In Case C-372/16 Sahyouni Saugmandsgaard ØE Opined Friday last (Opinion not yet available in EN at the time of writing of this post; the curia press release on the case helps). The case concerns the scope of application of Rome III, Regulation 1259/2010 (on enhanced co-operation Regulation on divorce and legal separation), as well as the application of its Article 10. This Article inserts the lex fori for the lex causae, where the lex causae as identified by the Regulation makes no provision for divorce or does not grant one of the spouses equal access to divorce or legal separation on grounds of their sex.
In the previous Sahyouni Case C‑281/15, the request was considered inadmissible for lack of factual beef to the bone to allow the Court to apply its Dzodzi case-law (Joined Cases C‑297/88 and C‑197/89). In that case, the Court had held that the authors of the Treaty did not intend to exclude from the jurisdiction of the Court requests for a preliminary ruling on a provision of EU law in the specific case where the national law of a Member State refers to the content of that provision in order to determine rules applicable to a situation which is purely internal to that State and that, on the contrary, it is manifestly in the interest of the EU legal order that, in order to forestall future differences of interpretation, every provision of EU law should be given a uniform interpretation irrespective of the circumstances in which it is to be applied.
In the case at hand, Rome III is not generally applicable to decisions on divorce and legal separation issued by the authorities of third States. German residual private international law on the matter, however, makes it so applicable.
Saugmandsgaard ØE first of all opines that the national court now does give the CJEU enough information for it to rule on the case. Contrary to what the German legislature assumed, however, the AG suggests Rome III does not cover divorces which are declared without a constitutive decision of a court or other public authority, such as a divorce resulting from the unilateral declaration of a spouse which is registered by a religious court. Note that the AG for this purpose employs lex fori in the sense of EU law (the Regulation and its preparatory works), to determine whether such divorce is ‘private’ or not; not as might be considered an alternative in the case at hand, Syrian law. Those of us with an interest in Vorfrage may find this interesting.
Next, the AG does complete the analysis should the Court disagree with his view on scope of application. The question whether access to divorce provided for by the foreign law is discriminatory (this is the test of the aforementioned Article 10) must, in the view of the AG, be assessed in the abstract, and not specifically in the light of the circumstances of the case. Therefore, it suffices that the applicable foreign law be discriminatory by virtue of its content for it to be disapplied.
The AG suggests that the EU legislature considered that the discrimination at issue, namely that based on the sex of the spouse, is so serious as to warrant unqualified rejection, without the possibility of exception on a case-by-case basis, of the entirety of the law which should have been applied in the absence of such discrimination. This interpretation differs from the standard application of another well-known mechanism, that of ordre public, where any assessment needs to be based on a case-by-case basis. (Note prof Mathias Rohe’s disagreement on this point here).
Finally, the AG examines whether the fact that the spouse discriminated against possibly consented to the divorce allows the national court not to disapply the foreign law despite its discriminatory nature, and therefore to apply that law. He suggests that question be answered in the negative. The rule set out in Article 10 of the ‘Rome III’ Regulation, which is based on compliance with values considered to be fundamental, is mandatory in nature and therefore, as a result of the intention of the EU legislature, does not fall within the sphere in which the persons at issue can freely waive the protection of their rights.
A judgment to look out for.