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Europe

European Union Split Over Divorce Law

European Union justice ministers were split Friday over EU rules governing divorce between mixed-nationality couples, with 10 states seeking to adopt new divorce laws despite opposition from the European Commission.

Wedding rings on an EU flag logo

Some EU states say the new divorce law would weaken their own laws

The debate revolves around the question of which law should be applied when citizens of two different EU member states who are married want a divorce -- a question to which there is no standardized EU answer.

"At this moment, we do have enough countries" to launch a system of enhanced cooperation on divorce issues, Czech Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil, who headed the informal meeting of EU counterparts in Prague, told journalists.

The concept of "enhanced cooperation" was created by the EU's 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam. It 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.

But EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot countered that claim, saying the current group of countries "is not enough" to launch such cooperation, "because at that moment we would have a very fragmented family law."

In 2006, the Commission -- the EU’s executive arm -- proposed a bloc-wide rule setting out which national divorce law should apply when mixed-nationality couples split, but Sweden vetoed it, arguing that it could bind Swedes to less liberal divorce laws.

"It would mean that the right to get a divorce would be not as good in Sweden, and I can't accept that because you can make agreements on many things, but not to lower your fundamental rights," Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask said in Prague.

Some EU states still seek law

Wedding rings

European states have higher than average divorce rates

Following the veto, nine EU states -- Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovenia and Spain -- wrote to the Commission for permission to apply the EU-level law anyway. France was reportedly preparing to join the group in January.

"The fact that one country has big problems with moving forwards in this domain should encourage the others to go on. It's not the ideal solution, but I think that sometimes you have to use the possibilities offered by the treaty," Luxembourg Justice Minister Luc Frieden said.

The enhanced-cooperation system has not yet been used. Barrot, the EU commissioner, said Friday that he did not see the need to start now.

He said that at least half the EU's 27 member states would have to ask for enhanced cooperation for it to become realistic.

But the Czech minister, Pospisil, said that support for the idea of enhanced cooperation "is actually rising" among EU states, and that the Czech EU presidency was ready to open a debate on the subject.

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