On 18 June, the European Commission has started infringement procedures against Austria, Cyprus, Germany, Malta, Poland and Spain on the grounds that their national rules include excessive and unjustified obstacles in the area of professional services. The Commission considers certain professional regulations in these Member States as not in compliance with the Services Directive. It requests these Member States to adapt their rules governing shareholding requirements and prohibitions of multidisciplinary practices (for architects and engineers in Austria, Cyprus and Malta for patent agents in Austria) as well as repeal minimum compulsory tariffs (for procuradores in Spain, architects, engineers and tax advisors in Germany, patent agents in Poland and veterinarians in Austria).
The Letter of Formal Notice is a first step in an infringement procedure and constitutes an official request for information. The Member States now have two months to respond to the arguments put forward by the Commission.
The above mentioned requirements are not strictly prohibited by the Services Directive but are potential obstacles to the single market in services. They can be maintained in so far as they are non-discriminatory, justified by an overriding reason relating to the public interest and proportionate, i.e. no less restrictive measure could be used.
Unfortunately in spite of a lot of counter-experience during finance and bank crisis and in spite of very opposing expert- opinions on the question if deregulation really leads to growth the European Commission, here represented by Elżbieta Bieńkowska, European Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs is still a firm and unwavering believer in competition at all costs. Therefore it does not acknowledge the specialities of liberal professions and does not consider regulations for the maintenance of these specialities (independence, impartiality, personal liability etc) – that are very much for the benefit of consumers – as justified by overriding reasons of public interest.
The weighting between the destruction of long-proved reliable national professional structures for the benefit of clients / consumers / society against a vague and not seriously provable hope for growth should definitely be considered more carefully by all actors in European and national policy.