In limbo for months due to Sweden's veto, work to facilitate crossborder divorces in Europe is expected to be relaunched by the Spanish EU Presidency, which begins on 1 January. The Commission has therefore been asked to present a proposal for "enhanced cooperation", since family law is one of the few areas of justice on which unanimity is still the rule, following entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon.

Madrid has made it clear for quite some time that its objective in the field of justice is to take initiatives to combat violence against women, a serious problem in Spain. The debate on divorce is therefore expected to come back to the fore in the first half of 2010. For the last six months, the Swedes have done nothing to take forward the enhanced cooperation procedure requested of the Commission a year ago by ten member states(1). Sweden prefers to keep its own divorce laws, which it considers more protective, and consequently vetoed the Commission's proposal for harmonisation.

Since its proposal was rejected, the Commission has not been too keen on presenting a proposal for enhanced cooperation (a European tool that has never been used), fearing that the European legal area will become "overly fragmented". But Viviane Reding, the Commissioner designate for Justice and Fundamental Rights, has been pressured by Spain and the executive could change its mind. Her aides point out that, in 2009, the commissioner from Luxembourg became a member of the general council of the Women's Forum, which aims to promote women's vision on major issues.

Madrid has "already asked the new Commission to keep this proposal in mind and to inform it of its intentions "as soon as possible", said Spanish Justice Minister Francisco Caamano Dominguez in late November. "Even if we run into difficulties with the Scandinavian countries, we expect to be able to work out a solution on this issue," he added.

France, one of the countries seeking enhanced cooperation, will support the Spanish initiative, said Jean-Marie Bockel, state secretary at the Ministry of Justice and Freedoms.

Some 350,000 crossborder marriages are celebrated every year in the EU and 170,000 divorces issued.

European observatory on violence

The future trio of presidencies - Spain, Belgium and Hungary - that will each lead the EU for six months from 1 January 2010 have presented their common priorities. Spain will concentrate on civil rights, particularly separation, divorce and inheritance. To...

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