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Brussels Update - Preparing To Return

Burnetts' trainee solicitor Ross Galbraith has secured a six month secondment at the Law Society’s office in Brussels as part of this training. In this month's article, his fifth and final in a series of monthly updates, Ross covers Gibraltar & Spain's on-going dispute as well as reflecting on the past six months of his secondment what experiences and new skills he hopes to be able to utilise on his return to Cumbria.

A short six months...

My time in Brussels is finally drawing to a close; it seems like yesterday when I was boarding a plane at Manchester airport and embarking into the unknown. After the initial apprehension and challenging first few weeks my time in Brussels has been thoroughly enjoyable and an invaluable learning experience. Working at the centre of the European Union has allowed me to develop an in depth knowledge of EU Law and procedure, a lot of which I can take back and utilise when I return to Cumbria.

The past six months has also opened my eyes to the world of lobbying and political strategy. My previous insight into lobbying was mainly through the film ‘Thank you for smoking’ which follows a lobbyist working for a multi-national tobacco company. Tobacco companies spend millions lobbying to reduce and limit any regulatory restrictions such as advertising constraints. Safe to say being a tobacco lobbyist is not the most noble of professions....

However, working at the Law Society and helping protect and promote solicitors from the UK has been particularly fulfilling and feel I have been able to experience both the positive and constructive side to lobbying.

UK/EU News - Gibraltar & Spain's on-going dispute

The EU institutions have been on the quiet side in August as a result of the rather long summer recess (alright for some). As legislative developments are temporarily on hold much of the press has been dominated by the on-going feud between Spain and the UK over Gibraltar. The situation has flared up recently after Gibraltar started planting an artificial reef in the disputed waters lying between Spain and Gibraltar, aimed at preventing over-fishing. Spain contest that the reef is providing an obstacle to Spanish fisherman carrying out their day-to-day fishing duties.

Spain have subsequently retaliated by increasing border checks and threatened to impose a border crossing 'tax' of €50 (£43). As a response, the UK have recently threatened legal action and called on the European Commission to take action. Much of the UK’s legal argument centres on the alleged 'disproportionate' border checks and the legality of a potential €50 border-crossing 'tax'.

Many EU countries (including Spain) have signed up to the ‘Schengen open-border agreement’; this is an agreement which allows EU citizens to move freely from one EU Member State to another, without passport checks. Although Britain and Gibraltar are part of the EU they have not signed up to the Schengen open-border agreement and therefore border checks between Spain and Gibraltar are legally obliged to take place; albeit proportionally.

The European Commission are sending monitors to investigate and if the border checks are considered disproportionate action may be taken. In addition, regarding the border crossing 'tax', the European Commission have recently commented that any 'tax' imposed by Spain could be considered illegal and would contravene EU law.

Although the current situation resembles that of two friends falling out the consensus remains that the situation can be resolved quickly before any further escalation.

A bit of Belgian history and culture

The end of July saw ‘Belgium National Day’ take place and the coronation of the new King, Philippe. This was a fascinating day and I was able to watch the new king emerge onto the royal balcony with his family.

Belgium is a divided nation with the country effectively split in two. The north of the country is known as Flanders (Dutch speaking) and the south of the country is known as Walloon (French speaking). Brussels is considered an anomaly as although it’s situated in the north (as a kind of enclave) the vast majority of the population are French speaking. The north/south divide in Belgium can cause social and political problems with many citizens wanting independence in their respective regions. The royal family play an important role in keeping the country united and are seen as the ‘glue’ holding Belgium together.

Many Belgians hope that the new King can continue this trend.

Final thoughts

In the past six months I have learnt and experienced a vast amount; not just professionally but culturally; it will be a six months I will never forget!! In my final few weeks I will be going on trips to Amsterdam and Paris before I leave and head back to (a probably wet) Cumbria for the remaining nine months of my training and another new challenge.


About the author

Published: Thursday 29th August 2013
Categorised: Corporate Law, International

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