European Contract Law: A Matter of Consumer Protection, Citizenship, or Justice?
Martijn W. Hesselink
University of Amsterdam - Centre for the Study of European Contract Law (CSECL)
September 8, 2006
European Review of Private Law, Vol. 15, pp. 323-348, 2007
LIBER AMICORUM GUIDO ALPA; PRIVATE LAW BEYOND THE NATIONAL SYSTEMS, Mads Andenas, Silvia Diaz Alabart, Sir Basil Markesinis, Hans Micklitz, Nello Pasquini, eds., pp. 500-525, London: British Institute of International and Comparative Law, 2007
Centre for the Study of European Contract Law Working Paper Series
In its "First Annual Progress Report on European Contract Law and the Acquis Review," the European Commission recently announced that, within the Common Frame of Reference process, it will prioritise the revision of the consumer acquis. This "reprioritisation" has a number of practical consequences. However, the more fundamental question is what the effect of a renewed focus on consumer protection will be on the character of European contract law, and on the way in which the Union addresses and views the people living in Europe. This question will become all the more important if the Commission is going to attempt, as it seems to envisage, some comprehensive and exclusive European legislation with regard to contracts with consumers (all or certain important ones, notably sales).
Obvious alternatives to the consumer protection approach to the Europeanisation of contract law include the perspectives of European citizenship and of justice. Does it matter whether European contract law is developed as a matter of consumer protection, citizenship or justice? Or, to put it differently, does it make a difference for a contracting party whether she is treated as a consumer, a citizen or a person?
This paper argues that it does. It presents the European policies with regard to consumer protection, European citizenship and the Area of justice, and discusses the kind of contract law that each of these approaches leads to and the kind of society they contribute towards. Both the citizenship and, in particular, the consumer protection approach are rejected as an exclusive approach to contract law because they are reductive. They fail to take into account important aspects of human life which would be included in an approach to contract law from the perspective of justice.
The conclusion is that European contract law should become a matter of justice. As a consequence, the European Union will need to provide a legal basis for treating contract law as a matter of civil justice. Moreover, the Union will have to articulate a common European conception of justice in contract law.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 44
Keywords: Contract law, European Union, consumer protection, citizenship, social justice
JEL Classification: K10, K12, K20
Date posted: November 24, 2006 ; Last revised: April 1, 2011