In a rare concession to the value of EU-wide judicial competence the government today announced it is opting in to measures to expand the use of the European Small Claims Regulation. 

The regulation provides a simplified EU-wide procedure to allow citizens and businesses to pursue cross-border claims with a value of €2,000 or less and to have the resulting judgments recognised for enforcement automatically in another member state.

However, although it has been in force in January 2009, it is little used. A Europe-wide survey of citizens with experiences of cross-border civil and commercial disputes found that only 5% of Britons had heard of the European small claims procedure. 

To extend its use, the European Commission has recommended increasing the small claims limit to €10,000; capping court fees to 10% of the value of the claim; broadening the definition of cross-border cases to bring more claims in scope and more use of IT to cut costs.

Under a protocol of the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, EU legislative measures covering civil judicial cooperation do not apply to the UK unless it expressly opts in. 

In a written ministerial statement published today, the lord chancellor, Chris Grayling, said the government had decided to opt in to the changes. However the statement said the government does not agree with all the commission’s proposals, saying that it is 'not appropriate for the EU to set rules on the level of court fees'. 

However the statement said the government 'recognises the value of a cross-border small claims procedure for consumers who have had difficulties when buying goods from other member states, holidaymakers wishing to resolve problems encountered when abroad or businesses trading across borders. 

'It accepts that such a procedure can help the working of the single market and for that reason believes it is in the United Kingdom’s interests to opt in to the proposal.'

In another development, the European Parliament will tomorrow vote on the European Commission’s proposal for an optional common European sales law (CESL).

Conservative MEPs are mounting a concerted drive against the plan, claiming that the law ‘is largely based on civil law rather than the UK’s common law system’ and that the City of London will lose out to the US if the law is applied across the EU as a default system for cross-border contracts.