Blockchain Technology and Smart Contracts

Both technologies (Blockchains and Smart Contracts) are profoundly changing many areas of private law transactions. Whether the current system of private law can readily cope with these novel forms of ‘self-executing’ agreements, or whether new solutions are required, are fundamental questions.

For an overview of past and upcoming meetings of this project, please click here.

Kindly contact the ELI Secretariat if you have any questions concerning this project.

Quick Facts

Project Type: Principles
Procedure: Regular
Adopted: CD 2018/9
Project Period: September 2018
Early 2022


Distributed Ledger (or ‘blockchain’) Technology (DLT) and smart contracts are technologies that have a huge potential to fundamentally change many areas of private law transactions.

Blockchains are technologies for storing and transmitting data, allowing the constitution of replicated and distributed ledgers, without a central monitoring body, secured by cryptography, and structured by blocks linked to each other, at regular intervals of time. Smart contracts are auto enforceable code, running on top of a blockchain.

The applications of blockchain go beyond the strict framework of crypto-currencies and are potentially numerous. DLT is already used to replace some back-office functions of banks and insurance providers, but it could also be used to auto-execute European standard forms, such as the European Certificate of Succession which gives authoritative information to banks and land registries on eg heirs and their inheritance rights. Its application in land registration and numerous other fields is constantly being considered. It would be irresponsible not to scrutinise the legal basis for these applications and consider how the law can enshrine sufficient operational security and whether minimum standards should be regulated. Given the, almost by definition, cross-border nature of these developments, and in light of the need to secure a level playing field within the European internal market, these minimum standards will have to be European.

At the same time, blockchain technology is starting to offer interesting opportunities for private transactions in the form of smart contracts, in fact, self-executing computer programmes.

Such smart contracts eliminate the need for trust and good faith, but can easily be frustrated at the slightest change of contractual circumstances. Such smart contracts may, in the future, facilitate the functioning of smart objects. Whether the current system of private law can readily cope with these novel forms of ‘self-executing’ computer programmes and agreements, or whether new solutions are required, are fundamental questions. These contracts also have the potential to create increasing uncertainty in the area of jurisdiction and choice of law.

DLT and smart contracts function within the immaterial and fluent world of ‘data’. The potential impact of these technologies is enormous and is, by definition and unavoidably, cross-border. Legislative measures, whether at the level of the Member-States or the EU, will only be able to follow these developments slowly and behind the facts. And even when there is legislation, it might be outdated the moment it is promulgated. A notorious example is the ‘right to be forgotten’ in privacy law: how to implement this right if the information is stored in an immutable block on a blockchain?

Holding existing EU instruments in the areas of cross-border enforcement of claims, procedural law and application of foreign law against the light of these IT developments needs to be done urgently to understand the – both positive and negative – consequences of DLT and smart contracts, also to see if the implementation of these instruments in legal practice can be further facilitated by using the new technologies. It is to be expected that legal practitioners, more particularly judges, will be the first to be confronted with legal questions.



The project aims at providing policymakers, legislators, but also legal practitioners with a legislative guide, a toolbox on how to approach the questions mentioned above.

The legislative guide will contain two parts: a general and a more specific part.

The general part will start with an introduction as to what DLT and smart contracts are, the link that can be established between smart contracts and the Internet of Things, followed by an overview of more general legal questions which may arise. Such questions are: how should one decide which jurisdiction should have competence, which law ought to apply, what standard of proof is applicable? The general part will also show the limitations of purely national solutions, which will only have a very limited field of application.

The more specific part will focus on three ‘layers’ of the blockchain technology that have an impact on certain areas of law:

The ledger layer as a database that allows data authentication and certification: What are, for instance, the consequences of storing EU standard documents, such as the European Certificate of Inheritance, on a blockchain?

The applications or smart contracts layer: it might be desirable to consider the question of the contracting parties, their potential anonymity on a blockchain, and the protection of their personal data.

It might also be desirable to consider the notion of ‘oracle’ and the notion of ‘hybrid contracts’ (half traditional contracts in natural language, half smart contracts).

It might also be desirable to explore the question of the articulation between the immutability of the blockchain with the notion of nullity of the contract or alternative dispute resolution methods in case of non-performance of smart contracts.

This ecosystem has specifically given rise to new forms of financing. ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings), an original and unregulated type of fundraising, has been very successful (a cumulative total of over 8 billion Euros in March 2018). These digital assets (tokens) raise problems of qualification or identification of the types of applicable law.

The layer of the smart objects that will function thanks to smart contracts on the blockchains: it might be desirable to consider the question of liability due to the failure, the malfunctioning of the computer programmes or of smart objects.


Case Studies

For some illustrative examples that the Blockchain Technology and Smart Contracts project seeks to tackle, please click here.



Project Reporters

  • Sjef van Erp
  • Martin Hanzl
  • Juliette Sénéchal (until January 2021)

Project Team Members

  • Adrien Basdevant
  • Raffaele Battaglini
  • Vincent Danos
  • Primavera de Filippi
  • Michele Marchesi
  • William McKechnie
  • Tamás Parti
  • Denis Philippe
  • Pascal Pichonnaz
  • Ernst Steigenga
  • Teresa Touriñán
  • Jos Uitdehaag
  • Jasper Verstappen
  • Aura Esther Vilalta Nicuesa
  • Jacques Vos
  • Aneta Wiewiórowska-Domagalska
  • Christopher Wray
  • Filippo Zatti
  • Fryderyk Zoll

Advisory Committee Members

  • Christoph Busch (Assessor)
  • Teresa Rodríguez de las Heras Ballell (Assessor)
  • Hans Schulte-Nölke
  • Pietro Sirena (Assessor)
  • Célia Zolynski
  • Christiane Wendehorst

Members Consultative Committee

  • Despoina Anagnostopoulou
  • Arvind Babajee
  • Anurag Bana
  • Małgorzata Boszko
  • Daniele Busani
  • Pınar Çağlayan Aksoy
  • Ana Cediel
  • Claudio Cipollini
  • Moustapha Ebaid
  • Marco Giacalone
  • Francisco Javier Jiménez Muñoz
  • Marina Kasatkina
  • Matthias Lehmann
  • Antonio Legerén Molina
  • Francesco Longobucco
  • Elena Alina Ontanu
  • Vadims Mantrovs
  • Kiril Mitrov
  • Alberto Monti
  • Sophie Moreil
  • Dimitrios Moustakatos
  • Albert Ruda (Chairperson)
  • Leigh Sagar (Deputy Chairperson)
  • Roberto Sammarchi
  • María Elena Sánchez Jordan
  • Vijay Kumar Singh
  • Alina Škiljić
  • Dejan Ukropina
  • American Constitution Society (represented by Timothy Burns)
  • Austrian Chamber of Civil Law Notaries (represented by Stephan Matyk-d’Anjony)
  • Centre for Legal and Economic Research (represented by Maria Raquel Guimarães)
  • Blockchain Education Network Italia (represented by Niccolò Travia)
  • Curia of Hungary (represented by László Czibulka)
  • European Law Students Association (ELSA Austria, represtented by Arsen Hovakimyan)
  • European Union of Judges in Commercial Matters (UEMC, represented by Rainer Sedelmayer)
  • Faculty of Law of Izmir University of Economics (represented by Huriye Kubilaj)
  • University "Vasile Goldis" Arad-Romania (represented by Christian Alunaru)
  • University of Latvia (represented by JanisKarklins)