EESC Public Hearing on the Future Role of the Liberal Professions

On 24 September a public hearing on the role and future of the liberal professions in European civil society 2020 was held by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in Brussels. The hearing is part of the process relating to the preparation of an own-initiative opinion by rapporteur Mr Metzler for the EESC which is an advisory body of the EU. This discussion is of importance to CEPI and the real estate professionals.

Europe 2020 is the EU’s ten-year growth strategy. It sets targets for the EU. There are a number of related initiatives involving all sections of society as well as the EU institutions. The EESC has a key role to play in driving the participation of national social partners and civil society in the practical implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy.

The EESC’s own-initiative opinion is due to be published later this year. It will look at the history, development and definition of liberal professions. It will also look at regulation and its objectives. Essentially Member States use two different approaches to regulating the liberal professions. The first is known as “principles-based regulation” and the second is the more prescriptive “rules-based regulation”. Both have different elements and advantages.

The opinion will also look at the economic aspects, to be based on the results of a study being completed by the Cologne Centre for Liberal Professions. The opinion will also look at ethics, public interest being integral to the liberal professions. It will consider present and future requirements for the liberal professions and their profile and consumer protection and self-regulation. It is intended to contribute to the general European debate and possibly the modernisation of the liberal professions.

Discussion at the hearing focused on the fact that there is no one definitive definition of a liberal profession, although there are several official definitions for example according to a judgement of the European Court of Justice. The different regulatory approaches in Europe also present difficulties in reaching conclusions. The two main questions are how necessary is a definition of a liberal profession and what should it be, and the debate for and against regulation and deregulation?

It appears likely that any definition proposed of a liberal profession will have to be sufficiently abstract to allow both for the development of new professions and new business models. In terms of deregulation, every type of regulation of professions has to be justifiable in the public interest and not operate to protect specific groups from competition. There was a strong reference to the importance of values and also independence (of both state and client) for the liberal professions. The implications for real estate professionals, and indeed whether or not they are classed as liberal professions, will have to be considered further when the opinion is published.