EC wages war on harsh rules restricting lawyers’ services

The European Commission has warned European Union (EU) countries it will act against tough entrance restrictions and rules limiting services offered by lawyers.

The pledge, made in a speech by EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes at a British government seminar in London last week, comes as the Commission stages a competition review of professional services.

Kroes proposed a proportionality test to assess if existing restrictive professional regulations and rules can be objectively justified.

Only rules that “have a clearly defined public interest objective” and are the “least restrictive of competition to achieve that desired objective” should be preserved, according to Kroes, who singled-out for criticism set fees and national bans on lawyers advertising. Kroes said the same applies to monopolies, such as why conveyancing is restricted to notaries and lawyers.

Brussels is currently working with member states, hoping they will unilaterally liberalise their professions, but it will use competition powers if necessary.