Justice and Home Affairs Council : Cooperation on Divorce Rules Raises Fears of Two-Speed Europe'

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The simplification of cross-border divorce in Europe should be the subject of an attempt at "enhanced cooperation", to circumvent a Swedish veto. Gathered on 25 July in Brussels, EU justice ministers contented themselves with an exchange of opinions over the proposal for the Rome III regulation, on which they have been stumbling for over three years. But at least eight member states (plus France) want to press forward: Romania, Hungary, Austria, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Luxembourg and Greece. According to EU treaties, there must be at least eight member states to start enhanced cooperation. They should send a formal request for the European Commission - individual letters or a single letter signed by all nine. The EU executive, which hopes that other countries rally behind them, can choose whether to make a proposal.

The proposal would allow married couples of different nationalities to choose by joint consent the legislation and competent jurisdiction to decree the divorce.

As EU President, France did not officially give an opinion, but Paris had already said that it is ready to cooperate at the last Justice Council on 6 June, where the "lack of unanimity" on the legislative proposal had been established. Criticised by some as the example of a two-speed Europe, enhanced cooperation has never been used. Referring to it for the first time on a subject as sensitive as family law raises hesitation and questions.

"We have noticed the reluctance," acknowledged French Minister Rachida Dati. But "everyone agreed on the objective, parties must be treated equally," no matter their nationality, she added.

The Council did not have to make a decision. But Paris has promised to relaunch the debate by bringing up enhanced cooperation, given that, in the EU, there are 350,000 binational marriages and 170,000 binational divorces per year. What legislation should be chosen in the event of litigation between spouses? Twenty-three countries want to continue the debate, while the UK, Ireland, and Denmark have an exemption on family law.

Sweden - whose nationals already benefit from a very simple legislation on divorce - could not accept the law less liberal than its national law in its courts. …