European rules for service contracts

Over 50% of the European GDP is earned in services. But the law regarding services is not well developed. What kind of quality can be expected? Which information should providers of services give to their clients? What are remedies if a service does not lead to the expected outcome? .  

The challenge: uncertain rights and duties of service providers

In most European civil codes, there are only a few rules for services contracts. Case law is hard to find and casuistic. So there is much legal uncertainty regarding the rights and duties of providers of advice, information, websites or custom built software. The same is true for repair services, personal care services, medical services and 1000s of other valuable intangible products.

Our approach: facilitating comparative legal research

From 2000 to 2006, the Study Group on a European Civil Code Group, consisting of academics from 27 countries, worked on common European rules for private law, based on a careful comparison of national legal systems. This was a close cooperation with the European Commission, that worked on a Common Frame of Reference for contract law in the EU. We coordinated and facilitated the process of arriving at common European rules for services contracts.

We started with helping the experts to develop a list of issues that needed clear solutions. Then we collected information about solutions from the national legal systems. Gradually, this lead to principles for regulation of services, which can serve as guidelines for courts, lawyers and legislators when they are in need of fair solutions for disputes about services.  The principles are based on the solutions found in the majority of national systems and on a cost benefit analysis in case of diverging solutions. 


The project has lead to much more detailed guidelines for regulating service contracts than many national systems can offer. Principles, comments and notes give a wealth of information about issues of liability for a broad range of service providers. These rules have been certified by Europe's leading experts in private law. Comments on the quality of the rules have been positive. But our impression is that they are not used intensively throughout Europe.

In our internal evaluation, we identified several possible reasons for this:

  • Publication of the full documents in an academic publication, behind a high paywall
  • Services contracts not being a specialization in law firms and in law faculties
  • Involvement of industry groups at a rather late stage
  • National orientation of law practice


Project details

Project leader: Prof. Maurits Barendrecht
Contact: Corry van Zeeland 

More information

Text of principles (and references to literature)

Book with principles, comments and sources (Oxford University Press and Sellier)