Lawyers at the heart of the EU’s single market
We already know that there are many different forms of English – Microsoft allows for 18 of them – and I suggest that Euro-English now join the group as the 19th.
I am reminded of this because the European Commission wants to boost the single market, which lies at the core of the EU’s existence, and they are proposing a Single Market Act to effect this.
They feel that there are still too many obstacles to the free movement of people, goods and services. To you and me, the word ‘Act’ might suggest a single law, but it does not mean the same in Euro-speak.
In fact, I am hard put to find out what it means at all.
The sub-title to the document which lays out this Act talks about ‘Twelve levers to boost growth and strengthen confidence’.
There is a problem about a language becoming a common language, spoken by many people as their second language – and spoken rather well, I must say.
That is that the language comes to mean something other than what it means when natives speak it. It turns out that the Single Market Act is more by way of an Action Plan, containing a series of initiatives (those are the levers) towards a single end.
There is a lot for lawyers in it.
Although most of the proposals are well known, it gives me the opportunity to provide an update on developing issues.
So among the 12 levers are the following:
- Patents – as part of the Single Market Act, the Commission released this month two legislative proposals. The two proposed regulations lay down the terms and conditions for obtaining unitary patent protection, its legal effects and the applicable translation arrangements. The draft regulations will now pass to the Council and the European Parliament for consideration. The Commission hopes Spain and Italy, the only two Member States not yet among the participants, will join the enhanced cooperation. For newcomers to this issue, the current patent process – which these new measures aim to replace - involves considerable translation and administrative costs, reaching approximately €32 000 when patent protection is sought in all 27 Member States, of which €23 000 arises from translation fees alone. (In comparison, a US patent costs €1850 on average.) Under this month’s proposals, the cost for a European patent with unitary effect in 25 Member States would be €680, after a transitional period during which costs would still be less than €2500.
- European professional card – the Commission continues to be keen on the introduction of a Europe-wide professional card, as part of its review of the Professional Qualifications Directive. (Readers who have a strong aversion to discussion of ID cards, please skip a couple of sections.) There is a steering group convened by the Commission which is considering this issue at the moment, on which the CCBE is represented. The CCBE already has its own European ID card for lawyers. But should there be a Europe-wide card for all the professions, of which the lawyers’ card would become just one sub-set? Should it contain the lawyer’s professional qualifications?
- Electronic identity – I have written about this before. The Commission envisages legislation in about a year’s time ensuring the mutual recognition of electronic identification and authentication across the EU and revision of the Directive on Electronic Signatures. I predict that proof of one’s professional identity electronically across the EU’s borders is going to become one of the most challenging issues facing lawyers in the coming years, as cross-border electronic transactions grow in number. The Commission says that the development of digital technology is one of the main levers for boosting growth and employment in the EU.
- Alternative dispute resolution and collective redress – there have been two consultations, both of which have recently expired, and the Commission is expecting to issue draft legislation on these topics by the end of the year, including an element to cover electronic commerce.
So, lawyers will not be bored or ignored in the coming months.