The European small claims procedure is designed to improve access to justice by simplifying the procedures for settling cross-border civil and commercial disputes. The amount in dispute may not exceed EUR 5.000 (excluding interest, fees, and expenses) at the time the claim is received.
A decision rendered in such a procedure is recognised and enforced in the other Member States. The procedure is optional and is available in addition to the possible avenues provided for by the laws of the Member States.
This procedure does not require the assistance of a lawyer.
Who is concerned
The procedure is available to European citizens alongside the procedures provided for by the national laws of the Member States. It has been available since 2009 in all EU Member States except Denmark.
This procedure may be used only for cross-border disputes. A cross-border dispute is any dispute in which at least one of the parties is domiciled or is normally resident in a different Member State from the plaintiff.
The losing party pays the costs of the procedure.
How to proceed
Filing a claim
The form, duly completed and accompanied by all necessary supporting documentation, should be sent by post or by any other means of communication permitted by the Member State in which the procedure is commenced.
Luxembourg accepts postal mail as a means of communication.
In Belgium, filing in person and sending by registered letter are accepted.
In Germany, the request may be sent by post, by e-mail or by fax. Certain courts also have electronic access, so requests can be sent electronically.
In France, requests may be sent to the court by post or electronically. The request must be submitted in the language or languages of the relevant jurisdiction.
If the information provided by the claimant is insufficient or the form is not correctly filled out, the court sends the claimant a correction and/or rectification form to be returned by the deadline indicated by the court, or else the claim may be dismissed.
The claim may also be dismissed if it is manifestly groundless or inadmissible.
Notice to the defendant
The competent court sends notice to the defendant – i.e. to the opposing party – within 14 days of receiving the claim, by post with dated receipt requested. The defendant has 30 days to respond following the date of the notice.
The defendant may respond on the dedicated form or by any other suitable method, and the response must be accompanied by any supporting document deemed useful.
Then, the court has a further 14 days from receipt of the defendant's response to send a copy of that response to the claimant. The defendant may also file a counter-claim if they wish not only to reject the claim, but also to assert a right against the claimant, who will then have 30 days to respond following service or notice of the counter-claim. In no event may the counter-claim relate to a dispute with an amount of more than EUR 5.000 at stake.
If one party refuses to accept an exhibit that is not written in a language that such party understands, or is not written in one of the official languages of the Member State in which the claim is filed, the competent court so informs the other party, who should then provide a translation of the exhibit.
The court's decision
The competent court is required to render a decision within 30 days of receipt of all the aforementioned documents. It may also request additional information or evidence or even summon the parties to a hearing. In that event, the court makes its decision within 30 days of the hearing, or after receiving all the necessary information. The decision is recognised and enforced in the other Member States.
Refusal to enforce and appeals
At the request of the defendant, the court of the Member State may refuse to enforce the decision, if the decision is irreconcilable with a decision previously rendered in any Member State or in a third country, where:
- the earlier decision was rendered between the same parties in a dispute on the same cause;
- the earlier decision was rendered in the Member State in which the decision would be enforced or meets the requirements for recognition there; and
- the irreconcilability of the decision was not and could not have been raised during the European small claims procedure.
Appeals against decisions rendered pursuant to the European small claims procedure are filed in accordance with the procedures of the Member States, where that possibility is offered by the Member State in which the decision was rendered.
The defendant may petition for a re-examination of a decision, if they act quickly and if:
- the service or notice of the claim or summons to appear at a hearing does not include proof of receipt, and the service or notice was not carried out with sufficient time to enable the defendant to prepare a defence, through no fault of the defendant; or
- the defendant is unable to contest the claim for reasons of force majeure or due to specific circumstances, such as vacation or hospitalisation, through no fault of the defendant.
This procedure does not apply to tax, customs or administrative matters, or to the liability of the State. Also excluded are:
- the status and capacity of natural persons;
- matrimonial regimes, maintenance payments, wills and inheritance matters;
- bankruptcies, legal settlements and similar procedures;
- social security;
- labour law;
- property leases, except with respect to procedures concerning monetary claims; and
- invasions of privacy and violations of the right of publicity, including defamation.