ECJ attacks over lawyers' freedom

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is bringing an action against France, Spain and Ireland for their failure to recognise lawyers who are qualified in other EU countries.

The European Commission said the countries had failed to implement directive 98/5/EC, which entitles lawyers to practise permanently and without restriction, under their original professional title, in another member state on the same basis as the host country's lawyers.
The deadline for the implementation of the directive was 14 March 2000. But delays in France, Spain and Ireland constitutes “a potential barrier to lawyers wishing to establish themselves in these countries”, the commission said in a statement.
Crucially, the directive forces law certification authorities in EU countries to take account of previous professional experience and qualifications gained in other EU countries. A host country can insist on top-up training to meet its national requirements, but cannot refuse a lawyer recognition carte blanche.
The decision to bring an ECJ action against the countries followed the commission's launch last month of a public consultation on how to improve the EU regime for recognition of professional qualifications in all member states. The results will be fed into a new directive, due before the spring European Council in 2002, which is intended to create a more uniform, transparent and flexible regime in this area.
Brussels said the aim was to simplify and consolidate existing legislation, improve the conditions for professional recognition and liberalise service provision within the EU.
A spokesman for internal market commissioner Frits Bolkestein said that this was a “general type” directive, which would complement the directive on lawyers under which France, Ireland and Spain have been charged.
It is not foreseen that any other country will be charged under directive 98/5/EC. Commission officials indicated that the failure to implement the directive in some countries “possibly reflects procedural delays”, and should not be construed as unwillingness to go along with the spirit of the legislation.