German legislator decided to reform the general sales contract provisions in the BGB, which apply as well to consumer-to-consumer and business-to-business transactions. Thus the active consumer contracts, the regulation of which the Directive is heading for (see considerations 2-5 of the Directive), account for far less then one per cent of all covered transactions.Google Scholar

94 See Roth, , Europäischer Verbraucherschutz und BGB, Juristenzeitung 2001, 475, at 477 ff.Google Scholar

95 See Raz, J., The Rule of Law and ist virtue, 93 Law Quarterly Review (1977) 195-202.Google Scholar

96 See von Bar/Lando/Swann, Communication on European Contract Law: Joint Response of the Commission on European Contract Law and the Study Group on a European Civil Code, ERPL 2002, 182, 230 (paragraph 84).Google Scholar

97 See Action Plan COM(2003) 68 final, Paragraph 14.Google Scholar

98 Refering to the German saying: “To tackle the Devil with Beelzebub” (the prince of the devils)Google Scholar

99 The Green Paper in ist introduction simply states: ”The present document does not intend to examine the relationship between a possible future instrument and the Internal Market rules. For the Commission it is clear, however, that such an instrument should leave intact the principles of the Internal Market laid down in the Treaty or in secondary legislation.“Google Scholar

100 In the Isle-of-Man Case decided by the FCJ (BGHZ 135, 124), for instance, the lower Courts had not even tried to solve the case under the laws of the Isle-of-Man. The whole argument was just about the applicability of the German protection rules. Thus, the FCJ in its decission simply presumed, that the contract would be enforceable under the law of the Isle-of-Man (at II 2 and 3).Google Scholar

101 For a very good analysis and a sceptical result with regard to the prerequisites of a competition in both mandatory as well as dispositive private law see Kieninger, Wettbewerb der Privatrechtsordnungen im Europäischen Binnenmarkt, 2002 Google Scholar

102 See for the following ideas Grundmann (supra note 13), especially in RIW 2002.Google Scholar

103 See Grundmann, Europäisches Verbrauchervertragsrecht im Spiegel der ökonomischen Theorie – Vertragsinformationsrecht im Binnenmarkt, in: Ott/Schäfer (ed.), Vereinheitlichung und Diversität des Zivilrechts in transnationalen Wirtschaftsräumen, 2002, 284 ff.Google Scholar

104 See for potential inverse effects of consumer protection only: Joerges, Verbraucherschutz als Rechtsproblem, 1981, p. 127; Schäfer, in: Grundmann (ed.), Systembildung und Systemlücken in Kerngebieten des Europäischen Privatrechts, 2000, p. 559 ff.Google Scholar

105 See Ferrari, in: Schlechtriem (ed.), CISG-Kommentar, 3rd ed. 2000, Art 2 N. 15 ff.Google Scholar

106 Which interpretation builds on the report of Guliano/Lagarde (OJ C 282 of 31/10/1980 S. 1-50): see Magnus, in: Staudinger (2002), Art. 29 EGBGB N. 38; Heiss, in: Czernich/Heiss, EVÜ, Art. 5 N. 8; Glatt, Internetverträge, 2002, p. 105109; Foss/Bygrave, International Consumer Purchases Trough the Internet, International Journal of Law and IT 2000 8(99), all with further references.Google Scholar

107 See Spindler/Börner (eds.), E-Commerce Recht in Europa und den USA, 2003, at 281.Google Scholar

108 An exception may be a characteristic performance, which usually can be used for private use only, or a contract, where the volume or value usually is only demanded by businesses: see Ferrari, in: Schlechtriem (ed.), CISG-Kommentar, 3rd ed. 2000, Art 2 N. 17 f.; However, the majority of all products and services can be used for private and/or professional use. Thus, there should be a clear distinction in advance, based on the external circumstances or the representations of the parties.Google Scholar

110 See the detailed analysis at Calliess, Nach der Schuldrechtsreform: Perspektiven des Verbrauchervertragsrechts, Archiv für die Civilistische Praxis (AcP) 203 (2003), forthcoming.Google Scholar

111 See supra para. 38 with note 85Google Scholar

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