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Written by Markus Lieberknecht, Institute for Comparative Law, Conflict of Laws and International Business Law (Heidelberg)

Quite a literal “conflict of laws” has recently arisen when the EU reactivated its Blocking Statute in an attempt to deflect the effects of U.S. embargo provisions against Iran. As a result, European parties doing business with Iran are now confronted with a dilemma where compliance with either regime necessitates a breach of the other. This post explores some implications of the Blocking Statute from a private international law perspective.

Past and present of the Blocking Statute

The European Blocking Statute (Regulation (EC) 2271/96)was originally enacted in 1996 as a counter-measure to the American “Helms-Burton Act” which, at the time, compromised European trade relations with Cuba. Along with WTO and NAFTA proceedings, the Blocking Statute provided sufficient leverage to strike a compromise with the Clinton administration. The controversial parts of the “Helms-Burton Act” were shelved and the few remaining pieces of legislation otherwise covered by the Blocking Statute ceased to be relevant over time. The Blocking Statute formally stayed in force but, for want of any legislation to block, remained in a legislative limbo until 8 May 2015.

On this day, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA) and to fully restore the U.S. trade sanctions against Iran. In particular, this entailed reinstating the so-called secondary sanctions which apply to European entities without ties to the U.S. This decision, albeit hardly unexpected, was met with sharp dissent in Europe. Not only was the JCPOA viewed by many as a remarkable diplomatic achievement, but secondary sanctions were seen as an illicit attempt to regulate European-Iranian trade relations without a genuine link to the U.S. The EU, claiming that this practice violated international law, immediately declared its intention to protect European businesses from the extraterritorial reach of the U.S. sanctions. In order to make good on this promise, an all but forgotten instrument of European private international law was swiftly dusted off and updated: The Blocking Statute.

Protection by prohibition

 The centerpiece of the Blocking Statute is its Art. 5 which prohibits affected Parties from complying with the relevant U.S. legislation. Depending on the Member State, a breach of this provision can be sanctioned with potentially unlimited criminal or administrative fines.

The disapproval enshrined in Art. 5 Blocking Statute – or, arguably, in the Blocking Statute as a whole – amounts to a specification of the European ordre public. Regarding the ever-present issue of overriding mandatory provisions, it rules out the possibility to give legal effect to the U.S. sanctions in question. This is either because the Blocking Statute, as lex specialis,supersedes Art. 9 Rome I Regulation altogether or because it has binding effect on the courts’ discretion under Art. 9 (3) Rome I Regulation. However, given the narrow scope of Art. 9 (3) Rome I Regulation, this means ruling out a possibility which was hardly measurable in the first place. After all, Iran-related contracts with a place of performance located in the U.S. as required by Art. 9 (3) Rome I Regulation are, if at all realistically conceivable, extremely rare. What is more, German courts have refrained from applying U.S. sanctions under Art. 9 (3) Rome I Regulation based on the notion that they are superseded by the EU’s own framework of restrictions on trade with Iran. Thus, there were plenty of reasons to deny legal effect before the recent update of the Blocking Statute.

Under the ECJ’s Nikiforidisdoctrine, the relevant sanctions are precluded from being applied as legal rules, but not from being considered as facts under substantive law. In this context, Art. 5 of the Blocking Statute will provide clear, albeit very one-sided, guidance for a number of issues. For instance, parties will not be able to contractually limit the scope of performance to what is permissible under relevant U.S. provisions, nor can they successfully claim a right to withhold performance or terminate contracts based on the justified fear of penalties imposed by U.S. authorities.

The “catch-22” situation

It does not require much number-crunching to see that to many globally operating companies, succumbing to U.S. pressure will seem like the the most, or even only, reasonable choice. The portfolio of U.S. penalties includes a denial of further access to the U.S. market and criminal liability of the natural persons involved. U.S. authorities are not shy on using these measures either, as recently evidenced by the spectacular arrest of Huawei’s CFO in Canada on charges of breaching sanctions against Iran. Thus, opting for a breach of the Blocking Statute and accepting the resulting fine under the Member State’s domestic law may strike many companies as a pragmatic choice.

Nonetheless, this decision would entail an intentional breach of European law. Executives, who may also face personal liability for unlawful decisions, are thus faced with a tough compliance dilemma; whichever choice they make can be sanctioned by either U.S. or European authorities. Given this delicate situation, they may happily accept any economic pretext to quietly wind down operations in Iran without express reference to the U.S. sanctions.

Both the Blocking Statute and the U.S. regulation allow for hardship exemptions. U.S. courts may also consider foreign government pressure as grounds for exculpation under the so-called foreign sovereign compulsion doctrine. While it may, therefore, be possible to navigate between both regimes, it appears unlikely that either side will be particularly generous in granting exemptions in order not to undermine the effectiveness of their regulation. After all, the Blocking Statute is in essence designed around the idea to create counter-pressure at the expense of European companies and the U.S. will hardly be inclined to play their part in making this mechanism work.

The clawback claim

Art. 6 of the Blocking Statute contains a so-called “clawback claim”. This provision enables parties to recover all damages resulting from the application of the U.S. sanctions in question from the person who caused them. What looks like a promising way to subvert the effect of the U.S. sanctions at first glance, quickly loses much of its appeal when looking more closely. In particular, the “claw back” provides no grounds to recover the most prevalent item of damages in this context, namely penalties imposed by U.S. authorities for breach of sanctions. Although the substantive requirements of Art. 6 Blocking Statute would evidently be met, any claim brought against the U.S. or its entities to remedy what is clearly an act of state would not be actionable in courts due to the doctrine of state immunity.

Thus, the claim is limited to disputes between private parties. The most realistic scenario here is that parties may hold each other liable for complying with U.S. sanctions and, in turn, violating the Blocking Statute. This means that, for instance, companies backing out of delivery chains or financing arrangements may be held liable for the resulting damages of every other party involved in the transaction. Due to the tort-like nature of the claim, this liability would even extend beyond the direct contractual relationships. Functionally, the “clawback” constitutes a private enforcement mechanism of the prohibition enshrined in Art. 5 Blocking Statute. It is, however, much less convincing as an instrument to protect all aggrieved parties from the repercussions of U.S. sanctions.

Conclusion

The renaissance of the Blocking Statute proves the difficulty of blocking the effects of foreign laws in a globalized world. The affected parties were promised protection but received an additional prohibition, arguably multiplying their compliance concerns rather than resolving them. Denying legal effects within the European legal framework is a relatively easy task and, given the narrow scope of Art. 9 Rome I Regulation, not far from the default situation. In contrast, legal instruments which can undermine the factual influence of foreign laws without unintended side effects are yet to be invented.  The true purpose of the Blocking Statutes is a political one, namely serving as a bargaining chip vis-à-vis the U.S. and an attempt to assure Iran that the European Union is not jumping ship on the JCPOA. However, this largely symbolic value will hardly console the affected parties whose legal and economic difficulties remain very much real.

This blog post is a condensed version of the author’s article in IPRax 2018, 573 et seqq. which explores the Blocking Statute’s private law implications in more detail and contains comprehensive references to the relevant literature.

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By Georgia Antonopoulou, Erlis Themeli, and Xandra Kramer, Erasmus University Rotterdam (PhD candidate, postdoc researcher, and PI ERC consolidator project Building EU Civil Justice)

Today, the Dutch Senate (Eerste Kamer) finally voted in favour of the legislative proposal for the establishment of the Netherlands Commercial Court (NCC) (see here). As of 11 December 2018, the Netherlands is added to the countries  that have created an English language court or chamber specialized in international commercial disputes, including Singapore and France.

The proposal was already approved by the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) on 8 March 2018 (see our previous blogpost). Shortly after, we optimistically reported that the bill was scheduled for rubber-stamping by the Senate on 27 March 2018, making it realistic that the NCC would open its doors on 1 July 2018. However, not all senators were convinced by the need for and the modalities of the NCC proposal and it led to heated debates.

The discussions geared primarily around the cost-effective court fees and the fear for a two-tiered justice system (see Report of the meeting of 4 December 2018). The court fees are much higher than in other cases: 15.000 Euros in first instance and 20.000 Euros for appeal proceedings at the NCCA. It was argued that the cost-covering nature of the NCC fees is at odds with the current Dutch court fee system and that it may create and obstacle for small and medium-sized businesses to access the NCC. In response to these objections, the Dutch Minister of Justice and Security emphasized the importance of the NCC for the Netherlands as a trade country, the high quality of the Dutch civil justice system that was nevertheless unattractive due to the Dutch language, and pointed to the  establishment of similar courts in other countries. He underlined that the NCC is only available in cross-border cases, that it offers an additional forum that parties can choose while the ordinary courts are still available, and that the court fees are relatively low compared to arbitration or to the fees for commercial courts in several other countries, including the London Commercial Court.

Information on the NCC, a presentation of the court – a chamber of the Amsterdam District Court – and the Rules of Procedure are available on the website of the Dutch judiciary.

The Minister of Justice and Security will issue a decree soon announcing the date of entry into force of the NCC legislation, but in any case the NCC will open its doors early 2019.

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Guest post by Dr. Stefano Dominelli of the University of Milan

In recent times, the European Commission has investigated the possibility of amending Regulation 1393/2007 on the service of judicial and extra-judicial documents between Member States. Such instrument has already settled some issues practitioners encountered under the application of the previous legal framework, in particular related to the administrative cooperation regime, the linguistic exception to service, and direct service by registered mail – or equivalent measure.

The need for a proper functioning of the cross-border service of documents mechanisms is properly highlighted in the Commission’s proposal, and new rules are suggested to further implement the system.

A recent volume, Current and future perspectives on cross-border service of documents, by Stefano Dominelli (Univ. of Milan, Dep. of International, Legal, Historical and Political Studies), explores and addresses the Commission’s proposals.

The functioning of Regulation 1393/2007 is in the first place reconstructed by the author in particular by taking into consideration the case law of a number of Member States. It is against this background that the proposed amendments are commented.

Amongst the numerous points, the book dwells upon proposed new art. 3a, and its possible impact. Acknowledging technical evolutions, communication and exchange of documents between transmitting and receiving agencies in the diverse Member States should in the future strongly rely on e-transmission. According to proposed new art. 3a, only if electronic transmission is not possible due to an unforeseen and exceptional disruption of the decentralised IT system, transmission shall be carried out by the swiftest possible alternative means. The author advises caution in the matter, as the Commission itself argues in the explanatory memorandum of the proposal that modern channels of communication are in practice not used due to old habits, legal obstacles, and lack of interoperability of the national IT systems. In this sense, the work proposes that, at least for time being, a transition to e-transmission between agencies should be encouraged as an alternative method of transmission, rather as being the only available option.

A number of proposals are made as regards the right of the addressee to refuse service on linguistic grounds. In the first place, with a solution supported in the volume, a new Annex to the Regulation should clearly set out the means and methods of the addressee to refuse service, a matter that is currently not expressly dealt with by the regulation.

The time frame for the addressee to refuse service based on linguistic grounds should become two weeks, rather than one, a solution that is strongly endorsed by the author of the volume as it is deemed to be a more satisfying point of balance between the opposing interests of the prospective plaintiff and the defendant.

Nonetheless, the work highlights that some issues that have emerged in the case law still are not addressed in the Commission’s proposal. In the first place, conflict of laws and international civil procedure issues are not referenced in the text, even though questions as the competent court before which violations of the rules on service can be invoked or which court has to investigate on the legitimate refusal to service based on linguistic grounds, have consistently been addressed by judges.

Additionally, the Commission’s proposal gives to this day no clear indication on the refusal to service based on linguistic grounds when the addressee is a corporation, a matter that, according to the author, should deserve at least some guidance in the recitals of the instrument.

The volume can be freely downloaded at https://ssrn.com/abstract=3259980

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Thanks to Emmanuel Guinchard for the tip through his blog on European Civil Justice

On 7 December the Council of the European Union approved the General Approach on the Brussels IIa Recast proposed by the Presidency on 30 November 2018.

The text has been heavily discussed and has undergone several changes since the original Commission Proposal of 30 June 2016.

Importantly, the Council has agreed on:

  • the complete abolition of exequatur;
  • a limitation of jurisdiction for provisional measures to States where the child or property belonging to the child is present;
  • allowing the cross-border recognition and enforcement of provisional measures granted by the court to where the child has been abducted when ordering the return;
  • the harmonisation of certain rules on actual enforcement;
  • making the time frame for return proceedings and their enforcement more stringent;
  • providing for the hearing of children;
  • clearer rules on the placement of children;
  • clearer rules on the circulation of extra-judicial agreements.

See the press release here.

See the General Approach document here.

This probably means that the refinement of the final Regulation will be done within the next few months.

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The European Law Institute (ELI) has launched in 2017 a project on The Protection of Adults in International Situations.

The adults to which the project refers are persons aged 18 or more who are not in a position to protect their interests due to an impairment or insufficiency of their personal faculties.

The project purports to elaborate on the resolution of 1 June 2017 whereby the European Parliament, among other things, called on the European Commission to submit ‘a proposal for a regulation designed to improve cooperation among the Member States and the automatic recognition and enforcement of decisions on the protection of vulnerable adults and mandates in anticipation of incapacity’.

The Commission has made known that it does not plan to submit such a proposal in the near future. At this stage, the Commission’s primary objective is rather the ratification of the Hague Convention of 13 January 2000 on the International Protection of Adults by the Member States that have not yet done so.

The ELI project builds on the idea that the Convention, which is currently in force for twelve States (ten of which are also Member States of the Union), generally provides appropriate answers to the issues raised by the protection of adults in situations with a foreign element. That said, the team of experts charged with the project has taken the view that it would be desirable for the Union to legislate on the matter, in a manner consistent with the Convention, with the aim of improving the operation of the latter among the Member States.

The ultimate goal of the project is to lay down the text of the measure(s) that the Union might take for that purpose.

While the project is still in progress, a position paper has been issued on 3 December 2018, signed by some of the members of the project team, to illustrate the main views emerged so far from the discussion.

The paper suggests that the Union should consider the adoption of measures aimed, inter alia, to:

(i) enable the adult concerned, subject to appropriate safeguards, to choose in advance, at a time when he or she is capable, the Member State whose courts should have jurisdiction over his or her protection: this should include the power to supervise guardians, persons appointed by court or by the adult (by way of a power of attorney), or having power ex lege to take care of the adult’s affairs;

(ii) enlarge the scope of the adult’s choice of law, so that he or she can also choose at least the law of the present or a future habitual residence, in addition to the choices currently permitted under Article 15 of the Hague Convention of 2000;

(iii) outline the relationship between the rules in the Hague Convention of 2000 and the rules of private international law that apply in neighbouring areas of law (such as the law of contract, maintenance, capacity, succession, protection against violence, property law, agency);

(iv) specify the requirements of formal and material validity of the choice of the law applicable to a private mandate, including the creation and exercise (and supervision by the courts) of such mandates;

(v) address the practical implications of a private mandate being submitted (by virtue of a choice of law, as the case may be) to the law of a State whose legislation fails to include provisions on the creation or supervision on such mandates, e.g. by creating a “fall-back” rule in cases of choice of the “wrong” law, which does not cover the matters addressed (or at least applying Article 15(1) of the Hague Convention of 2000);

(vi) extend the protection of third parties beyond the scope of Article 17 of the Hague Convention of 2000 to the content of the applicable law, and possibly also to lack of capacity (or clarifying that the latter question is covered by Article 13(1) or the Rome I Regulation);

(vii) make it easier for those representing and/or assisting an adult, including under a private mandate, to provide evidence of the existence and scope of their authority in a Member State other than the Member State where such authority has been granted or confirmed, by creating a European Certificate of Powers of Representation of an Adult (taking into account the experience developed with the European Certificate of Succession);

(viii) clarify and make more complete the obligations and procedures under Articles 22, 23 and 25 of the Convention in order to ensure ‘simple and rapid procedures’ for the recognition and enforcement of foreign measures; further reflection is needed to determine whether, and subject to which safeguards, the suppression of exequatur would be useful and appropriate for measures of protection issued in a Member State;

(ix) facilitate and encourage the use of mediation or conciliation.

The ELI project will form the object of a short presentation in the framework of a conference on The Cross-border Protection of Vulnerable Adults that will take place in Brussels on 5, 6 and 7 December 2018, jointly organised by the European Commission and the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law.

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Written by Anton S. Zimmermann, Institute for Comparative Law, Conflict of Laws and International Business Law (Heidelberg)

Blockchain technology and its offspring have recently attracted considerable attention in both media and scholarship. Its decentralised nature raises several legal questions. Among these are, for example, the challenges that blockchain technology poses to data protection laws and the threats it creates with regard to the effective enforcement of legal claims.

This post sheds light on issues of private international law relating to blockchain networks from a European perspective.

The concept of blockchain technology and its fields of application

Blockchain technology – put simply – involves two fundamental concepts. Firstly, data is written into so-called “blocks”. Each block of data is connected to its respective predecessor using so-called “hashes” that are calculated for each individual block. Consequently, each block does not only include its own hash but also the hash of its predecessor, thereby fixating consecutive blocks to one another. The result is a chain of blocks – hence the name blockchain. Secondly, the entire blockchain is decentrally stored by the networks’ members. Whenever a transaction concerning the blockchain is requested, it isn’t processed by just one member. On the contrary: several members check the transaction and afterwards share their result with the other members in what can best be described as a voting mechanism: From among potentially different results provided by different members, the result considered correct by the majority prevails. This mechanism bears the advantage that any attempt to tamper with data contained in a blockchain is without consequence as long as only the minority of members is affected.

The potential fields of application for blockchain technology are manifold and far from being comprehensively explored. For example, blockchain technology can replace a banking system in the context of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or it can be used to de-personalize monitoring and sanctioning of non-performance within a contractual relation. In short: Blockchain technology is an option whenever data is to be stored unalterably in a certain order without a (potentially costly) centralised monitoring entity.

Applicable rules of private international law

The first issue regarding blockchain technology and private international law concerns the applicable conflict rules. Blockchain technology involves a technical voting mechanism and, hence, requires a certain degree of cooperation between the members of the network. One might, therefore, be tempted to assume that blockchain networks constitute some kind of company. If this were indeed the case, the written conflict rules, especially those of the Rome I Regulation, would not be applicable (cf. Art. 1(1) lit. f) Rome I Regulation) and the unwritten conflict rules relating to international companies would claim application instead. However, this approach presupposes that the factual cooperation within a blockchain network suffices to create a company in the sense of European private international law. This is, however, not the case. The constitution of blockchain networks is only cooperative in a technical way, not in a legal one. The network is not necessarily based on a (written or unwritten) cooperation agreement and, therefore, lacks an essential prequisite of a company. Consequently, the determination of the law applicable to blockchain technology is not necessarily a question of international company law. Parties are, however, not precluded from creating a company statute that reflects the decentral structures of blockchain technology, whereas the mere decision to engage in a blockchain network does not suffice to create such a company.

Thus, the private international law of blockchain technology must also take into account the Rome I Regulation as well as the Rome II Regulation. Unfortunately, blockchain networks per seare not suitable as connecting factors: firstly, a decentralised network naturally escapes the classical European principle of territorial proximity. Secondly, the use of blockchain technology is usually not an end in itself but functionally subordinate to the purpose of another act, e.g. a contract, a company or a tort. This factor should, however, not be seen as a problem, but as a hint at a potential solution: although a superordinate act may render a blockchain network insufficient to determine the substantive law, the superordinate act itself can serve as a connecting factor.

The following two examples illustrate the proposed method of accessory connection and show that the European legal framework relating to private international law is capable to cope with several questions raised by novel phenomena such as blockchain technology. The remaining questions have to be dealt with on the basis of the principle of proximity.

First scenario: blockchain networks within centralised contracts

Blockchain technology often serves to achieve the goal of a centralised act. In this case, legal questions regarding the use, misuse and abuse of blockchain technology, e.g. access rights and permissions to write regarding data contained in a blockchain, should be governed by the substantive law governing the superordinate act.

To give an example: The parties of a supply chain decide to implement a blockchain in order to collectively store data concerning (1) when and in what quantity products arrive at their warehouse and (2) certificates of quality checks performed by them. As a result, production routes and quality control become more transparent and cost-efficient along the supply chain. Blockchain technology can thus be used e.g. to ensure the authenticity of drugs, food safety etc. The legal questions regarding the smart contract should in this scenario be governed by the substantive law governing the respective purchase agreement between the parties in question. The choice of law rules of the Rome I Regulation, hence, also determine the substantive law regarding the question how blockchain technology may or may not be used in the context of the purchase agreement. The application of blockchain technology becomes a part of the respective contract.

If one were to apply the substantive law governing the contract only to the contract itself but not to blockchain technology, one would create unjust distinctions: The applicable law should not depend on whether the parties pay an employee to regularly check on their warehouse and issue certificates in print, or whether they employ blockchain technology, achieving the same result.

Second scenario: blockchain networks within decentralised companies

The scenario described above shows that the decentralised nature of blockchain networks does not necessarily require special connecting criteria. This is a consequence of the networks’ primarily serving function to the respective superordinate entity.

Difficulties arise when parties agree on a company statute whose content reflects the decentralisation of blockchain technology. In this scenario, there is a decentral company that utilises only decentral technology as its foundation. A much-discussed case of this kind was “The DAO”, a former company based on blockchain technology. The DAO’s establishment was financed by investors providing financial resources in exchange for so-called tokens. These tokens can be described as the digital counterpart of shares and hence as an expression of the respective investor’s voting rights. Within the resulting investment community, voting rights were exercised in order to decide on investment proposals. The results of the votes were implemented automatically. The company thus consisted only of the investors and information technology but had no management body, no administrative apparatus, and no statutory seat.

Hence, the DAO did not only lack a territorial connection on the level of information technology, but also on the level of the companies’ legal constitution: it neither had an administrative seat nor a statutory seat. The connecting factors usually applied to determine the law applicable to companies were, therefore, ineffective. Because the DAO was a company, it was also exempt from the scope of the Rome I Regulation (cf. Art. 1 (2) lit. f. Rome I Regulation).

This vacuum of traditional conflict rules necessitates the development of new ones. There is no other valid connecting factor that could result in a uniform lex societatis: Especially the habitual residence or nationality of the majority of members is arbitrary as the company is built on a concept of decentralism and territorial detachment. Moreover, possible membership changes would lead to an intertemporally fluctuating statute whose current status could hardly be determined. The lack of a uniform connecting factor raises the question whether or not the ideal of a uniform lex societatiscan be upheld. The fact that members of the DAO do not provide a feasible uniform connecting factor suggests a fragmentation of the applicable law (dépeçage).

Assuming that there is no uniform lex societatisfor the DAO and that the applicable substantive law has to be fragmented, acts by the company become conceivable connecting factors. One might, for example, assume that preliminary questions concerning the company, i.e. its legal capacity, are subject to the substantive law that would govern the act in question. If the DAO enters into a contract that – given its validity – is governed by German substantive law according to Art. 4 of the Rome I-Regulation, German law should also determine the legal capacity of the DAO with respect to this particular contract. One might object that the Rome I-Regulation exempts both companies and legal capacity from its scope of application. This, however, only means that the Regulation is not bindingwithin those fields. As the conflict rules of International company law do not lead to conceivable results, the principle of proximity has to be the guiding factor in the search for a new unwritten conflict rule. As the closest territorial connections of decentral organisations are their respective acts, e.g. contracts, the principle of proximity suggests that the respective act is what determines the closest connection of the company. The resulting conflict rule states an accessory subjection of the lex societatisto the law governing the company’s respective acts. While the proposed solution does indeed lead to an indirectapplication of the Rome I Regulation, it nonetheless constitutes a self-reliant, unwritten conflict rule which is consequently not precluded by the catalogue of exemptions contained in the Rome I Regulation.

This fragmentation of applicable laws turns a membership in the DAO into a risky und legally uncertain endeavour, as – neglecting the tremendous practical and legal problems of the enforcement of claims – different legal orders impose different requirements for legal capacity, limitation of liability and other privileges.

Concluding thoughts

Blockchain technology is a novel phenomenon, but it does – in most cases – not necessitate new connecting factors or conflict rules. If, however, the legal entity in question mirrors the decentralised structure of a blockchain network, the legal assessment becomes more complicated.

In those cases, the usually uniformlex societatishas to be fragmented which leads to a high chance of personal liability of the members. Whether or not one accepts this fragmentation largely depends on the definition of the hierarchy of technical-economic progress and the lex lata. In my opinion, technical developments may and should act as an impetus to legislatorsfor legislative amendments but should not prevail over the existing rules of law. Those who desire legal advantages – such as a limitation of liability or even a uniform statute – must in exchange fulfil and adhere to the laws’ requirements.

This post is based on A. Zimmermann, Blockchain-Netzwerke und Internationales Privatrecht – oder: der Sitz dezentraler Rechtsverhältnisse, published in IPRax 2018, 568 ff. containing references to further literature.

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Written by Veerle Van Den Eeckhout (http://www.mpi.lu/the-institute/senior-research-fellows/veerle-van-den-eeckhout/)

On 23 November 2018 the Dutch Supreme Court referred a question for preliminary ruling to the CJEU in a case with regard to labour conditions of Hungarian truck drivers, particularly with regard to the Posting of Workers Directive, 96/71/EC (see, in Dutch, https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:HR:2018:2174. See, moreover, the decision of the same day https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:HR:2018:2165  ).

The preliminary question will certainly attract the attention of many who have a particular interest in the specific theme of labour conditions of mobile East European workers –  a theme in which rules of Private International Law matter.

The case, and its theme, might also be significant in a broader sense: it could be seen as taking place against the backdrop of discussions about the status quo of Private International Law, about current evolutions within Private International Law and the future of Private International Law, about the so-called “neutrality” of Private International Law.

These current evolutions and discussions might be analysed from the perspective of the “instrumentalization” of Private International Law. Questions about the instrumentalization of Private International Law might, ultimately, be framed as questions about the role and potential of the discipline of Private International Law with regard to social justice and global justice. Such questions arise with regard to the regulation of themes that are often put forward as hot topics in discussions about globalization (global / transnational) and social justice. Various case studies could illustrate this, in particular the theme of Corporate Social Responsibility, the theme of labour migration/labour exploitation, the theme of migration law (in the broad sense of the word – including e.g. also social security claims) in its interaction with Private International Law. The cases might concern both the regional-European setting (where legal arguments such as European freedoms arise) and the global setting (where legal arguments such as European freedoms do not arise as such).

When carrying out such an analysis, current developments – such as: recent developments regarding employee protection (recent revision of the Posting Directive, “Ryanair”, …), recent developments regarding consumer protection (in various shapes and forms), recent attention for the interaction between migration law/refugee law and Private International Law, etc. – might be taken into account. Such an analysis could be placed in a context of current calls to the discipline of Private International Law to play a more prominent role cq to exercise the role it deserves or should exercise cq “to do its bit”. See also, on this, i.a. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3265160.

Put this way, the preliminary question of the Dutch Supreme Court interests the European road transport, but the interest for this case might also go beyond the particular characteristics and merits of this case and might even go beyond the specific theme.

On 13 December Fieke van Overbeeke will defend her phd thesis at the University of Antwerp on the exact topic of this preliminary question (under the supervision of Thalia Kruger and Herwig Verschueren). Fieke analysed the law applicable to the employment contracts of lorry drivers in the light of the Rome I Regulation and the Posting of Workers Directive.

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