The challenges of the integration process for the Western Balkan region seem to be several and some for the most challenging during the entire EU enlargement history. It also seems that although the Copenhagen criteria is’ dictating ‘ a clear and easy procedure at first sight, seen through the eyes of a lawyer, each one of the candidate and potential candidate for EU membership countries is having a hard time with them.

Clearly, we all want to have a European Identity as legal professionals, to get integrated at an early stage of the harmonization process within our countries and shape our individual existence while at the same time corresponding to the European ‘conditionality’. Few might argue that this is not possible, and that we must choose either one or the other form of ‘being’.  Nevertheless, we all might agree on the fact that fostering European identity is not possible without understanding certain issues and aspects that are standing in our way. To be a European lawyer means being part of a rich diversity mutually accepted and recognized as equal and at the same time keeping the identity of our own individual legal structure. But in order to understand what is keeping us behind from the European status as lawyers, we need to take a look at the internal and external issues that hinder us so far to feel truly European lawyers or at least feel close to being such. The combination of these internal and external factors, bring a chaotic situation within our legal profession practice and understanding about the mission behind, that adds up to a state of crisis within the legal practice among the entire region.

First of all, the legal profession within our countries is precariously held together by a common body of learning, acquired lawyering skills and, most significantly, by the professed values that over the years helped inspire a sense in lawyers of a public calling of service

[1]. Yet, the truth is that the legal profession is a mission. The legal profession is a mission, a ‘goal and ideal oriented profession’, and it has to do with our professional consciousness that extend beyond the tasks and required professional values to practice such profession. Within our region we have too many practicing lawyers, increasingly focused on marketing and economic issues rather than public service, that professionalism and civility are waning and public respect is at a low. Seeing the legal profession as a duty just as any other, we create a wrong perception about its practicing according to which we relate it to the financial situation and welfare. Seeing it that way, we pursue the legal profession and grow professionally after we graduate. By applying the principle ‘had a diploma, you are done’- we place ourselves in a comfort zone and lethargic professional sleep which keeps us in a poorly professional state.

However, the realization that EU integration is about standards, quality and professionalism, puts us in a very stressful and difficult situation, which makes us only realize how much work we have ahead of us, if we want to become fully integrated lawyers and proudly compete within a large European market. During such standards, the Legal profession and our integration is a continuous process that never ends. It only grows, changes, improves by taking different shapes and forms. But it never stops developing and so does the legal profession. Because the law is flexible, expandable and unpredictable at all times, we as lawyers need to be in touch with it, updated and well prepared to follow it all the time through training’s, learning, research and other professional activities.

There is however a second side of the same coin and that is how the EU and its Member States see us as legal professionals which is mainly related to the negative image of the entire region throughout the years. The truth is that the Balkans do not enjoy a good image with other European citizens – at least in the member States which have had little contact with the Balkans as a result of which these small countries are dogged by preconceived and that is related to the way the entire legal system operates as well[2]. Furthermore, the demands made by the EU of the countries in the region are extremely strict. Having learned the lessons of previous enlargements that were not quite acquis in terms of policing and justice, Brussels has tightened up its requirements and now wants to integrate strong States that fall scrupulously in line with the Copenhagen criteria which define the terms of membership.  As a result, we as lawyers must be realistic that the legal integration process has become increasingly difficult and that means we need to work hard to raise and improve our professional level in any of the areas we are involved in, in order to match the European picture of qualified lawyers[3].

It is very important that we understand that our professional growth and values are our own responsibility in the first place and that we need to improve the image our entire judicial system by first improving our perceptions about what we do, our behaviors of how we do it and finally the entire legal system, by standing firm and confident of who we are and where are we heading within the entire legal integration framework. Without adjusting our professional compass and amending our expectations from ourselves it will be difficult to reach the European professional level we all pretend to have one day. Let’s not forget: Legal integration is not a tool for achieving a goal. It is the goal itself.

Sources and literature

‘Professional values in the Practice of Law’, Robert MacCrate, William Mitchel Law Review, Vol. 27, issues 2, art. 41.

EU-Western Balkan relations: The European Bermuda triangle? ‘, Gaëlle Perio, European Issue 195, Feb. 2011