Sweden blocks EU divorce rules


Sweden blocked EU plans this afternoon to agree which country should have jurisdiction when a couple from different nationalities seek to divorce within the 27-nation bloc, top EU officials said.

Around 170,000 international marriages end in divorce in the European Union each year but there are no common rules dictating which country's laws to apply. Spouses sometimes rush to court in their country of origin to try to get the law on their side.

EU justice ministers, meeting in Slovenia, mostly agreed to let spouses decide themselves and wanted to set out common rules to determine which country's laws would apply if the couple failed to reach agreement.

But Sweden opposed the move, worried that it would have to alter its liberal divorce law.

"In Sweden, we always apply Swedish law on divorce," the country's Justice Minister Beatrice Ask told reporters. "The right to divorce is fundamental to gender equality," she said, adding that to apply other laws would be a setback in Sweden.

But EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini disagreed: "It seems to me a bit strange to believe that another EU member state, with absolutely democratic legislation, offers less protection," Frattini said.

"We do need harmonised provisions, to give legal certainty. It is simply impossible that one or the other in the couple decides who should be the competent judge or which law should be applied," he told a news conference.

EU laws need unanimous agreement from member states to come into force. Under EU rules, some countries can forge ahead regardless if one or more blocks change. But this provision has never been used and Mr Frattini ruled out such a move in this case.

Marriage and divorce laws differ widely across the 27-nation EU bloc, from the liberal Nordic nations to Catholic Poland and Ireland. Malta does not even allow divorce.

Ireland, the Netherlands and Malta also raised concerns about the proposal today, but the only country to oppose it completely was Sweden, an EU diplomat said.

Separately, justice ministers agreed in principle that their countries would enforce each other's rulings in cross-border criminal cases, even when the ruling was pronounced in the absence of the accused.

That would allow a Spanish court to ask German police to arrest a German tourist who had committed a crime while on holiday in Ibiza, even if the tourist failed to attend the trial. But it will not force countries like Britain, which do not try people in absentia, to do so.