The Impact of the French Doctrine of Significant Imbalance on International Business Transactions
22 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2018 Last revised: 18 Jun 2018
Date Written: March 1, 2018
This article examines the concept of “significant imbalance” (SI) under French law and its impact on international business transactions. “Significant imbalance” is a legal standard meant to assess whether a contractual clause is unfair (abusive). Although initially restricted to consumer law, it has been extended to general contract law with the implementation of a reform entered into force on 1st October 2016. Previously, the Commercial Court of Paris in the ruling Ministry of Economy et al. v. Expedia, Inc. et al. (2015) had qualified SI as an “overriding mandatory provision” (loi de police) under EU Regulation No. 593/2008 on the applicable law to contractual obligations (Rome I). As a consequence, SI became operative in respect of international contracts despite an express choice of a foreign governing law made by the parties to the transaction. This article argues that, as a result of Expedia and the 2016 reform, French courts can interfere with international business transactions by striking down contractual terms that they deem unfair according to the SI standard. The analysis focuses on two key issues. On the one hand, notwithstanding recent judicial precedents, SI still fails to provide a reliable test for predicting which clauses or contracts are at risk of being deemed unfair. On the other hand, the legal arsenal supporting French legislator’s disapproval of SI allocates great power to French courts and the French government to pursue tort lawsuits against foreign companies allegedly oppressing their commercial partners with SI clauses. Empirical evidence shows that these actions are highly successful compared to those commenced by private actors. The article concludes that all these aspects, together with SI’s turbulent case-law throughout the years, will sprout uncertainty in international business transactions and may eventually disparage France in the global competition in such a field.
Note: This article was first published by Thomson Reuters, trading as Sweet & Maxwell, 5 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AQ, in Journal of Business Law as 'The Impact of the French Doctrine of Significant Imbalance on International Business Transactions'  J.B.L. 148 and is reproduced by agreement with the publishers.
Keywords: Contract, International Business Transactions, French Law, Conflict of Laws
JEL Classification: K22, K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation