C.B.P. Mahé (Utrecht University)

A battle of forms can come about where contracting parties both using standard forms have reached an agreement except on the applicable general conditions to their contract. This issue raises the following basic questions: which circumstances influence the occurrence of such a conflict, what are the consequences of the conflict on the existence of the contract and, finally, what is their impact on the content of the contract. A comparison of article 6:225 par. 3 of the Dutch Civil Code, articles 2.19 of the Unidroit Principles of International Commercial Contracts (PICC) and 2:209 of the European Principles of Contract Law (EPCL) and French case law will evolve along these tracks. A conflict of general conditions is either a conflict between two specific clauses of each standard form, often the initial situation under French case law, or between stipulations aiming at the exclusive application of a party's standard form ('exclusive application clause'), as under the Dutch Civil Code, the EPCL and the PICC.

In order for such a conflict to occur, the validity and invocability of the conflicting clauses should first be established. Under French and Dutch law, the PICC and the EPCL, the requirements relating to the validity and the invocability of a standard clause and, as a result, the materialisation of a conflict differ. For example, the invocability of general conditions asserted in invoices is reluctantly admitted by French courts as opposed to the Dutch Civil Code and case law, where formal requirements are less decisive. The EPCL and PICC also diverge on this matter. The PICC - strictly applying to commercial contracts - only sanction surprising terms, whereas the EPCL - covering both consumer contracts and contracts between professionals - set higher formal and material requirements for general conditions. Here we see a greater parallel between French law and the EPCL on the one hand and Dutch law and the PCCI on the other.

Regarding the existence of the contract in the case of conflicting general conditions, the EPCL opt for a radical alternative which can be schematised as follows: either the knock-out theory - i.e. the application of standard terms only to the extent that they are common in substance - applies or no contract is formed. The French and Dutch judge and/or doctrine as well as the authors of the PICC are disinclined to conclude to the inexistence of the contract where parties exchange explicit reciprocal refusals of the application of the other's general conditions.

Where the existence of a contract is established, its content remains to be determined. A general pattern of the conflict settlements compared here is to elect a basic rule from among the existing theories. Difficulties arise where the answering party expressly refuses the application of his/her counterpart's general conditions. In these circumstances, the explanatory comments of the PICC that opt for the knock-out theory as a basic rule, lead to the application of the last-shot theory - i.e. application of the general conditions last referred to. Article 6:225 par. 3 BW, favouring the first-shot theory - i.e. the application of the standard forms first mentioned - also leaves room for interpretation in the case of bilateral rejection. The Dutch doctrine is divided between the advocates of the last-shot and the knock-out theories. The Dutch 'Hoge Raad' has not yet rendered a decision on that subject. The French 'Cour de cassation' endorsed the knock-out theory in 1912; so does the EPCL, and here again these show bigger similarities.

Cite as: C.B.P. Mahé, Conflit de conditions générales: quelle tactique adopter?, vol 1.1 ELECTRONIC JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE LAW, (November 1997), <>

1. La survenance du conflit
1.1 Le conflit de conditions générales en droit français
1.1.1 Critères spécifiques d'inopposabilité des clauses contractuelles
1.1.2 Critères généraux d'inopposabilité des clauses contractuelles Présentation d'une clause-type Clauses-types sur document annexe
1.2 Le conflit de conditions générales en droit néerlandais
1.2.1 Le champ d'application de l'article 6:225 al. 3 BW
1.2.2 Le droit commun
1.3 Le conflit de conditions générales d'après les Principes
1.3.1 Remarques générales
1.3.2 Survenance du conflit de conditions générales Les PEDC Les PCCI
1.4 Comparaison
2. Conflit de conditions generales et existence du contrat
2.1 Le droit français
2.1.1 La notion d'élément essentiel
2.1.2 Conflit de conditions générales, élément essentiel et non-existence du contrat
2.2 Le droit néerlandais
2.2.1 Mode de formation du contrat
2.2.2 Incidence sur l'existence du contrat d'un conflit de conditions générales
2.3 Les Principes
2.3.1 Les principes directeurs de la formation du contrat
2.3.2 Conflit de conditions générales et existence du contrat
2.4 Comparaison
3. Conflit de conditions generales et contenu du contrat
3.1 L'approche française
3.1.1 Le principe et ses implications pratiques
3.1.2 Prémices d'une remise en cause? Conflit de conditions générales et droit de la concurrence L'article 121 L. n° 85-98: une quatrième voie?
3.2 L'approche néerlandaise
3.2.1 Les théories du first shot et last shot combinées Notion de rejet exprès Les conséquences juridiques de ce rejet
3.2.2 Le règlement d'un conflit de conditions générales hors article 6:225 BW
3.3 Le règlement d'un conflit de conditions générales hors article 6:225 BW
3.3.1 Incorporation des seules termes concordants
3.3.2 Last shot, first shot ou primauté de la volonté expresse?
3.4 Comparaison
4. Similitudes et divergences: synthese et explications
4.1 La survenance du conflit de conditions générales
4.2 L'existence et le contenu du contrat
4.3 Cas pratique

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