“The lack of consensus on existing rules across Europe merits reform in itself,” he told the meeting, called to discuss his drive to sweep away restrictive practices within Europe’s liberal professions.
His comments came after a bid by Helge Kolrud, the president of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of the European Union, to fend off reform was slapped down by one of Monti’s advisers.
Kolrud said lawyers already belonged to the most ‘radically liberal’ profession in the EU and did not merit further scrutiny.
He strongly criticised the findings of a Monti-commissioned report in January by the Vienna Institute of Advanced Studies that found some parts of the European legal profession to be unnecessarily over-regulated and anti-competitive.
But Manchester University professor Anthony Ogus, who was involved in compiling the Monti report, retorted that consumers “would not recognise the world Kolrud has portrayed”. He picked out the high rates lawyers charged as an example of anti-competitive behaviour that did not have clients’ interests at heart.
“The prices that lawyers in many member countries charge reflect self-imposed prices as opposed to those of the market,” he said
The debate signals that Monti has a tough battle ahead in his bid to overhaul the long-standing protectionist regulations of Europe’s bars.
However, any move to liberalise Europe’s practice rules will be welcomed by City firms, which already operate in one of Europe’s most deregulated legal markets.