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Successful ELI Conference on New Rules for Contracts in the Digital Single Market – What’s in it for Consumers and Businesses in Europe?

Nearly 100 top legal experts from Europe and beyond gathered in Vienna to discuss the three legislative proposals that the European Commission introduced under its Digital Single Market strategy on 9 December 2015. These proposals represent the first material steps towards a modern contract law regime for digital content and online sales across the EU.

The Conference, organized by the European Law Institute (ELI) and the University of Vienna, provided the legal European legal profession with the first opportunity to discuss and consider the substantial impact that these new Digital Single Market instruments, published just over a month ago, are likely to have. Wolfgang Brandstetter, Austrian Federal Minister of Justice underlined in his welcoming address that the ELI has made a great contribution in organizing the event allowing for a first exchange of expert views in this regard.

Among the speakers were Dirk Staudenmayer from the European Commission, who emphasised that there is a need for harmonization of contract law and that the priority for the Commission in that process was to protect consumer rights, while at the same time encourage cross-border sales. Other speakers included representatives from international organizations, such as Luca Castellani from UNCITRAL and Ursula Pachl from BEUC, as well as distinguished members of the academia and leading practitioners.

The presentations on the Conference focused on a number of the most important improvements and concerns that the proposals raise. As stated by Lord John Thomas, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, these instruments are the first in a long time that slip through the chains of the past, but like any new venture, first proposals can’t be perfect. In that spirit the speakers at the Conference provided a lot of constructive suggestions on how the proposals could better reach their aim and how gaps and overlaps in legislation could be avoided. The active discussions that followed showed that these legislative proposals are of great interest to the European legal community and demonstrated how necessary and timely the Conference was.

The Commission´s proposals are closely connected with earlier attempts to introduce a Common European Sales Law (´CESL´). The ELI has been actively following these efforts ever since 2011, continually providing critical and constructive review. Many of the ELI´s observations and suggestions were taken up by the European Parliament in its legislative proposal, and the European institutions have noted the value of these contributions. On the occasion of her last visit to the ELI the EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová, stressed that the ELI had made particularly valuable contributions towards a sound and robust contract law regime in this important field. This Conference clearly demonstrated the ELI´s determination and commitment to continue to stay at the forefront of these developments.