Comparative Law and the Quest for Optimal Rules on the Transfer of Movables for Europe

20 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2012 Last revised: 24 Jun 2013

See all articles by Arthur F. Salomons

Arthur F. Salomons

University of Amsterdam - Centre for the Study of European Contract Law (CSECL)

Date Written: June 8, 2012


The drafters of Book VIII Draft Common Frame of Reference (DCFR) have devoted an impressive amount of time and energy in collecting and publishing comparative data with regard to the existing property law within all Member States of the European Union, and in particular with regard to the subject matter of that Book: acquisition and loss of ownership of movables. This in itself suggests that comparative research played an important role in the drafting process, and this impression is enhanced by the abundance of comparative references and notes in the official Comments to Book VIII. However, the fact that the drafters made an extensive study of the relevant property law of every European legal system does not imply per se that the outcome of their comparative research was taken as guiding in the establishment of the DCFR rules.

In order to gain a better insight into the character of the rules of Book VIII, this contribution seeks to answer the question whether comparative arguments really weighed heavily in the drafting of Book VIII: is the ‘comparative activism’ of its drafters a manifestation of a determination that common or even majority solutions should be the basis of the model rules to be proposed, or did the drafters feel free to propose novel rules even if these were contrary to what applies in most European countries, according to the comparative data they collected and presented themselves?

To find out to what extent the choices of the drafters were influenced, if not determined, by their comparative research, it would be helpful to know what comparative methodology they followed. On this, we are told by them that the functional approach of Zweigert and Kötz can hardly be used in property law, for lack of functionally similar solutions, but as a comparative introduction to Book VIII is lacking, the question what other method could take its place is not answered.

Therefore, another course of action was needed in order to be able to answer the above mentioned question. This course was found by first of all collecting the scattered general remarks by the principal drafters of Book VIII on the role of their comparative research, and by secondly analyzing what kind of comparative arguments the drafters actually included in the Comments to the provisions of that Book. The results of this approach are as follows.

The principal drafters’ various publications on the work of the Working group responsible for the drafting of Book VIII DCFR seem to indicate that they gradually began to attach less importance to comparative arguments as the project progressed. Initially (in 2007), it was argued that the information in the National reports was 'vital to our project' and 'the most important basis for our work'. One year on, the Reports were indicated as 'a basis for the working group’s own comparative research.' Finally, in 2011, the drafters called the comparative survey 'a main source of inspiration.' It may be that this change of tone is a reflection of a development in the way the drafters perceived the role of other arguments, in particular those based on policy decisions; such a development could well have been the result of the debates on the proposals of the Working group with the members of the Study group. But whatever the cause, a confirmation of the fact that such a development indeed occurred can be found in the Introduction to the final publication, in 2011, of the texts of and Comments and Notes to the provisions of Book VIII. Referring to the 'remarkable differences to be found in European property law regimes' it is stated that 'most articles were drafted according to policy decisions.' The impression is inescapable that comparative arguments gradually had to give way to policy arguments, or at least that the drafters wanted or felt compelled to give this impression.

However, none of this is reflected in the Comments to the 29 Articles of the first three Chapters of Book VIII. The drafters indicated in a very large number of instances to have followed common or majority solutions. An explicit rejection of a majority solution occurred in only two instances of little importance. Only when common or majority solutions were absent, the drafters seem to have been more inclined to create novel solutions than to look for leads in the available comparative data. In the handful of instances where the drafters adopted a minority solution, this concerned rules on topics where the European legal systems are strongly divergent (notably good faith acquisition). We must conclude from the Comments that, even if the principal drafters themselves gradually began to convey a different impression, comparative arguments played an important, often even decisive role in the drafting of the rules of Book VIII. If so, these rules are even more firmly rooted in current European property law than is often assumed.

Keywords: property law, comparative law, european private law, DCFR, functionalism

JEL Classification: K11

Suggested Citation

Salomons, Arthur F., Comparative Law and the Quest for Optimal Rules on the Transfer of Movables for Europe (June 8, 2012). European Property Law Journal 2(1), pp. 54-72.; Amsterdam Law School Research Paper No. 2012-72; Centre for the Study of European Contract Law Working Paper Series No. 2012-09. Available at SSRN:

Arthur F. Salomons (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam - Centre for the Study of European Contract Law (CSECL) ( email )

P.O. Box 1030
Amsterdam, 1000 BA

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