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Love Without Limits

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As love birds everywhere prepare to get their budding romance to blossom on Valentine's Day, the European Parliament is fidgeting over how to weed out some of the problems unique to international couples.

Matters such as what to do if your exotic beau dies have become more urgent as Cupid is increasingly aiming its arrows further afield. Although their ancestors might have been glaring at each other from opposite sides of the battle field, these days Europeans from different countries are more likely to meet up over a cava at their local Wetherspoons. And it is not just the likes of Jordan and Boris Becker who have discovered the delights of having a foreign paramour: more and more people all over Europe have found love across the border. About 13% of all marriages in Europe are between citizens from different nationalities and in 2007 alone 300,000 international couples got hitched.

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As of yet, people do not need the parliament for falling in love, but where it can make a difference is helping them to their feet when things turn south. Although some might relish the idea of parents in law living at a safe distance away, cross-EU love does come with its own set of problems. When a marriage turns sour or one of the partners die, the international dimension of the relationship can quickly turn from asset to headache. For example, what legislation applies when a legal mess needs untangling? This is where the Parliament comes in. In 2012 MEPs will look at a series of proposals covering judicial cooperation in civil affairs and setting criteria clarifying which legal system applies when more than one member state is involved.

Consider for example what happens when one of the partners dies. Every year some 450,000 successions in the EU representing about 10% of the total have a cross-border dimension.
To settle inheritance issues and avoid disputes, it is important to know which court applies and which law is applicable. The European Certificate of Successions aims to make this easier. It proposes that jurisdiction and law applicable is based on where the deceased normally lived. However, people living abroad would also be able to choose for the succession to be governed by the law of their country of origin. The idea behind it is that it should reduce the risk that member states issue contradictory decisions. MEPs are expected to vote on the proposals in the coming months.

MEPs will also soon look at the rules for matrimonial property regimes and property consequences of registered partnership for transnational couples. At the moment it can be difficult to divide property in the case of a separation or one of the partners dying. New legislation could help to ensure that all procedures related to the property are dealt with by a court in a single EU country.

This is not the first time that the Parliament has been acting as love doctor. In December 2009 MEPs voted in favour of rules allowing divorcing international couples to choose which EU country's law governs their divorce. These rules only apply to 14 member states (Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, Austria, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia) as not all countries wished to take part. However, they are still free to do so at a later stage.

Hopefully, these measures will help to put your mind at ease next time you take a shine to a fellow European.