Professor Smits: “Living together in Europe does not mean we have to unify everything”

European Private Law is a fairly new concept, explains Jan Smits, who recently started his new job as research professor of Comparative Legal Studies at the University of Helsinki.

Jan Smits

Law can always be debated, Professor Jan Smits emphasizes. Living together in Europe does not mean we have to unify everything. I wish to contribute to the international debate on what European law is.

Jan Smits is Professor of European Private Law and Comparative Law at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. He started out by studying Dutch Law and gradually got more and more interested in European and international law.

- A comparative approach to law has always interested me, he says. European Private Law is a fairly new concept, explains Professor Smits, who recently started his new job as research professor of Comparative Legal Studies at the University of Helsinki. He travels regularly to Helsinki to lead one of the international research groups at the Centre of Excellence called the Foundations of European Law and Polity at the Faculty of Law. The research project will go on until the year 2013.

- Earlier, law students in each country studied law, which was much more national in character than today, says Jan Smits. It meant that law also differed a lot between countries.

-The European Union changed this concept to a certain extent. Should we have more legal unification? The EU is generally in favour of that. A common European Civil Code which would replace the National Law is not, however, something Professor Smits argues for. Law will always remain national to a certain extent. But we can still ask questions and law will always remain a matter of argument.

- Mind you, many good things have come along with the EU, e.g., when buying a product over the internet, the consumer’s law grants us the right to return the product if we are not happy with it.

Jan Smits also directs the new Tilburg Institute of Comparative and Transnational Law (TICOM). His publications and teaching are in the fields of European private law, comparative law and legal theory. Smits was previously a professor of European private law at Maastricht University. He holds a doctorate from Leiden University, was a visiting professor at several foreign universities and is a co-editor of various law journals and book series. In 2004, he was appointed honorary judge in the Amsterdam Court of Appeal.


Text: Karin Hannukainen
Photo: Christa Dubois
19.1.2009
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