Secret debate on home title

THE EUROPEAN Parliament last week banned observers from its public gallery as members of the Legal Affairs Committee debated the establishment directive.

Last week MEPs ousted observers – including the representatives of the Bars and Law Societies of the European Union – while they discussed the working document on rights of cross-border establishment which had been prepared by French MEP Nicole Fontaine.

Discussion on the matter has now been postponed by the Parliament until October at the earliest, by which time it expects the European Court of Justice will hand down its judgment in the case of Reinhard Gebhard, a German lawyer threatened by Italian authorities with a ban on maintaining a permanent office in Italy.

The Parliament is also believed to be holding out for the Council of Bars and Law Societies of the European Union (CCBE) to form a consensus on the issue.

“The Bars and Law Societies of Europe are not the legislators, the Parliament is, and for us to be able to work properly towards a consensus we need to know what the view of our MEPs are,” says Law Society Brussels representative Patrick Oliver. “It is a pity that we couldn't hear first hand what they were saying.”

Chair of the Law Society's international committee Fiona Woolf, also says it is “odd” that the Legal Affairs Committee would not allow interested parties to oversee the debate.

“I can't believe that, from the point of view of the European Parliament, it's such a sensitive subject that they feel that they can't have a proper debate with the interested parties being present,” says Woolf.

“I can't imagine what they are frightened of.”

But Woolf says she is optimistic that the CCBE, which has attracted criticism for its inability to come to a unanimous decision on the matter, will now form a consensus.

“If the Legal Affairs Committee is looking for the profession to do so that will put pressure on everybody to find a way forward,” she says.

“In any event there is some rustling in the grass which indicates that there are people working on it.”

Woolf says it is unfair to lay the blame for the 15-year argument at the feet of the CCBE or its presidency, saying the issue of protectionism is a common problem in Europe.

“I don't think it is the fault of the CCBE that an agreement has taken so long to reach. “You can only take the pace of the slowest party – those who are at the bottom of the learning curve on the issue.”