Thursday, October 12, 2006

European Commission Attacks Protections for Notaries

Sources: Rules are made to be simplified - slowly -; Notaries in 17 European countries to lose privileges -

Jose Manuel Barroso, current European Commission president, promised to cut red tape on business in the European Union by one-quarter. But progress has been slow. As of last month, however, only five of fifty-four simplification measures have been completed.

Undaunted, the EC told seventeen member states it must remove the privileges and protections granted to notaries. In many EU countries, important legal transactions must be scrutinized by a notary. The EC wants to eliminate, in particular, restrictions that prohibit foreign attorneys from performing notarial services or that limit the number of notaries that can operate in one region. The EC insists such restrictions are incompatible with the EU’s open market underpinning.

Targeted countries, which include nine of the ten states that joined the EU in 2004, as well as Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Greece, Portugal, and Luxembourg, contend that notaries are public officials, who perform public duties similar to judges and that they deserve special status. As an integral part of their legal system, they argue, notaries should be exempt from market forces. Despite strong resistance from these countries, the EC intends to file suit in the European Court of Justice if the targeted countries maintain the current protective notary system.


1. To what extent might an individual nation’s legal system interfere with transnational markets?

2. Should the EC have the right to dictate changes to a country’s legal infrastructure with the intent to reduce transaction costs and increase market efficiency?

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