EU applies enhanced cooperation for the first time for cross-border marriages regulation

This is the first time in the EU's history that member States have used the “enhanced cooperation” mechanism, which allows a group of at least nine nations to implement measures if all 27 Member States fail to reach agreement. The enhanced cooperation will apply in the 14 participating EU countries for now, in order to adopt this new rules which, once approved, will allow couples to avoid emotionally and financially costly proceedings.

The new solution will help couples of different nationalities, those living apart in different countries or those living together in a country other than their home country. The proposal aims to protect weaker partners during divorce disputes.

International couples will be able to agree which law would apply to their divorce or legal separation. In case the couple cannot agree, judges would have a common formula for deciding which country's law applies. Couples would have more legal certainty, predictability and flexibility. This would help protect spouses and their children from complicated, drawn-out and painful procedures.

The European Parliament gave its consent for the enhanced cooperation measure on June 16th 2010, a cooperation measure which endorsed it on June 4th at EU Justice Ministers meeting.

The process to start the enhanced cooperation procedure can start immediately. The 14 participating countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain) will now negotiate and then vote on the Commission proposal for a Regulation that contains the details of which rules apply in cases of international divorces. The 14 countries must unanimously approve the rules and consult the European Parliament before the Regulation can enter into force.

The Commission proposed the measure on cross-border marriages on March 24th 2010 in response to a request by nine Member States that were frustrated with the Council’s failure to move forward on a 2006 Commission proposal (Greece was initially part of the plan and later withdrew its request). Since then, five additional countries – Germany, Belgium, Latvia, Malta and Portugal – asked to be part of the EU action.

Enhanced cooperation

Under the EU Treaties, enhanced cooperation allows nine or more countries to move forward on a measure that is important, but blocked by a small minority of Member States. Other EU countries keep the right to join when they want (Article 331, Treaty on the Functioning of the EU).