Belgium, Italy under fire for non-liberalisation

The European Commission has slammed Belgium and Italy, claiming that the two countries have made no efforts whatsoever to liberalise their legal systems.

The Commission has threatened legal action if countries fail to liberalise. EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said national governments should “tackle anticompetitive regulatory restrictions in the professions”, but stressed that the Commission could use existing powers to force the abolition of restrictive practices.

The Commission’s report called on European countries to liberalise further their legal professions, but said that Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK are making good progress in fighting restrictive practices regarding entry to the profession, fees and advertising.

In contrast, France and Germany have made only “minor reforms”, with ongoing analysis being undertaken that might promote further change.

An earlier Commission report noted specifically that lawyers in Austria, Germany and Italy still have minimum fee rules, with maximum fee caps in place in Italy.

Recommended price systems exist in Austria, Portugal and Spain. The Commission also highlighted effective advertising bans in Greece, Portugal and Ireland (for barristers), and significant restrictions in Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland (for solicitors), Italy, Luxembourg and Spain.