The closing conference of the CROBECO (Cross Border Electronic Conveyancing of Land) project carried out by European Land Registration Association (ELRA) was as European as can be, with speakers from The Netherlands, Spain, England, Portugal and many more nationalities and countries which were represented in the audience at the Scottish House in Brussels. In attendance were academics, practicing notaries and many registrars from all over Europe. How fitting and inspiring such an atmosphere was for a closing conference which felt more like a kick-off conference of CROBECO-2. A highlight of the conference was in my opinion the first cross-border mortgage made up by a Dutch notary in the Netherlands which was entered into the Spanish land registry, and not just because of the enthusiasm shown by the Notary, Mr. Frits von Seydlitz, at the moment of sending the document. The progress made between the launch of the project and the first conference in 2010 and last week was indeed a small click for a notary, but a giant leap for cross border conveyance of land and if I may be so bold; eg. freedom of services (some of the notaries present, came because they saw a good business opportunity); freedom of capital (by facilitating the process of investing in property across borders).
Much already has been written about the CROBECO project on this blog by MEPLI-resident fellow Dr. Bram Akkermans, who himself had been involved in the project together with other MEPLI-resident Prof. dr. Sjef van Erp, both present at the conference and involved as well by means of giving a presentation and presiding over a discussion respectively.
Whilst there were many more presentations I will only highlight a few.
Prof. Dr. Guillermo Palao Moreno, an expert in Private International Law (PIL) discussed the conformity of the CROBECO project and PIL rules as laid down in the Rome I & II Regulations. He came to the conclusion that whilst the law determining the transfer rules that have to be adhered to are subject to the lex rei sitae (ie. The law of the land where the object is situated) and cannot be chosen by the parties themselves, it is the contract of sale (generally) preceding the transfer
of property of an immovable which does allow a choice of law by the parties. Therefore allowing the possibility of eg. applying Dutch law to the contract of sale of a property located in Spain. According to the professor, who carried out a dutiful study of the Rome I & II regulations and the conformity of the project in relation to these Regulations, the conclusion can be drawn that CROBECO is in full conformity with the rules of Private International Law.
More good news came from a presenter from a neighbouring country of Spain, namely from Professor: Prof. Afonso Patrão of the Universidade de Coimbra in Portugal. His presentation regarding the possible application of CROBECO in Portugal was full of zest. He gave the kick-off for what could be the follow-up for the CROBECO project, the application in Portugal. Starting off with the possible difficulties one could encounter trying to implement CROBECO in Portugal, it took him a mere 10 minutes to convince a large portion of the audience of the relative ease with which these hurdles, ranging from tax issues to trouble with access to information, could be cleared away. Whilst I too was enthralled by the presentation of the esteemed professor, as were many others with me, I have to admit that I am a little more hesitant in following his conclusion. This might be due to the fact that the presenter only had a limited amount of time to present in essence, an overview of an entire transfer system with all the possible hurdles that could exist and parry each of them with more arguments than time allowed. Therefore, I sincerely hope that ELRA will continue with CROBECO with the support of the EU and will look more extensively into its application in Portugal.
Another legal system which I would suggest to be included in a follow-up of CROBECO would be that of England & Wales. Presentations by Mr. Chris Pitt-Lewis (HM Land Registry of England and Wales) and Ms. Sally Osborn (The Notaries’ Society) who ensured as that ‘Yes, we do exist!’ and in order to ensure that none of us would ever forget, continued to give a very extensive overview of what the tasks, sometimes exclusive tasks, of the notaries in England & Wales are. Nevertheless, should there be future plans for CROBECO to cross the channel, conveyancing of property is not one of these exclusive tasks and this alone should not be considered a hindrance for going forward with CROBECO in England.
Many more presentations and discussion followed and continued during the lunch and coffee breaks, proving to me yet again that the last word about CROBECO has not been said, far from it, and to me that is exactlyl right. CROBECO could be so much more than it already is. The closing conference of the project in my opinion should be considered a first step to more and more legal systems opening up their legal borders to cross border conveyances, and not necessarily only within the EU, though that would be a giant leap forward already (link via elra.eu).