Saturday, January 19, 2008

When In Rome.....

My family moved to Luxembourg when I was 11 years old and rather than send me to the European or American schools my father insisted that "when in Rome, do as the Roman's do" so I was packed off to a school in an 18c abbey which surrounds the basilica of St Willibrord in Echternach. This was a cultural shock, firstly because my maternal family were strict Methodists and secondly I had to learn three languages, plus a wee bit of Latin, very quickly. Our teachers all spoke Luxembourgish, although some subjects were taught in French and some in German because there were no Luxembourgish text books. (Luxembourgish, like Gaelic, was transmitted orally and only since WWII has it become a written language.) Thus Luxembourgers are capable of moving seamlessly between all three languages and many are fluent in English and Italian.

Anyway, recently I met up with an old school friend who is a Luxembourgish lawyer and after a couple of glasses of Riesling from the local vineyard we started talking about the good old days and things not being what they once were. Luxembourg civil law is based on the French Civil Code and in spite of modifications remains faithful to the Napoleon Code although influenced by modern French and Belgian legislation. However German or Luxembourgish is often used administratively, meaning in practice Luxembourg court proceedings move seamlessly between all three languages and occasionally lapse into English. In the old days a lawyer from another EU state wishing to practice in Luxembourg under his home country's professional title had to attend a hearing to verify their proficiency in French, German and Luxembourgish, but of course in the interest of harmonisation such proficiency tests no longer exist.

From my friend's point of view the UK government’s decision to opt out from the Rome III regulation (which was intended to simplify divorce procedure throughout the EU) is rather strange, although he does accept that it's implementation here would have been difficult and given rise to practical as well as procedural problems.


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