I have now been seconded to the Joint Brussels Office of the UK Law Societies for two months and how the time has flown. It’s amazing looking back to how nervous I was when I touched down in this entirely new city at the beginning of September to start a completely different type of work and meet my new colleagues. I now feel very settled and happy with by the challenges and diversity of my work here.
We could not really have started at a more politically-interesting time. The new MEPs (voted in by you in the European elections in May) were coming back for the new term. Jean-Claude Juncker (Head of the European Commission) was choosing the portfolios for the Commissioner-designates that he had been sent by each of the 28 Member States. Scotland was holding a referendum on remaining as part of the United Kingdom.
In respect of the Scottish referendum, it was interesting to note the similarities between the arguments for Scotland staying within the UK, as for the UK remaining within the European Union; arguments that doubtless will be repeated should there be a referendum on UK membership of the EU in 2017.
We followed the hearings of the Commissioners, who were each subjected to three hours of intense questioning by MEPs before they were agreed to. The UK Commissioner is a very charming man who would not be misplaced in a Richard Curtis film. Amongst other things, he has committed to prioritising ways to encourage the growth of small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) across Europe by many means but particularly by way of by encouraging private investment into them. This should come as welcome news to entrepreneurs across Europe and all the way to Clapham Junction!
On a rotating basis, the Brussels trainees monitor what legislation is coming out of the EU institutions, and when and where it is being worked on. We work with the policy advisors who supervise us to scrutinise the legislation that the Commission proposes, and we do this with the expert help of the relevant committees of the UK law societies. We then come up with a joint-UK response to the legislative proposal and send this to MEPs working on the proposal or to UK Governmental departments working on it in the Council of the European Union.
Much of the work that I have done so far has been in the area of Company Law and Intellectual Property (IP). In company law, I have been working on responses to the European Commission’s proposals on how to improve corporate governance and the long term sustainability of European companies. The proposals consist of a draft Directive on shareholders’ rights , a draft Directive for a single-member private limited liability company, to be known as ‘SUPs ‘, and a non-binding recommendation on the ‘comply and explain’ principle, which together aim to increase transparency and accountability of companies’ management and performance. In respect of IP, I have been looking at the European Commission’s proposals in respect of Trade Marks, Trade Secrets and Copyright.
Outside of work, I have had the pleasure to meet so many of the other trainee solicitors doing seats of their training contracts in Brussels. I have tried a number of Belgian beers, and have had at least one Belgian waffle. My favourite thing though is, of course, the chocolate. I treat myself to one small piece each day, which I legitimise because I am living in an area of Brussels known as ‘Altitude Cent’ because it is exactly 100 metres above sea-level and the highest point in Brussels. This means that the last leg of my 6km cycle home is always the hardest, which provides the perfect excuse for a cup of tea and a chunk of dark chocolate as I come in through the door (more often than not cold and wet!).
Rachel Cooper – your Hanne & Co Trainee in Brussels