In recent years, the ICC International Court of Arbitration’s regional conferences—notably in Miami for Latin America; Dubai for the MENA region and Singapore for Asia—have become major annual gathering points for the international arbitration community. While Europe continues to be a vitally important market for ICC Arbitration and is the site of numerous other ICC events, conferences and trainings, it has not had the privilege of having its own regional conference. This all changes with the first ICC European Conference on International Arbitration taking place today in Paris.
Generally, Europe has retained its major role in the development of international arbitration and in ICC Arbitration in particular—even at a time of its expanding use in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. More than 40% of all parties in new ICC cases filed over the last few years were from countries in Europe. Likewise, even as laudable efforts to diversify the pool of arbitrators have reduced this, Western and Northern Europe still have predominance in the nationalities of arbitrators appointed to ICC cases. European cities also remain popular as seats for ICC Arbitration, with Paris retaining its first position, followed by London and Geneva and other European cities, such as Zurich and Vienna also being among the most frequently selected.
International arbitration undoubtedly continues to flourish in Europe. While a handful of problematic situations have garnered press and public attention, the vast majority of cases are handled without serious incident, accomplishing the dispute resolution task intended by the parties.
Nevertheless, institutions are in a period of geopolitical changes and challenges. In 2016, voters in the United Kingdom and the United States sent powerful messages against the established order. Currently we are seeing, and will continue to see, important elections throughout Europe. The contours of political “Europe” are once again in the forefront of debate. The institution of arbitration, markedly in the domain of investor-state arbitration, has recently also been part of geopolitical discussions in the context of international trade and investment treaties.
The ICC Court’s regional conference initiative for Europe is thus very timely. It will be an occasion to foster dialogue and remind us that even in Europe, the future of arbitration cannot be taken for granted. Instead, it requires on-going attention and nurturing. Focusing on regional challenges to arbitration—including the implications of some European national courts being less friendly to this dispute resolution process than others—underscores the fact that there is no single “European” approach. Of course, the traditional leading arbitration seats have maintained stable legal frameworks, with attitudes that clearly favour arbitration and proven track records of enforcing arbitration agreements and awards. Indeed, several of these traditional seats have further modernised their laws in recent years to adapt to current global best practices. However, a review of regional obstacles cautions against complacency. This is not only because of the pitfalls for arbitration in some European legal systems today but also because political shifts in any European state could potentially have knock-on effects on that country’s legal system and approach to international arbitration. Further still, we are seeing that the attitude of the judiciary in that jurisdiction may otherwise evolve.
The recently updated ICC rules for expedited arbitration emphasise that even within a single region, the needs and wants of the various users can differ. ICC Arbitration is, as must be, a tool for the benefit of its users that accommodates these differences and adapts and evolves to their changing needs. Indeed, “one size does not fit all.” The expedited rules are the latest in a series of recent initiatives by the Court that promote time and cost efficiency, with other recent initiatives having been taken to promote diversity and transparency. Although some are not unique to ICC, and while some features of the expedited rules in particular are, as yet, untested, these recent steps collectively make a strong statement about the Court’s commitment to innovation.
Finally, these observations would not be complete without a mention of the inaugural Paris Arbitration Week, which conveniently coincides with the first ICC European Conference. The notion of an “arbitration week” has, up until now, mostly been popularised in places, such as Dubai, Hong Kong and Sydney. Mounting an event of this nature in Paris is a strong signal to users and the global arbitration community in the city as well as the region’s commitment to remain at the forefront in the promotion and use of international arbitration.
Linklaters is a sponsor of the 1st ICC European Conference on International Arbitration.