Lawyers reach free trade solution

EUROPE'S lawyers have finally broken the deadlock over rights of establishment, producing an eleventh-hour agreement which could see member state practitioners moving freely among union countries.

But the plan, which last week went to the European Parliament's legal affairs committee, is yet to receive a rubber stamp with MEPs holding off on their final report on the subject.

In a meeting in Brussels last Wednesday, MEPs heard from the president of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of the European Union (CCBE) Heinz Weil, who reported that the council had achieved a majority vote of 14 to 3 in favour of allowing lawyers to practise permanently under home title in other EU states.

The agreement, reached despite opposition from France, Spain and Luxembourg, came at the CCBE's plenary session in Dresden earlier this month after MEPs told the profession it had one remaining opportunity to resolve the issue.

For some time member states have disagreed over issues of integration and whether a permanent right of establishment is legally compatible with the Treaty of Rome.

The ranks were split over whether the profession should move towards regulated free trade or compulsory integration into host state professions after five years.

Following Weil's report the committee met in closed session and agreed to postpone the production of its opinion until it heard from the legal services of the parliament and European Commission.

The committee meets again on 20 and 21 December.

Patrick Oliver, the Brussels representative of the Law Societies, said: “I think the profession is giving a clear indication to the legislator of its views. It's important to realise that the gap between the two schools of thought has been significantly reduced.

“I'm optimistic that once we get confirmation of the majority view that a permanent right of establishment is compatible with Article 52 of the Treaty of Rome, the deadlock in the parliament and the Council of Ministers will be broken.

“I hope things will become a lot clearer over the course of the next year.”

Nicole Maley