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A large step has been made by the European Commission towards guaranteeing non-EU lawyers and law firms the right to establish themselves in any EU member state, with this principle being offered at the World Trade Organization's Doha Development Round.
If its trading partners offer adequate concessions in return, Brussels is offering non-EU lawyers the right to provide a full service in any body of law in which they are qualified, including national EU law, European law, public international law and their home country's law.
Releasing the proposal, EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said: "The offer that is being tabled is tailored to ensure that public services within the EU are fully safeguarded, and that we keep our ability to set the rules that service providers will have to respect."
Bilateral horsetrading in the next two years will reveal whether the EU will secure enough concessions to make these openings.
If it does, non-EU lawyers would be able to provide services in public international law and foreign national law, having secured professional insurance and registration with a host country bar, maybe including an aptitude test. To appear before national courts, full admission to a member state bar would be required.
To achieve this offer, the commission has secured a number of concessions from EU governments, such as Finland, which has agreed to waive the requirement for Finnish citizenship and residency to become a member of its general bar association. Under the new scheme, foreign lawyers will still have to follow local rules, such as having to be a sole proprietor to practise as a barrister in the UK and Ireland.