Closed-shop professions still not pried open

Greece continues to lag in the liberalization of so-called closed-shop professions despite having agreed to terms set out by the country’s troika of foreign lenders for more flexibility in the labor market and deregulation. What’s more, the professions experiencing the greatest delays are also those that were pinpointed especially by the country’s creditors for liberalization, such as those of lawyers and engineers.

Indicative of the delays is that fact that all three memorandums that Greece has signed with the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank in exchange for bailout funding have included clauses demanding competition among lawyers and while the last deadline for the process to be completed expired at the end of July, the issue is still under debate.

Law 3919/2001, outlining the terms for the liberalization of a number of closed-shop professions in Greece, has ostensibly already been in force for three years, albeit with numerous amendments, yet in its most recent progress report on Greece the IMF noted significant delays, especially in supplementary legislation such as ministerial decisions and presidential decrees. The Fund attributes these delays to vested interests holding up the process.

Another profession that the government is under increasing pressure to liberalize is that of mediators so that mediation cannot be conducted only by bar-certified lawyers. Among the proposals under consideration, according to sources, is the inclusion in the sector of professionals from other disciplines, such as economists, especially given that the majority of mediation cases concern economically related differences between businesses such as banks and retailers, and their consumers.

The sector that has reacted the loudest to liberalization plans is that of lawyers, with the review of the Lawyers Code already pushed back to late August when it should have been completed by the end of July. Even though the document containing the new code is ready, it has yet to be put to vote in Parliament because of reactions from the legal community. According to the new code, restrictions on advertising for individual lawyers and firms will be abolished, there will no longer be a minimum wage for in-house legal counsel in the private sector, and lawyers’ fees will be determined upon agreement with the client rather than by a fixed list of rates.

Another professional sector that will need a special law for its deregulation is that of engineers, which includes 24 separate fields of expertise and will also eventually include architects and real estate evaluators. The government and the Competition Commission have until end-September to present a proposal for the abolition of numerous restrictions in the sector that have meant that only engineers are allowed to carry out certain jobs and tasks. The government also has until the end of the year to amend legislation that imposes all sorts of ludicrous terms for the exercise of certain activities. Sources within the government say that progress has been made in locating unreasonable laws as well as areas where exemptions will be considered and over which it will confer with the Competition Commission.

A string of other professions are also experiencing delays of a legislative nature in the full liberalization process, which is supposed to be completed by spring next year. These professions are certified appraisers, actuaries, electricians (41 separate categories will be affected), technical professions (56 separate areas of expertise), pesticide sellers and geotechnicians.

The IMF’s report says that the effects of the liberalization process on closed-shop professions, especially in terms of prices and employment, is being closely monitored in order to gauge the success of the Greek rescue program.

The Finance Ministry has established a special department to oversee the liberalization process and which will work together with foreign experts on the development of a series of indices that will serve to measure the progress of deregulation. The indices should be ready by mid-October and they will be published at regular intervals.

An in-depth assessment of the overall program will be conducted after the end of 2013, again in collaboration with foreign experts.