A Transatlantic Analysis
Andreas Heinzmann and Valerio Scollo
For those of us who were born in the 1970s and the 1980s, a geographic Europe without a European Economic Area is inconceivable. Our generation has been studying the acquis communautaire together with the constitutional law of the Member State where they attended university. Those who were born in the 1990s, who are entering the legal profession now, have received their pocket money and their first pay cheque in euros. Yet, the Brexit referendum in 2016 has shaken our common beliefs. Is the European Union (EU) a project European citizens need? Is it possible to maintain political stability, peace and prosperity without it? Brexit seemed to represent, at the time, the potential follow-up to Grexit and the forerunner to Italexit. After three years of self-destructive actions by the British government, the firm and united reaction of the rest of Europe has shown the world that the EU is here to stay. Until Brexit, the UK and the English practitioners were at the forefront in interpreting and making the EU financial regulations familiar to market participants. They were the point of reference. Today we still read the EU policies and laws on financial services through the lenses of English law and practice. Yet Brexit has started a process that will likely change the status quo. Brexit pushed and will push more and more practitioners in a post-Brexit EU to challenge themselves, and to find new paradigms.
Edited by Federico Fabbrini and Marco Ventoruzzo
Thomas Wilhelmsson and Geraint Howells
Comparative research, more than any other tool, assists us in following the evolution of legislation in this field and the influence of more experienced countries in this development. In this chapter, we will examine differences and similarities of national regulation of consumer bankruptcy proceedings and concentrate on some of their peculiarities. Please note that this comparative chapter is based only on the results of the country surveys carried out in this study. N.B. For the purpose of this research, the term ‘bankruptcy’ will be used in relation to individuals in consistency with English legal terminology. The term ‘insolvency’ will be used as an umbrella term to address bankruptcy, debt restructuring and other types of proceedings. The origins of personal bankruptcy procedures can be found in Roman law where, in the event that a debtor was unable to return debt, he or she could have been handed to the creditor or even sold as a slave. Since then the law has become more debtor-friendly. Even if discharge (debt relief) was already understood by a number of ancient societies, in the vast majority of developed countries it was only introduced as late as the 21st century to grant overindebted debtors a possibility of a second chance or a fresh start. The causes of consumer over-indebtedness and their legal solutions are disclosed in detail in the previous chapter of this book.
In the past decades, the growth of consumer credit has led to increased debt problems of private households, and many economically advanced countries have responded to this social risk of household over-indebtedness by creating legal procedures for the resolution of consumer insolvencies: consumer bankruptcy laws. The spread of consumer bankruptcy law has been particularly pronounced in Europe, where since the 1980s almost all countries have adopted bankruptcy laws for non-business individuals. This ‘seismic legislative activity’ alone calls for a comparative study of consumer insolvency proceedings in Europe. However, insolvency law for natural persons has not only expanded in territorial terms; it has also undergone a transformation of its basic aims and characteristics. While in the past the main objectives of personal bankruptcy law were the punishment of defaulting debtors and the (fair) distribution of an insolvent debtor’s assets among his or her creditors, the primary aim of present-day consumer bankruptcy regimes is the provision of a financial ‘fresh start’ for honest insolvent individuals by means of a discharge of debts (i.e., the legal cancellation of the debtor’s responsibility for the payment of specified types of debts). In order to account for this historical transformation of personal bankruptcy law, I have suggested incorporating the debt discharge and the possibility of a voluntary petition (i.e., debtor-initiated proceedings) into a contemporary definition of consumer bankruptcy.