Europhobia out of all proportion

In the week when British lawyers, along with the rest of the public, went to the polls to elect their European representatives using a new system of proportional representation designed in part to foster an interest in and commitment to the idea of a European Union, two successful British businesses were being attacked by their European counterparts seemingly for being too good.

An Italian MP criticised Allen & Overy and Freshfields for anti-competitive pricing. The firms, the charge goes, are undercutting Italian firms by as much as two thirds.

Such criticism goes to the heart of a xenophobia that is not uniquely British. UK firms looking to build a stake in the supposedly open European market have every right to price themselves at whatever level they choose. How this can be anti-competitive is difficult to see.

Italian MPs, like their British, German and French opposite numbers, are not averse to playing the modern "race card" – competition, yes, but not in my back yard. Such rhetoric often hides an underlying protectionist policy.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the big industries and even sections of the Tory party are trying to reassure us that Europe is good for Britain, for our economic interests and above all for competition. The law is now a big business with an eye on European-wide markets. UK law firms, like any other business, deserve the real rather than just theoretical support of their government and the DTI in countering xenophobic comments underlying protectionism.