Liberal Professions – Potential for both growth and consumer protection

25 Jun 2014
Ref: 44/2014

On Tuesday 24 June 2014, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) presented the results of a study on the liberal professions[1] carried out by the University of Cologne, which essentially confirms the recommendations and requirements adopted in an EESC opinion[2]  of March 2014.

Regulation – Currently no control of quality and effectiveness possible

Liberal professions such as doctors, lawyers, or architects are mostly subject to the specific regulations of the EU Member States (MS), while the level of regulation is heavily dependent on the particular profession. In addition, a principle of self-administration in one form or another can be identified as a key characteristic of the liberal professions within the EU. However, as Professor Martin Henssler has stressed, the quality and effectiveness of a particular regulation cannot be assessed unless criteria indicating when a legal rule may be considered effective have been established.

Codes of conduct and ethical standards are necessary for liberal professions

This is why Arno Metzler, the rapporteur of the EESC's opinion, called for an EU-wide definition of "liberal profession" which simply sets out the general features of liberal professions and lists the categories of occupations. He pointed to the fact that most of the services provided by the liberal professions are complex, which means that service recipients do not have enough information to judge the quality of the service. "This asymmetry of information causes a relationship simply based on trust and implies a potential for exploitation by the service provider," he says.

For Luca Jahier it is important that civil society is protected and conflicts are avoided. "For European citizens it is important to know they can rely on a high-quality service. Minimum professional and stringent ethical standards across Europe are therefore necessary and will also make it easier for liberal professions to enter the markets," he states.

Liberal professions are an important pillar of Europe's economy

As the study in 2012 revealed, one in six self-employed persons is active in a liberal-professional dominated sector; more than a quarter of the liberal-professional sector employs at least one person. Its share of the EU's GDP stood at 11.1% in 2012 and it pays wages and salaries corresponding to 10.4% of the wages and salaries of the whole of the commercial economy.

Furthermore, the liberal-professional sector is dominated by people with long working experience thus providing a living for people aged from 50 to 64. In addition, nearly every second person (44.6%) is female. Last but not least, it offers employment opportunities for young people who choose a future of free enterprise and investment in their knowledge.

 

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