Brussels, 5 May 2010
Services: Commission calls on Greece to end fixed minimum fees for lawyers
The European Commission has decided to send a formal request to Greece asking for an amendment of its legislation on the minimum prices that lawyers should charge for their services. These national rules have the effect of restricting lawyers from other Member States from operating in Greece and limiting the range of legal services on offer to Greek citizens. The Commission's request to Greece takes the form of a so-called reasoned opinion under EU infringement procedures.
What is the aim of the EU rules in question?
The EU principles in questions are the fundamental freedoms of establishment and of provision of services. These principles require Greece, like any other Member State, not to have any provision in its laws which could stop or hinder a service provider from operating in its territory. This applies also in the case of lawyers who want to provide their services on the Greek market.
How is Greece not respecting these rules?
Greece imposes fixed minimum fees on all lawyers operating in the country. There are no exceptions to this rule. In the Commission's view, the Greek legislation is a restriction of the basic EU principles outlined above and does not appear to be justified by consumer protection or quality assurance concerns. Indeed, low-quality services cannot be prevented simply by relying on a mandatory price system. It would be more reasonable and effective to ensure the quality of services by means of professional rules relating to organisation, qualifications, ethics, supervision and accountability.
How are EU citizens suffering as a result?
The imposition of fixed minimum fees deprives lawyers of the possibility of charging lower fees in order to compete more effectively on the Greek market. All this has the effect of preventing Greek consumers from receiving legal services at a better price and limiting their choice of service providers.
What are the next steps?
The Commission's request to Greece takes the form of a reasoned opinion, the second stage of the EU infringement procedure. If Greece does not reply satisfactorily within two months, the Commission may refer the matter to the European Court of Justice.
About infringement procedures
The European Commission has powers under Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) to take legal action – known as infringement procedures – against a Member State that is not respecting its obligations under EU rules. These procedures consist of three steps. The first is that the Member State receives a letter of formal notice seeking information if the Commission has concerns that there may be a breach of EU law and has two months to respond. If the Commission's concerns about a breach of EU legislation are confirmed, the Commission sends a reasoned opinion requiring the Member State to comply with EU law within two months. If there is no satisfactory reply, the Commission can refer the matter to the Court of Justice in Luxembourg. If the Court rules against a Member State and the Member State does not comply with the Court's ruling, the Commission can also request that the Court impose a fine on the country concerned.
Freedom to provide services:
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