What’s Next for International Mediation in Europe?

7 August 2019 marked the signing of the United Nations (UN) Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation in Singapore. With its 53 signatories to date, the Singapore Convention on Mediation has proven to be a momentous one in signalling the feasibility of mediation as an alternative dispute resolution method for cross-border commercial disputes. However, strong as the initial take up may have been, it has not sufficed to distract mediation’s detractors from the glaring disappointment caused by the continued absence of signatories from the European Union (EU).

Some European mediators have explained that the absence of the EU was due more to practical problems within the EU. They point to the reality of the EU as a grouping of fiercely independent states whose governments’ political and legal agendas in recent years had been taken over by the crises brought on by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic[1]. Compared to Asian jurisdictions such as China, India, Japan, and Singapore, general awareness of the Convention in the EU has been low because it has not featured in the domestic media. These mediators rationalise that with the dust finally settling on Brexit and Covid-19 vaccines being rolled out, the issue of EU members signing the Convention will now feature on their governments’ agenda. Time will tell if this optimism proves unfounded.

Why is the EU’s Signature So Important to the Convention?

To appreciate the impact of the EU’s absence from the signatories of the Singapore Convention on Mediation, one need only look at the EU’s importance in the international dispute resolution eco-system, as well as its commercial power as a bloc. According to data from the World Bank, the EU had a total GDP of USD 15.6 trillion and it held the second largest share of global exports and imports of goods (15.4% worldwide), surpassing that of China and India. That a region with such an extensive volume of commercial trade may not be covered by the Convention would be a significant disadvantage for the global community and most particularly impact the companies based in the EU[2].

The EU’s centrality to trade has driven the growth of a thriving ADR industry including legal, finance, third party funding, and insurance professionals. According to the 2018 Queen Mary University of London International Arbitration Survey (QMUL Survey)[3], four out of seven of the most preferred seats of arbitration worldwide were in the EU, namely Paris, Geneva, Stockholm and London (before Brexit). New York, Singapore, and Hong Kong made up the remaining 3 most popular seats. Out of more than a hundred arbitration institutions surveyed, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC) ranked as the first (77%) and fifth (16%) most preferred arbitration centres. The London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) was ranked second (51%). Notably, the report observed that the ICC and the LCIA had been the top two preferred institutions for the past decade and would likely remain leaders amongst ADR service providers. Most of these institutions also had in place procedures for mediation of cross-border disputes before the Convention was