When the ‘Bolkestein’ Directive on the free movement of services was eventually adopted some years back, some of us referred to it as the ‘hairdressers’ Directive (no disrespect): the scope of application was so narrowed down that few professions seemed still to be covered by it. Similarly, the EU’s Succession Regulation Member States wanted to ensure that the recognition and enforcement of rules on succession /estate would not upset national property law on rules held dear, such as numerus clausus. The Regulation to that effect excludes from its scope of application ‘the nature of rights in rem; and any recording in a register of rights in immoveable or moveable property, including the legal requirements for such recording, and the effects of recording or failing to record such rights in a register.’
In C-218/16 Kubicka the Court of Justice held last week. Ms Kubicka wishes to include in her will a legacy ‘by vindication’, which is allowed by Polish law, in favour of her husband, concerning her share of ownership of the jointly-owned immovable property in Frankfurt an der Oder. She wishes to leave the remainder of the assets that comprise her estate in accordance with the statutory order of inheritance, whereby her husband and children would inherit it in equal shares. She expressly ruled out recourse to an ordinary legacy (legacy ‘by damnation’), as provided for by Article 968 of the Civil Code, since such a legacy would entail difficulties in relation to the representation of her minor children, who will inherit, as well as additional costs. A notary’s assistant refused to draw up a will containing the legacy ‘by vindication’ stipulated by Aleksandra Kubicka on the ground that creation of a will containing such a legacy is contrary to German legislation and case-law relating to rights in rem and land registration.
In the present case, both the legacy ‘by vindication’, provided for by Polish law and the legacy ‘by damnation’, provided for by German law, constitute methods of transfer of ownership of an asset, namely a right in rem that is recognised in both of the legal systems concerned. Therefore, the direct transfer of a property right by means of a legacy ‘by vindication’ concerns only the arrangement by which that right in rem is transferred at the time of the testator’s death. It is not covered by the exception.
Member States and practitioners who suggested an interpretation of the exception beyond its limited scope, were therefore rebuffed. That is a good thing. Property law often for no apparent reason is considered immune from conflict of laws, both in terms of jurisdiction and applicable law. The CJEU’s judgment in Kubicka puts a hold to too wide an interpretation of the rei sitae exception.
(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 6, Heading 188.8.131.52.