Simon Whittaker, ‘The Proposed Common European Sales Law: Legal Framework and the Agreement of the Parties’

Economic integration remains at the heart of the European Union, and it is not surprising, therefore, that contract law has increasingly formed the object of European legislative initiatives. During the 1980s and 1990s, the resulting legislation was particular in its scope, targeted in its aims, and its main technique was the harmonization by directive of aspects of the national contract laws of Member States. Over the last decade, increasing dissatisfaction with this technique prompted a move towards ‘full harmonization’ in EU consumer law, seen first as regards the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive 2005, and later as regards the reshaped versions of the Timeshare Directive and Consumer Credit Directive. However, when in 2008 the Commission sought in its Consumer Rights Directive Proposal to extend ‘full harmonization’ to four of the most important directives in the consumer acquis, the proposal met with very considerable opposition. The Consumer Rights Directive as promulgated in late 2011 is therefore much reduced in scope, its provisions leaving aside almost entirely change to earlier (minimum harmonization) directives on unfair terms and consumer guarantees in sale. However, a second legislative development of importance for the present discussion was the new competence established by the Amsterdam Treaty, which allowed the EU to bring existing European private international law instruments on jurisdiction and on applicable law in contract within the framework of EU law and to add to them new instruments on applicable law. As a result, EU law now possesses uniform laws governing the law applicable to cross-border contracts and cross-border torts, whose justification was again the needs of the internal market. It is in this somewhat crowded legislative arena which we must place the recent Commission Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a Common European Sales Law. Broadly, the proposal would set up an optional contract law instrument (the ‘Common European Sales Law’ or ‘CESL’) governing sales of goods, the supply of digital content and certain related services for contracts between traders (where one is a small or medium size business (SME)) and contracts between traders and consumers. This note will outline the purposes and the scope of this initiative and then examine two of its central features: its technical legal framework, particularly as regards its relationship with private international law, and its approach to the agreement required of the parties to use the CESL to govern their contract.

Whittaker, Simon, The Proposed Common European Sales Law: Legal Framework and the Agreement of the Parties (February 17, 2012). Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10/2012.

First posted 2012-02-19 10:15:47

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