Europe à la Carte
René Repasi wants to remain an academic to ensure his independence as a politician. In both capacities, he campaigns for the harmonisation of European legal systems. Repasi sees nothing contradictory in his two-fold commitment, only benefits.
Meetings of executive committees, speeches at local branches, conferences – in the final phase of his PhD programme at the Institute for German and European Corporate and Economic Law of Heidelberg University, René Repasi would prefer to skip the day-to-day work of politics. At least his party’s executive committee is supposed to meet via video conference, and members can vote on motions online – measures that are taken in preparation for the future. “Otherwise the local branches will keep losing their best people to the larger cities.”
Repasi's political commitment began when he protested against the pilot introduction of the eight-year secondary school (Gymnasium) system in Stutensee, near Karlsruhe – the principal of his school wanted to prohibit him from approaching the municipal council in his capacity as student representative. So Repasi went to see the mayor as a private citizen. In the end, the municipal council decided against the school reform. “I realised that I could make a difference”, says the 31-year-old. The son of a Hungarian father and a German mother – the “migrant child in a conservative rural community” – became aware of his wish to put his multinational roots to good use instead of burying them.
Still, Repasi says as though he can't quite believe it himself, until his stay abroad during his studies he was the “classic narrow-minded German law student”. A year in Montpellier, France, got him excited about Europe. It was there that he began comparing the German and French legal systems. “With some issues, the Germans and the French arrived at the same results, with others one of the systems was clearly superior – and I was always asking myself how we could bring them together.”
Repasi's research, financed by a European research training group and the FRONTIER innovation fund, still focuses on a comparison of the German and the French legal system. The goal is a “differentiated integration” in the area of private law. Individual EU states should harmonise their legal practice, even if a common solution for the entire EU is not yet in sight. This process is known as “Europe à la carte”. Repasi emphasises that this concept has nothing to do with the “two-speed” Europe so frequently criticised as antisocial.
The researchers in the project compiled a system - atic comparison in all areas of private law for three conferences in Heidelberg, Nancy and Basel; another conference is to follow in October. To compare the legislation, they solved various cases according to the German and the French legal system and compared the results with a third EU state whose laws were as different as possible. If all three systems arrive at the same result, the research group recommends discarding the separate laws in favour of a common one. If the results are very different, there is still the possibility of limiting the harmonisation of laws to selected EU states. “If only 20 of the 27 states harmonised their laws, it would still increase legal certainty”, explains Repasi.
With such a measure it would be possible to avoid cases, e.g. inheritance disputes, in which one party might decide to go to court in their country of origin instead of the country of residence, on account of more favourable legal conditions. “We want to reduce these incentives”, says Repasi. Besides Heidelberg University, the FRONTIER study involved universities in Budapest, Madrid, Cracow, Prague, Lausanne and Paris, with the University of Nancy being the main partner. This research network will soon launch a large-scale joint project in order to investigate all member states and candidate countries.
His clear commitment to a political party did Repasi no harm – on the contrary. As an academic he has benefited greatly from his political experience. Repasi likes to emphasise that he did not acquire his knowledge and skills in Politics 101. “It also helps to have to talk French in front of hundreds of people and to sharpen my arguments. No student is as merciless as the voters.” But Repasi the politician also benefits from Repasi the academic. “As a parliamentarian, I want to be able to make decisions independently and according to my convictions. That would be more difficult if my livelihood depended on a political office.” In European politics, Repasi says, expertise counts more than proportional representation. He will continue to improve on this expertise as he prepares for his habilitation.
René Repasi Since 2007, René Repasi has been employed as a research assistant at the chair of Professor Peter-Christian Müller-Graff of the Institute for German and European Corporate and Economic Law. The son of a Hungarian father and a German mother, he considers himself first and foremost a European. Consequently, his major area of research is European law, and in 2009 he ran for the European Parliament as a candidate of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Before his stay in France, he was Vice Chairman of the Baden-Württemberg branch of Jusos, the SPD youth organisation; today he serves as District Chairman of his party in the district of Karlsruhe.