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›Freedom in the Light of Europe‹

ON THE BATTLES OF AED-EDL AND SAF

Laurence Roques and Florian Borg

One of the shared characteristics between the Syndicat des Avocats de France and the Republikanischer Anwältinnen und Anwälteverein, among others, is that they were founded in the 1970s. In France, these were the years that followed the decolonization movement that saw many left-wing activists committing themselves to the freedom of the people. Among them were many of the lawyers, who would later create the SAF. These were also years of boiling leftist intellectual creation resulting from the movements of the late 1970s, or May 68 in France.
Until the early 1970s, the legal world and lawyers’ organisations focused primarily on the professional conditions of the legal practice. It was more a question of corporatism than trade unionism. Freedoms were defended brilliantly but in particular as court cases and by single lawyers. They were not the collective problem of an organized mobilization of lawyers.

The Pre-European SAV

Above all, there was a lack of specific reflection on lawyers’ relations with those directly concerned with justice, their clients. Some lawyers felt the need to organize themselves to deal not only with the profession but also with its role in society and vis-à-vis the working classes: »[T] here is a coincidence of popular aspirations, especially those of the most disadvantaged, with the interest of lawyers for their future role, particularly those who are committed to the defence of persons and freedoms«. (1)
It was within the framework of the Union of the Left [add: French original], between communist and socialist lawyers, that the idea of a trade unionism among lawyers was born between 1972 and 1974. The first objective of this trade-unionism under construction was to make the world of justice more democratic, both by improving the economic conditions for the exercise of the profession (like solidarity between lawyers according to their praxis, fair remuneration, etc.), and by better guaranteeing rights and freedoms. While access to justice and the law is limited, particularly for the working classes, improving the conditions of practice of lawyers, like financing legal aid, would make it easier to access the law.
This alliance between the conditions of practice of the profession and the causes of the working classes, both in terms of freedoms and social issues, has never left the spirit of the SAF and has resulted throughout these 45 years in a permanent search for links between activists for freedoms and social causes, and SAF lawyers.
The doctrine of SAF has not been built on disembodied ideological bases but through the reflection on the professional practice of its members. Whether in criminal defence, foreigners’ law, housing and consumer law, then, later, foreigners’ law, and now environmental law, it is first of all lawyers’ experiences in their work, the obstacles of access to rights, and exchanges with the associative and academic world, that builds the corpus and claims of SAF.
This is also how the European question has arisen for the SAF: what consequence has the integration of European law into national law and the opening of a new European judicial area had for lawyers?

The European Challenge

The European question first emerged, very early on, as a subject of fear. In a conference in Paris in June 1978, Claude Michel, then President of the SAF, pointed out »the implementation of an authoritarian and repressive conception of security. We are moving towards the European judicial area advocated by the President of the Republic. For this new order, a consensus is needed. Defence is a means of resistance to this operation. Efforts are therefore being made to dimension the role of lawyers. Where the rights of the defence are limited, freedoms in general are attacked«. At the Toulouse Congress in November 1979, Henri Leclerc devoted his speech to the »degradation of freedoms and the European judicial area«. He feared that »The foundation of freedoms is the economic freedoms that enshrine the social inequality that allows the law of profit to play its part«.
It was only at the turn of the 1980s that the SAF took full conscience of the issue of European integration. National struggles for democratic justice had to be translated at European level. At the Lille Congress in November 1985, President Franck Natali called on the SAF to »master the European debate«. A motion on the exercise of the profession also included the European dimension to give full guarantees to litigants.
It was at this time that SAF established contacts with other lawyers’ organisations in Europe, including the RAV, to form the association European Democratic Lawyers, the AED-EDL.

THE CREATION OF AED-EDL

The Colmar congress in November 1987 was entitled ›Defence meets Europe‹, with President Gérard Boulanger calling to »construct a Europe of lawyers. European law has laid down the principles of freedom of services and establishment, equivalence of university diplomas, and the lawfulness of double law firms. We need to define the European content of the role of defence: The European Democratic Lawyers’ association has outlined its principles and the SAF is sensitive to the honour of seeing its president preside over the AED-EDL... we want a Europe of lawyers«.
The identity of the SAF now integrates Europe, with the AED-EDL being the common home of European lawyers to share the same values and ensure that justice and the rights of the defence are not forgotten in the European construction.
»There is a growing European dimension to this future, initially against the Europe of police, and then to propel defence at European level on the basis of the ECHR. The AED-EDL initiated by Franck Natali, developed by Gérard Boulanger, must be at the heart of our projects. The construction of a European lawyers’ union is a fundamental necessity to escape two fears, inside, fear of legal advice, notaries, accountants, or even certain lawyer structures, fear outside all competition. Europe is the future: in terms of mutual recognition of diplomas, rules of establishment, ethics, taxation, access to law, legal protection insurance, this is the level to consider«.(2)
The first European conference co-organised by SAF and AED-EDL was held in Toulouse in January 1989. But the subject dealt with, ›Europe and Immigration‹, already suggests that the European struggles of SAF, like the AED-EDL, will first be struggles for freedoms before they are struggles to define a European judicial area. The second AED-EDL Congress in November 1989 focuses on »Europe put to the test of freedom«, a Europe in the light of freedom. Today, no doubt, we would reverse the title ›Freedoms put to the test of Europe‹, freedom in the light of the current European Union.
For the European promise of the 1980s, the hopes of the SAF, like those of many militants of the political and trade union left, has clashed with the reality of this European construction. And as with other issues addressed by the SAF, it is the daily practice of law that alerts SAF activists to the limits of European integration, and in particular the foreigner’s law. The congresses organised every year in Lille by the SAF in foreigners’ law thus regularly raise the question of European integration: an area of freedom for goods and services, not for the movement of women and men (for example, the colloquium of 4 February 1995, ›France of Freedoms under the Control of Europe‹).
This daily practice of law also highlights European tools used to defend rights and freedoms and above all the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. The AED-EDL then allows this exchange of know-how between European lawyers.

The deregulated European Union

For SAF lawyers, European construction results in the establishment of a totally deregulated market, at the risk of calling into question the principle of the independence of the legal profession. However, for the SAF, the independence of the lawyer is seen above all as a guarantee for the litigant, particularly in the rights of the defence. The subject of the Rennes congress in November 2007 ›Avocats par-dessus le marché‹ (›Lawyers and the Supremacy of the Market‹) is an illustration of this mistrust.
A Europe that is not protective of the most vulnerable populations, a Europe that is an area of deregulation... These two questions now raise a new one: Doesn’t Europe become the breeding ground for an identity and authoritarian right, taking off on popular fears and social misery? This is a worrying development and for SAF, European commitment has become all the more important.
To fight hate, racism, police and authoritarian regimes, to defend an area of justice and freedom, the principles of the rule of law, we must maintain and strengthen solidarity:

  • between lawyers and the working classes,
  • between lawyers, activists, and trade unionists,
  • and, of course, between lawyers from different countries, engaged in the same cases.

This is the reason for the SAF involvement in the AED-EDL, with other lawyers’ organisations.

Laurence Roques is a lawyer in the bar association of Val-de-Marne and the president of the Syndicat des Avocats de France (SAF). Florian Borg, a lawyer in the bar association of Lille, is secretary general of the AED-EDL. Subheading and subtitles have been added by the editors. From the French original into English by Mina Zapatero.

(1) Claude Michel, Annales du Syndicat des Avocats de France, tome 1: 1972-1992, le vingt ans du SAF. Paris 2004.
(2) Sylviane Mercier in her moral report as President at the Clermont Congress in October 1988.