“The notariat is an institution that guarantees respect for the state of law, ensures legal order and supports the legal culture.” It is with these words, in a letter from the President of the Polish Republic, Mr Lech Kaczynski, that participants were welcomed to the 2nd Congress of EU Civil Law Notaries, being held in Warsaw from 10 to 12 September 2008. After the 1st Congress in Rome in 2005, civil law notaries from EU countries and representatives of other States, in addition to numerous political, university and legal figures are meeting again for three working sessions, the main topic of which is ‘A European area of legal certainty: a value for families and citizens, an opportunity for businesses. The issue of legal certainty is at the centre of the construction of a legal Europe. The European notariats, through the CNUE, are essential guarantors of European citizens’ rights and of the smooth running of economic exchanges.
Present at the opening ceremony, Mr Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, welcomed the organisation of such an event by the European notariats, this being evidence, in his view, of the “emergence of a European legal culture that was wished for by the Hague Programme, adopted in 2004". A legal culture that the European Commission is developing with initiatives in which the CNUE is participating actively, such as E-justice, the Justice Forum and the European Judicial Network (EJN). Mr Barrot stated that cooperation with the European Notarial Network, set up by the CNUE, would help speed up and improve the EJN.
Noting progress towards “a Europe of free movement for citizens”, Mr Barrot made a heartfelt call for the creation of a “legal Europe” where rights would move with those moving within Europe. Today, 8 million European citizens do not live in their country of origin. As a consequence, the number of transnational successions, marriages and divorces is multiplying, along with the legal questions they raise. This is why, in order to respond to these challenges, Mr Barrot encouraged the CNUE to continue and to intensify its work with the European institutions on the following subjects:
- In the sphere of succession law, Mr Barrot announced a legislative proposal for the first semester of 2009. The proposal will contain provisions on applicable law and on the implementation of a certificate of inheritance. To this end, the Commissioner highlighted the role of the European Network of Registers of Wills (ENRW), an initiative of the European notariats interconnecting Member States’ registers of wills.
- With regard to the draft for the mutual recognition of authentic acts, Mr Barrot stressed that the authentic act was “essential in giving citizens greater legal certainty”. He added that “an authentic act issued by a public authority can be a very strong basis for the European legal order”. Regretting that although “frontiers have disappeared, legal frontiers remain”, he called for the mutual recognition of acts in the Member States so as to facilitate enforcement for the benefit of citizens. Furthermore, Mr Barrot declared the Commission’s intention to publish a Green Paper on Authentic Acts during 2009.
- The Commissioner also announced a European legislative initiative on matrimonial property for 2009, aiming not to harmonise national laws but, in particular, to avoid conflicts of law.
The Polish Justice Minister, Mr Zbigniew Ćwiąkalski, highlighted the “great respect” enjoyed by civil law notaries as “professionals providing services of the highest standard for citizens”. The Polish minister insisted on the civil law notary’s role in real estate transactions. He declared that “the notarial act that concludes a real estate transaction is one of the most important decisions in a citizen’s life (...).Thanks to this act, citizens and their families can get on their lives without extra worry”.
Mr Helmut Fessler, president of the congress, declared that the European notariat would gather together “all its powers so that Europe’s added value would become a reality for citizens”. Mr Juan Bolás Alfonso, current president of the CNUE, also supported this vision not only of an economic Europe, but of a Europe focusing on citizens and their rights. In this perspective, the CNUE is working for recognition of the notarised act’s value and is seeking original solutions to the problems confronted by citizens who move around Europe. “We want a Europe with equal rights in which citizens will know about the legal mechanisms to which they can turn”, he stated. And for that, he added, the profession benefits from a “major asset”, which is “trust in our profession to guarantee the parties’ interests”. In this framework and by spreading civil law notaries’ preventive and impartial justice, both advice on applicable law and the European authentic act will be the answer to the lack of legal certainty and will guarantee economic development and citizens’ wellbeing.