Professional services (also known as "liberal professions") are loosely defined as occupations requiring special training in the arts or sciences, such as lawyers, notaries, engineers, architects, doctors, and accountants.
These professionals form an integral part of the EU economy. The services they provide are essential to businesses and consumers, and this has a knock-on effect on the competitiveness of other sectors.
A highly regulated sector
Some of these professions are closely regulated by national governments and professional bodies, with varying restrictions on:
- number of entrants into the profession
- rates charged and billing arrangements
- organisational structure of businesses providing professional services
- exclusive rights enjoyed by practitioners
- ability to advertise
Application of competition rules
As operators providing professional services qualify as undertakings, EU competition rules apply. The Commission has three tools to make sure they are followed:
Encouraging professional bodies to use their self-regulatory powers to benefit not just their own members, but consumers as well. For more details, see the Commission reports.
Dealing with complaints alleging infringements of EU antitrust rules with regard to professional services.
Applying EU competition rules (for example: Commission condemns Belgian architects' fee system) has promoted reform.
See a list of Commission decisions and case law relating to professional services.
Cooperation with other authorities
Coordinating work with national competition authorities through the European Competition Network. Many national authorities are reforming the regulatory landscape for professional services by, for example, applying EU competition rules.
The Commission's Competition DG works closely with Directorates-General dealing with the internal market, enterprise and industry and consumer affairs. The Commission also discusses reform with professional bodies and consumer organisations.
The European Parliament supports the Commission's efforts to eliminate anti-competitive regulation, for the benefit of the EU economy and consumers.