French claim establishment split

THERE is no majority opinion in the debate over rights of establishment and France and Spain have strong support from a number of member States, the French have claimed.

Jean-Bernard Thomas, a member of France's delegation to the Council of Bars and Law Societies of the European Union (CCBE), said claims of support being slanted toward the UK's position were unfounded.

He said while moves towards regulated free trade among continental lawyers were popular, the position held by France and Spain – which both want foreign lawyers to compulsorily integrate into host State professions after five years – was also backed.

Thomas' statement conflicts with reports from other sources, which claim indications from the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers show a “strong majority” is opposed to the temporary five-year right of establishment.

Patrick Oliver, Brussels representative of the Law Societies of England and Wales and Scotland, said: “We would prefer not to comment while discussions are proceeding within the CCBE with a view to finding a solution acceptable to the delegation.”

Speaking in London last week Thomas said the title of foreign legal consultant should be abolished and all lawyers practising within a country should have a local qualification to provide consumers with a quality mark and enable local regulators to control activities. It would also help to achieve unity within a country's legal profession.

“The countries trying to promote this foreign legal consultant are generally countries which have the highest degree of protection,” said Thomas. “They're the ones which are most aggressive with regards to trying to conquer foreign markets. They're protectionist, which is exactly the situation with England.

“What we're really talking about is competition within the profession, competition between States, and competition between jurisdictions.”

Thomas maintained that “probably half” of Europe shared the French view, supporting the idea of one profession per country

“Two are against any right of establishment – Austria and Luxembourg – and then, although the position is not exactly the same, you have countries which accept the idea of integration,” he said. “These are France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Holland, Ireland to an extent, and some Scandinavian countries. The two main opponents are the Germans and the English, for reasons which are officially different but which in depth are the same.”