26.02.2021

Working as a lawyer in the field of European Union Law in Brussels, Belgium

opublikowano: 2014-12-10 przez: Mika Ewelina

From Monday to Friday, from his office window in the European Quarter in Brussels Peter Dyrberg can see the crowd of men and women dressed in suits and pencil skirts rushing to their offices. As his office is placed next to the Schuman Roundabout, he works 100 meters from the European Commission’s headquarters. This view is well known to him, as well as the city of Brussels, sometimes called “the Capital of Europe”.  
 
“The Capital of Europe”

To practice law in Brussels is a great choice for lawyers eager to specialize and practice in the field of European Union Law. Brussels is a place where many important European institutions are seated; buzzing with constant activity of decision-making, law enforcement, legislation and politics. The European Union has no capital of course, but the role of Brussels, where the European institutions have their official seats, cannot be underrated. The following institutions have their seats in Brussels: the European Commission (the main place of operation and the President’s office are located in Brussels), the Council of the European Union, the European Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Parliament (the plenary sessions and the committee meetings are held in Brussels).
This is a city where Peter Dyrberg has been working as a lawyer since 2005. Before he became a lawyer in private practice in Brussels, he spend many years working for the European institutions all around Europe. He left Denmark in 1987, after being admitted to the Danish Bar. Firstly, he went to Luxemburg where he became an Administrator at the European Court of Justice. In years 1991 – 1994 he was a legal clerk to Advocate General, later Judge of the European Court of Justice, Claus Gulmann. After that, he hold a position of Administrator in the Legal Service of the European Parliament in Luxemburg, before he became the Principal Legal Advisor. Then, he worked as the Head of the Brussels Office of the European Ombudsman till 1999. After working for a few years in Brussels as the Head of the Department of Legal & Executive Affairs in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Surveillance Authority, he worked in Alicante, in a senior position as a Member of the Board of Appeal in the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market in 2002-2005.
Brussels is a melting pot for different nationalities, cultures, religions and languages. It is estimated that approximately 30% of the Brussels residents are foreigners. However, the number of foreigners in the broadest sense, including immigrants with children, who acquired the Belgian nationality after 1980, is much higher, more than 70%.
Surely, everyone has a story to tell how he ended up in Brussels. The same can be said of Peter Dyrberg. As he explains, the main reason why he wanted to specialize and practice in European Union Law was because it was a new legal system in development. He became interested in the establishment of the frontier-free single market within the European Union, in particular the rules on free movement of persons, goods, services and capital, Competition Law and the state aid rules. What he finds the most fascinating is the question of compatibility between the national laws of the Member States and European Union Law.
 
“The European Quarter”
Many buildings where the European institutions are seated, can be found in the so-called “European Quarter”. Located around the Schuman Roundabout (itself named after one of the founders of the European Coal and Steel Community) and around the Luxemburg Square (Place du Luxembourg), the quarter is the popular place for unofficial meetings after work hours for many employees and trainees, working for the European institutions.
One of the most impressive buildings is the primary seat of the European Commission, built in the 1960s. It was the first building in Brussels, which was built for the purpose of serving the European institution. This huge building, called officially the Berlaymont (and the Berlaymonster by people sceptical about the European Union), was built in the X shape by architects Lucien de Vestel, Jean Gilson, André and Jean Polak. On the other side of the Rue de la Loi, opposite the Berlaymont, the seat of the Council of the European Union is located, named the Justus Lipsius after Flemish philosopher from the XVI-XVII century. Another impressive building complex, the Espace Léopold, is a place where the European Parliament is located. Built from glass and steel these buildings make their mark on the city landscape.
 
The legal system in Belgium

Belgium is a federal state and a constitutional monarchy[1]. After the abdication of King Albert II on 21 July 2013 (which is the Belgium National Day) his son Philippe became the new king. The legal system in Belgium is a civil legal system, based on the Napoleonic Code (Le Code civil des Français, which entered into force in France in 1804). Belgium was one of the countries that founded the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which later lead to the creation of the European Union, as we know it nowadays.
To understand the legal order in Belgium it is essential to understand that Belgium is divided in three Regions: the Flemish Region (Flanders), the Brussels-Capital Region and the Walloon Region (Wallonia). The Regions in Belgium have their own institutions: regional parliaments and the regional governments. Flanders is in the north part and Wallonia is in the south part of Belgium. The Regions’ competences concern local and economic matters e. g. agriculture, employment and the environment.
The Communities in Belgium are based on the “language” and cultural differences. There are: the French Community, the Flemish Community and the German-speaking Community. In Flanders there is a Dutch-speaking community (the Flemish Community) and in Wallonia there is a French-speaking community (the French Community). There is also a community of German-speaking minority in the east part of Belgium (the German-speaking Community). The Flemish Community exercises its powers over the Flemish provinces and Brussels, the French Community exercises its powers over the Walloon provinces (except for the German-speaking area) and Brussels, the German-speaking Community exercises its powers over the German-speaking area. The Communities have their own legislative and executive organs: parliaments and governments. Only in Flanders have the community and the regional institutions been merged. Thus, there is one parliament and one government in Flanders. The Communities’ main competencies lie in the field of education, culture and language matters.
Geographically, Brussels is placed in the Flemish part of Belgium, but it is a separate region from both Flanders and Wallonia. The Brussels-Capital Region is bilingual, which is most obvious in the double street names, written in French and Dutch. In fact Belgium has three official languages: French, Dutch and German.
 
The judicial system in Belgium

Belgium is divided into twenty seven judicial districts: thirteen in Flanders, thirteen in Wallonia and in Brussels one French and Dutch-speaking. Judicial districts are divided in judicial cantons.
The Belgian judicial system[2] was based on the French system, so there are many similarities between them. The lowest courts, called Justice of the Peace Courts (Tribunal des Juges de Paix/Vredegerechten), deal with minor civil cases, e. g. disputes between neighbors, civil or commercial matters with the value of the subject matter of the dispute not exceeding 1 860 EUR. Justice of the Peace Courts are placed in every canton[3]. The lowest criminal courts are Police Courts (Tribunal de Police/Politierechtbank) which deal with minor criminal offences. Appeals against the decisions of the Police Courts and the Justice of the Peace Courts can be brought before the Court of First Instance (Tribunal de Première Instance/Rechtbank van Earste Aanleg) and in commercial cases before the Commercial Court (Tribunal de Commerce/Rechtbank van Koophandel).
If the case doesn’t fall within the jurisdiction of the lowest courts, it can be brought before the Court of First Instance. Different courts deal with commercial and labour cases in the first instance. There are Labour Courts (Tribunal de Travail/Arbeidsrechtbank) and Commercial Courts (mentioned above) to rule on these, respectively.
It is possible to appeal against the judgment of the court issued in the first instance. There are five Courts of Appeal (Cour d’Appel/Hof van Beroep) seated in Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, Liege and Mons. The Labour Court of Appeal (Cour de Travail/Arbeidshof) deals with the appeals in labour cases. Different criminal court - the Assize Court (Cour d’Assises/Hof van Assisen), the only court in Belgium with a jury, deals with the most serious criminal offences, political and press offences (except for racism and xenophobia offences). The Assize Court is not a permanent court. It is assembled when there is a need for a trial.
The highest court in Belgium is the Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation/Hof van Cassatie), which is located in the Palace of Justice in the Place Poelaert in Brussels. The Palace of Justice is a huge, intimidating building, which was the largest building built in the XIX century. The Supreme Court deals only with questions of law, not facts.  
The Constitutional Court (Cour Constitutionnelle/Grondwettelijk Hof) was established in Belgium in 1980 as the Court of Arbitration (Cour d’arbitrage; the name was changed in 2007)[4]. It is composed of twelve judges: six Dutch-speaking and six French-speaking judges (one of the judges needs to have an adequate knowledge of German). The Constitutional Court rules on the constitutionality of the legislative acts passed by the federal parliament and the parliaments in the Regions and Communities. The Constitutional Court as well protects the constitutional rights.
 
Belgian Lawyers

Belgian lawyers qualified to practice (avocats/advocaten/rechtsanwalt) (hereafter referred to as “Belgian lawyers”) are allowed to plead before the courts, acting as representatives of their clients. To become a lawyer in Belgium it is necessary to graduate with a Master in Law degree (licence en droit/licentiaat in de rechten), then become enrolled in the Bar and to take an oath. To become enrolled in the Bar, law graduates have to complete three-years of legal training, which consists of supervised practice and courses, followed by the professional examination.  
Only very limited group of lawyers may plead before the Supreme Court. They are called avocat à la cour de cassation/adocaat bij het hof van cassatie. There are only 20 lawyers of this kind at the moment, appointed by the king for this purpose. These lawyers hold a public office and are obliged to provide legal services on request. They form a separate Bar. Before the appointment the lawyer has to work for at least 10 years and pass an exam organized by the Bar.
 
A few remarks on the organization of the Belgian Bar Associations

Apart from the separate Bar for lawyers with the right to plead before the Supreme Court, other Belgian lawyers are members of one of two separate Bar Associations: the French-speaking and German-speaking Bar Association - Ordre des barreaux francophones et germanophone (OBFG)[5] or the Dutch-speaking Bar Association - Orde van Vlaamse Balies (OVB)[6]. The OBFG represents 13 French-speaking and one German-speaking local Bars. The OVB represents 14 Dutch-speaking local Bars. 
Members of the Bar are: Belgian lawyers, legal trainees and foreign lawyers (including lawyers qualified to practice in another Member State of the European Union). In every local Bar there is a Bar Council (Conseil de l’Ordre/Raad van de Orde) and Head of the Bar (Bâtonnier/Stafhouder). The Bâtonnier is chosen from among the lawyers, members of the Bar to represent all lawyers enrolled in the Bar. Among other obligations, the Bâtonnier is responsible for the administration of the Bar, s/he receives complaints issued by clients or other lawyers against lawyers enrolled in the Bar, resolves conflicts between Bar members.  
 
Working in Belgium as a lawyer qualified to practice in another Member State of the European Union

The lawyers qualified to practice in another Member State of the European Union (hereafter referred to as “European lawyers”) can provide legal advice in Belgium in accordance with: (1) the Directive 77/249/EEC of 22 March 1977 to facilitate the effective exercise by lawyers of freedom to provide services (further referred to as “the Services Directive for Lawyers”)[7]; (2) the Directive 98/5/EC of 16 February 1998 to facilitate practice of the profession of lawyer on a permanent basis in a Member State other than that in which the qualification was obtained (further referred to as “the Establishment Directive for Lawyers”)[8]. The directives mentioned above facilitate the establishment of European lawyers and the provision of legal services in other Member states of the European Union. They provide the set of rules according to which lawyers may operate. The Establishment Directive for Lawyers and the Service Directive for Lawyers introduce two distinct regimes according to which European lawyers may either establish their presence permanently in the Member State other than where they obtained their professional qualifications or to provide legal services temporarily, respectively.
The Directive 2005/36/EC of 7 September 2005 on the recognition of professional qualifications (“the Professional Qualifications Directive”)[9] does not affect the operation of the Establishment Directive for Lawyers and the Service Directive for Lawyers. Pursuant to recital (42) of the preamble of the Professional Qualifications Directive, it enables the recognition of professional qualifications for lawyers for the purpose of immediate establishment under the professional title of the host Member State.  
According to the statistics presented by the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) on the presence of the lawyers qualified to practice in other Member States in Belgium[10], by the end of 2013, there were 699 European Union lawyers registered under their home-country professional title. 532 lawyers were registered with the French-speaking and German-speaking Bar Association (from which 530 lawyers were registered with the Brussels Bar) and 167 were registered with the Dutch-speaking Bar Association.
 
How to become a European lawyer permanently established in Belgium

A lawyer fully qualified to practice in Poland (radca prawny or adwokat) can become permanently established as a European lawyer in Belgium. As registered European lawyers, radcowie prawni and adwokaci may pursue their profession in Belgium on a permanent basis under their professional title acquired in Poland. The rules are laid down in the Establishment Directive for lawyers and in Belgian law.
To become established in Belgium, European lawyers need to register with a Belgian Bar on the list of European lawyers. To register, a lawyer needs to present a proof that s/he is registered with the competent authority in Poland or other Member State of origin. The membership in the country of origin must be kept the whole time the lawyer is established in Belgium.
After the registration, the European lawyer established in Belgium may perform the same professional legal services as a Belgian lawyer, with some exceptions. For example, the European lawyer may represent or defend a client before the court in Belgium only together with a Belgian lawyer. As a lawyer established in Belgium the registered European lawyer may give advice on the law of his home Member State (in this case Poland), on European and international law and on Belgian law (the law of the host Member State, where the lawyer is permanently established)[11].
The European Union lawyers, registered with the Bar, become subject to the same rules of professional conduct as Belgian lawyers in respect of all the activities they pursues in its territory, without prejudice to their obligations in the Member State of origin. They also become subject to other obligations connected with the Bar membership. For example, they are obliged to continue legal education and receive credits for lectures and publications.
 
The use of professional titles

Radcowie prawni and adwokaci, who become lawyers established in Belgium or provide services in Belgium on a temporary basis, under the Establishment Directive for Lawyers or the Services Directive for Lawyers, should remember that as lawyers practicing in Belgium they cannot use the official titles of Belgian lawyers (avocats/advocaten/rechtsanwalt). They cannot translate their professional titles using the professional Belgian titles, as it would serve as an unlawful usage of the professional Belgian title[12]. Their professional titles have to be expressed in Polish (the official language of the home Member State) in a manner designed to avoid confusion with the professional title of lawyers in the host Member State, with an indication of the professional organization by which they are authorized to practice or the court of law before which they are entitled to practice pursuant to the laws of their home state[13].
 
How to acquire a professional title of a Belgian lawyer (for European lawyers)

For lawyers qualified to practice in another Member State, such as radcowie prawni and adwokaci, who want to become practicing Belgian lawyers, there are two courses of action.
Firstly, if a European lawyer performed work effectively and regularly for three years under his/her professional title in Belgian law, including the European Union Law and can prove his/her work to the Council of the Bar Association, then s/he can request to be enrolled to the Belgian Bar and after being accepted, to take an oath. The three-year practice is assessed on the basis of documents and information provided by the lawyer. The lawyer may be requested to provide more details in writing or verbally. The evidence of the lawyers knowledge of Belgian law is necessary, including the cases he worked on, attended seminars and courses in Belgian law.
The second way of becoming a Belgian lawyer can take place by means of the recognition of professional qualifications and passing the professional examination. The recognition of professional qualifications requires the provision of evidence of being a lawyer qualified to practice, who has followed legal training of at least three years’ duration in another Member State and evidence that a lawyer is a person of good character, never having performed any serious professional misconduct or a criminal offence. Then, the person is exempted from the requirement of completing the three-year legal training in Belgium and can take the professional examination.
The candidate may choose to pass a professional competence examination organized by the French and German-speaking Bar Association or the Dutch-speaking Bar Association. The examination consists of two parts. First the candidate passes a written part, which deals with Civil Law, Civil Procedure, Criminal law, Criminal procedure and a subject chosen by a candidate among: Administrative Law, Tax Law, Commercial Law or Labour Law. Then, the candidate passes an oral part of the examination in ethics and the subjects that weren’t covered by the written examination. If the candidate passes the exam, the successful participant can take an oath and enroll to the Bar of his choice.
Lawyers who follow the above procedure, may become Belgian lawyers and use both professional titles: the Belgian professional title and the professional title from their home state, as long as they keep their membership at the Bars in both states respectively.
 
The average workday of a lawyer specializing in European Union Law

Nowadays, for Peter Dyrberg Brussels is still a laboratory, where European Union Law is created. Every year European Union Law regulates more and more different fields of law. For example now we witness the establishment of the banking union. It changes constantly and becomes more complex.
European Union Law has its own terminology and rules of interpretation. “You cannot read the European Union Law through the glasses of national law” – Peter Dyrberg says – “it is important to have a European perspective. It helps to interpret a legal text to read it in different languages and conduct research on how it is understood in different jurisdictions.”
Peter Dyrberg starts his days with reading e-mails and most recent judgments on the European Union Law, followed by sending e-mails and making phone calls. In Brussels the best moment to contact people is the morning and the time after the lunch break, just before three o’clock in the afternoon. In Brussels the lunch breaks are normally long and can take one or even two hours, as they are a great occasion to meet and contact people. The “lunch culture” in Brussels makes the ordinary working day for a lawyer longer. 
In his legal practice, Peter Dyrberg deals with difficult and complex cases on compatibility of national rules with European Union Law. Each case requires fine legal analysis and extensive research. On his agenda he normally has a limited number of very complicated cases, which require detailed knowledge and months of intensive work. He often represents clients before the European Commission and the EFTA Surveillance Authority, when there is a question of compliance of national law with European Union Law.
Only a few cases end-up in the Court of Justice of the European Union or in the EFTA (European Free Trade Association) Court with jurisdiction over the EFTA States[14]. The EFTA States have to comply with the law pursuant to the EEA Agreement (the Agreement on the European Economic Area).
After more than twenty years of dealing with European Union Law, Peter Dyrberg is still interested in the subject and enthusiastic about his work: “If you like to argue and reason, then European Union Law can be a field for you.”
 
Aleksandra Kołyszko
Radca prawny w Kancelarii Radcy Prawnego Aleksandra Kołyszko, LL.M. in Commercial Law (Uniwersytet Cambridge)
 

[1] Cf. the official web-site providing public information on the legal system in Belgium, 31.07.2014: <http://www.belgium.be/en/about_belgium/government/>.
[2] Cf. the official web-site providing public information on the judicial system in Belgium, 31.07.2014: <http://justice.belgium.be/>.
[3] Cf. the official web-site of the administration of justice in Belgium, 31.07.2014: <http://www.juridat.be/index.htm>.
See also: The official web-site of the European Commission, the European Judicial Network in civil and commercial matters on the legal order in Belgium, 31.07.2014: <http://ec.europa.eu/civiljustice/legal_order/legal_order_bel_pl.htm>.
[4] Cf. the official web-site of the Constitutional Court in Belgium, 31.07.2014: <http://www.const-court.be/>
[5] Cf. the official web-site of the French-speaking and German-speaking Bar Association, 31.07.2014: <http://www.avocats.be/>. 
[6] Cf. the official web-site of the Dutch-speaking Bar Association, 31.07.2014: <http://www.advocaat.be/>.
[7] OJ L 78, 26.3.1977, pp. 17-18.
[8] OJ L 77, 14.3.1998, pp. 36-43.
[9] OJ L 255, 30.9.2005, pp. 22-142. 
[10] See: Number of lawyers in European countries – 2014, CCBE Lawyers’ Statistics 2014, 31.07.2014, <http://www.ccbe.org/index.php?id=29&L=0 >.
[11] Cf. Article 5(1) of the Establishment Directive for Lawyers; Case C-168/98 Grand Duchy of Luxemburg v European Parliament and Council of the European Union [2000] ECR I-9131; joined cases C-58/13 and C-59/13 Angelo Alberto Torresi and Pierfrancesco Torresi v Consiglio dell’Ordine degli Avvocati di Macerata [2014] ECR (not published).
[12] See: Case C-55/94 Reinhard Gebhard v Consiglio dell’Ordine degli Avvocati e Procuratori di Milano [1995] ECR I-04165.
[13] See Article 3 of the Services Directive for Lawyers, Article 2 and Article 4 of the Establishment Directive for Lawyers, recital 9 in the preamble to the Establishment Directive for Lawyers.
[14] The EFTA States are: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

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