Paths out of the Labyrinth
European Contract Law – Synthesis and Orientation


September 05, 2018

At the political level, European lawmakers have for the time being abandoned their attempt to create a uniform European contract law from the tangle of EU Directives, national law and academic reference works. That we need not, however, fall into a state of paralysis is shown by the publication “Commentaries on European Contract Laws”, in which Institute Director Reinhard Zimmermann and Nils Jansen (University of Münster), together with twenty additional scholars, take stock of developments and chart a course for the future.

The past forty years have witnessed an array of draft European Contract Laws, ranging from the Principles of European Contract Law to the Draft Common Frame of Reference and the Common European Sales Law. To these one can add the Directives adopted by European lawmakers in the area of consumer contract law, draft instruments aiming at a global unification, such as the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts, and other texts as well.

“In the wake of the European Commission's decision to abandon (at least for the moment) its attempt to codify European contract law, it is time to take stock of the current situation and offer a measure of orientation,” observes Institute Director Reinhard Zimmermann. Exactly this is the task undertaken in a reference work that has been edited by Zimmermann and Nils Jansen and that features the contributions of twenty further authors (the great majority of them academic pupils of the two editors). Published in August 2018 by Oxford University Press and titled “Commentaries on European Contract Laws”, the volume explores the development of the various European contract law texts, critically examining them and comparing their formulations. In addition, the authors consider the texts in light of their pertinent historical and comparative background.

For the editors, a central challenge was adequately to present current European law in its sometimes dissonant – yet at other times fully harmonious – polyphony. Consequently, the Principles of European Contract Law, supplemented by European Directives, provide both an interpretive starting point as well as a framework of orientation. One of the questions is the extent to which these texts can actually be understood as a concretization of a European common core. At the same time, the volume suggests the direction for future thought and efforts towards a European contract law. Particularly at a time when the European ship has encountered rough seas, it is important to stay on course.

“The monumental project of achieving a Europeanization of contract law will, naturally, not be carried out by scholars alone. But scholars can use the time available to lay a true foundation, one unfettered by politically motivated timeframes and objectives.” Of this Reinhard Zimmermann is convinced.

Reinhard Zimmermann, Nils Jansen (eds.), Commentaries on European Contract Laws, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2018, 2384 pp.

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