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Court of Justice of the EU on the recognition of parentage

After the Coman judgment of 2018, the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has again rendered a judgment in the field of free movement of citizens that is of importance for private international law. Like in Coman, the judgment in V.M.A. of 14 December 2021 concerned a non-traditional family of which the members sought to make use of their right to free movement in the EU under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and Directive 2004/38. The  Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (Charter) was also pertinent, particularly its Article 7 on respect for private and family life, Article 9 on the right to marry and the right to found a family,  Article 24 on the rights of the child, and Article 45 on freedom of movement and of residence.

While Coman concerned the definition of “spouse” under Article 2 of the Directive, in V.M.A. the CJEU addressed the definition of  “direct descendants” in the same provision.

Two women, V.M.A., a Bulgarian national, and K.D.K., a national of the United Kingdom, were married and lived in Spain. A daughter, S.D.K.A., was born in Spain. Her Spanish birth certificate indicated V.M.A. as “mother A” and K.D.K. as “mother”. V.M.A. applied to the Sofia municipality for a birth certificate for S.D.K.A. in order to obtain a Bulgarian identity document for her. She submitted a legalised and certified translation into Bulgarian of the extract from the civil register of Barcelona.

The Sofia municipality refused this application, due to the lack of information on S.D.K.A.’s biological mother and because the reference to two mothers was contrary to Bulgarian public policy.

The Administrative Court of the City of Sofia, to which V.M.A. appealed the municipality’s decision, posed four questions to the CJEU. It sought to know whether Articles 20 and 21 of the TFEU and Articles 7, 24 and 45 of the Charter oblige Bulgaria to recognise the Spanish birth certificate despite its mentioning two mothers and despite the fact that it was unclear who the biological mother of the child was. It also questioned EU Member States’ discretion regarding rules for the establishment of parentage. A further relevant point was Brexit and the fact that the child would not be able to get EU citizenship through the other mother, who is a UK citizen.

The Grand Chamber ruled as follows:

Article 4(2) TEU, Articles 20 and 21 TFEU and Articles 7, 24 and 45 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, read in conjunction with Article 4(3) of Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States amending Regulation (EEC) No 1612/68 and repealing Directives 64/221/EEC, 68/360/EEC, 72/194/EEC, 73/148/EEC, 75/34/EEC, 75/35/EEC, 90/364/EEC, 90/365/EEC and 93/96/EEC, must be interpreted as meaning that, in the case of a child, being a minor, who is a Union citizen and whose birth certificate, issued by the competent authorities of the host Member State, designates as that child’s parents two persons of the same sex, the Member State of which that child is a national is obliged (i) to issue to that child an identity card or a passport without requiring a birth certificate to be drawn up beforehand by its national authorities, and (ii) to recognise, as is any other Member State, the document from the host Member State that permits that child to exercise, with each of those two persons, the child’s right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States.

The CJEU thus obliges Bulgaria, through EU law, to recognise the Spanish birth certificate. The CJEU is not concerned with the issue of a  birth certificate in Bulgaria, but rather with the identity document (the requirements under national law for the identity document cannot be used to refuse to issue such identity document – see para 45).

The parentage established lawfully in Spain has the result that the  parents of a Union citizen who is a minor and of whom they are the primary carers, be recognised by all Member States as having the right to accompany that child when her right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States is being exercised (para 48)

The CJEU refers to the identity document as the document that permits free movement. This wording seems, on a first reading, to be broader than the ruling in Coman, where the CJEU ruled on the recognition of the same-sex marriage only for purposes of the right to residence. However, in para 57 the Court seems to include the Coman limitation: Such an obligation does not require the Member State of which the child concerned is a national to provide, in its national law, for the parenthood of persons of the same sex, or to recognise, for purposes other than the exercise of the rights which that child derives from EU law, the parent-child relationship between that child and the persons mentioned on the birth certificate drawn up by the authorities of the host Member State as being the child’s parents.

But I’m sure much debate will follow about the extent of the obligation to recognise. As readers might be aware, the European Commission earlier this year set up an Expert Group on the Recognition of Parentage between Member States.