Conor Maguire, Solicitor and Founder of Brussels Matters
Brussels Matters is a forum that allows all lawyers practising or affected by EU law to participate in discussions, either in person or by teleconference, about topical legal developments with senior EU officials in Brussels.
Brussels Legal asked Conor Maguire, a solicitor who set up Brussels Matters, about the new forum.
BL: What is Brussels Matters?
CM: The forum can best be summed up by its tag-line: Brussels Matters enables lawyers to discuss key EU policy and legal developments with senior EU officials and provide feedback from beyond the Brussels ring-road.
The emphasis during Brussels Matters events is very much on discussion. In other words, by participating in our events lawyers, wherever they are located, are able to discuss important EU law and policy developments with EU officials and thus better understand how these changes may affect their clients throughout the EU27 and EEA member states.
In practical terms, we give just as much time to the moderated Q & A session as we do to the speaker's presentation. The presentation is distributed to the teleconference participants just before the start of each event.
By using a market leader teleconferencing provider, in this way we can offer all the participants - in Brussels and beyond - the same opportunities to benefit from the dialogue with the EU officials.
The in-person part of each event is hosted from Brussels at Scotland House on the Rond-Point Schuman. Once the pre-event drinks are finished in Brussels, we start at around 19.30h by bringing the in-person and teleconference audiences together. By then the registered teleconference participants will have been granted access to the event and given instructions on how to ask questions. We aim to start the Q & A session around 20.15h and the 90-minute event always finishes at 21.00h (Brussels time).
BL: What are the benefits of participating in Brussels Matters events?
CM: One of the main benefits is that derived from being part of a discussion. Instead of just listening to a presentation, Brussels Matters events also offer all participants the opportunity to put questions to the senior EU official responsible for the topic that is the subject of the particular discussion. Comments from the other participants can also be very informative.
In return, the EU officials can gain more insights from individual EU lawyers all across the EU27 about how that particular policy or legal development may fare in each member state.
After all, the first cases any EU law undergraduate studies teach how EU law, though initiated in Brussels, is meant to be applied at the member state, regional or even local level.
Other important advantages of participating in Brussels Matters events include the time and hassle saved in travelling to participate in EU law discussions, the ability to put questions directly to the EU speaker and increasingly important for lawyers and law firms these days, the fact that participating in our events helps minimise the environmental impact of practising law.
BL: Why was Brussels Matters created?
CM: Because it became clear from my market research and practice in Brussels that there was a demand and an opportunity to set up a business offering this type of discussion forum dedicated to lawyers practising and affected by EU law.
Previously, I had been the chairman of the Law Society's European Group ("LSEG") in Brussels. The LSEG events I organised in the city emphasised an informal yet informative atmosphere allowing Brussels-based lawyers to discuss different EU (mainly competition) law topics with Commission officials. Some EU lawyers began travelling to Brussels specifically to attend these events. Commission officials seemed to enjoy the relatively relaxed LSEG Brussels' environment as well.
When you see how other organisations use similar teleconferencing technology to bring public officials and lawyers together, the challenge became to try to combine the two formats (the purely in-person meetings and teleconference events) to see if the forum could succeed.
I am working on being able to teleport Belgian beer to the teleconference participants but it's proving tricky!
BL: And how have the events gone so far?
CM: The first two events were really "proof of concept" meetings and I am glad to say that from the feedback, they were successful. The first event was on DG COMP's final report on the inquiry into the European gas and electricity markets. In March we discussed DG COMP's interim report on the inquiry into the European business insurance markets.
Though still very early days, both events attracted an equal audience from inside and outside the Brussels ring-road. The lists of participants are on the Brussels Matters website. The feedback has been very positive.
Participants have also provided useful feedback regarding new topics for future events.
One question that comes up quite frequently: why can we only pay with a credit card? Simply because it allows me to confirm participation at the event more or less immediately. Otherwise we would have to wait for payment before confirming participation and most importantly, before distributing the vital teleconferencing details to those lawyers participating in Brussels who need to stay at their desks (yes, there are quite a few!) and beyond, along with the speaker's presentation. Even intra-eurozone payments can take several days and it is very frustrating for everyone if you have registered and paid but miss out on being able to participate in the discussion because the banks have not transferred the money in time.
BL: Where can interested lawyers find out more information about participating?
CM: The website www.brusselsmatters.eu lists the next events, explains how to register for them (including the cost) and how the events are run.