The limits of eclecticism in consumer law : national struggles and the hope for a coherent European Contract Law ; a comment on the ECJ's and the FCJ's "Heininger"-decisions

  • By order of 29 November 1999 the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a preliminary ruling under Article 234 EC two questions regarding the interpretation of the "doorstep-selling directive", and the "consumer credit directive", which arose in the course of proceedings involving Mr and Mrs Heininger, who took out from the Bayerische Hypo- und Vereinsbank AG bank a loan to purchase a flat, secured by a charge on the property (Grundschuld). Five years later they sought to cancel the credit agreement, maintaining that an estate agent had called uninvited at their home and induced them to purchase the flat in question and - at the same time acting on a self-employed basis as agent for the bank - to enter into the loan agreement, without informing them of their right of cancellation. Article 1 para. 1 of the doorstep-selling directive provides that it applies to contracts under which a trader supplies goods or services to a consumer and which are concluded during a visit by a trader to the consumer's home where the visit does not take place at the express request of the consumer'. Article 3 para. 2 a) of that directive provides that the directive shall not apply to contracts for the construction, sale and rental of immovable property or contracts concerning other rights relating to immovable property. Article 4 of the directive provides that traders shall be required to give consumers written notice of their right of cancellation. Article 5 provides that the consumer shall have the right to cancel the contract within seven days from receipt by the consumer of the notice. Article 2 of the consumer credit directive provides that it shall not apply to credit agreements intended primarily for the purpose of acquiring or retaining property rights in land or in an existing or projected building, and that Article 1 a) and Articles 4 to 12 of the directive shall not apply to credit agreements, secured by mortgage on immovable property. The German legislation transposing the doorstep-selling directive (the "HWiG") provides for a right of cancellation by the consumer within a period of one week, if a transaction is entered into away from the trader's business premises. The cooling-off period does not start to run until the customer receives a notice in writing containing information on this right and if that notice is not given, the right of cancellation will not lapse until one month after both parties have performed their obligations under the agreement in full. Section 5 para. 2 of the HwiG provides that where the transaction also falls within the scope of the legislation transposing the consumer credit directive (the "VerbrKrG"), only the provisions of the latter are to apply. Section 3 para. 2 of the VerbrKrG, in setting out the exceptions to the scope of that law, provides that inter alia Section 7 (right of cancellation) shall not apply to credit agreements in which credit is subject to the giving of security by way of a charge on immovable property, and is granted on usual terms for credits secured by a charge on immovable property and the intermediate financing of the same. Given this legal framework it is obvious that the Heiningers could not cancel the credit agreement according to the VerbrKrG. Although the agreement constitutes a consumer credit under section 1 VerbrKrG, the right of revocation is excluded by section 3 para. 2 VerbrKrG, the exclusion of which is backed by the consumer credit directive. Although the credit agreement was entered into away from the banks business premises, they as well could not cancel it under the HWiG since this law is not applicable to consumer credit agreements. Thus, the claim of the Heiningers was denied by German courts until the Federal Court of Justice raised the question, if the subsidiarity clause in section 5 para. 2 of the HWiG constitutes a contradiction to the provisions of the door step selling directive.

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Author:Gralf-Peter CalliessORCiDGND
Document Type:Article
Date of Publication (online):2005/09/23
Year of first Publication:2002
Publishing Institution:Universit├Ątsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2005/09/23
Page Number:7
Auch in: German law journal, 3.2002, Nr. 8
Source:GLJ Vol. 3 No. 8 - 01 August 2002 ( )
Institutes:Rechtswissenschaft / Rechtswissenschaft
Dewey Decimal Classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 34 Recht / 340 Recht
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht