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EU split over divorce law for mixed-nationality couples

23 January 2010, 00:47 CET
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EU split over divorce law for mixed-nationality couples

Spanish Justice minister, Francisco Caamano - Photo EFE

(TOLEDO) - European Union justice ministers were split Friday over a plan to use the bloc's concept of "enhanced cooperation" to develop EU rules governing divorce between mixed-nationality couples.

The concept -- created by the EU's 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam -- allows groups of at least eight member states to ask the Commission to apply EU-level laws to them if the bloc as a whole has failed to approve the legislation.

Earlier this month incoming EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding said she would present a demand for "enhanced cooperation" in this area within three months of taking office.

"Ten nations have asked for it. They are right and I will do it," she told the European Parliament on January 12.

The 10 want to develop a law which settles the question of which law should be applied when citizens of two different EU member states who are married want a divorce.

But since Reding made he announcement, no new EU member states have added their support to the plan.

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said she was "open" to the project at a meeting on Friday of EU justice ministers in Toeldo in central Spain but she needed to wait and see the proposition first.

"The European Parliament will only back this project if a strong majority backs it and we will do the same," she said.

Her Belgian counterpart Stefaan de Clerck echoed her views.

"As a matter of principle we are in favour of it, but much will depend on the content of this proposition," he said.

But Spanish Justice Minister Francisco Caamano, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said the "enhanced cooperation" concept should be used sparingly.

"It is an exceptional instrument, we must avoid considering it as an instrument of division," he said.

French secretary of state for justice, Jean-Marie Bockel, said the goal though was not to divide the bloc but to encourage other nations to join the effort to create a common law on the issue.

"It is not about creating Europe within Europe," she said.

The 10 nations which back using the "enhanced cooperation" concept to draw up a law on mixed-nationality divorces are: Austria, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Spain and Romania.

But Britain, Finland and Sweden are against it.

Some 350,000 marriages between mixed-nationality couples are celebrated each year in the 27-nation EU and while around 170,000 divorces are announced.

Justice and Home Affairs (JAI)

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