Luca Prete, Legal Service of the European Commission

Luca PreteLuca Prete, Legal Service of the European Commission


BL: What is your legal background and how did you start working for the Legal Service?


LP: Well, I studied law in Italy and very much liked European Community Law, public international law and generally the international aspects of law. I, thus, decided to do my dissertation on EU law. After graduating, I received a scholarship to do a four-month internship at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg in the Chambers of Judge G. Federico Mancini. It’s there that I really fell in love with what I was doing.


After that, I had to complete my military service which lasted about a year. Within that time, I also managed to do my legal training with a lawyer whom I knew personally. This training consisted of essentially going to and following hearings. This helped me prepare for my bar exam. On top of that, I also attended classes for a specialisation course in Community Law in Bologna. This was the first year this kind of course was available, it has since turned into an LLM.


I decided to do an LLM and due to my legal training and specialisation course, I managed to get a scholarship for the College of Europe in Bruges. I chose COE because it has one of the best LLM programmes. The one year programme gave me a lot! It was a crash course. We ate, slept and breathed Community Law and obviously there is a natural link between Brussels and the COE. We had teachers who are partners at law firms, or in top posts at the Commission, etc. The programme was, on the one hand, very generalist, we got an overview of everything we needed to know – institutions, anti-trust, internal market and litigation. On the other hand, in the second semester one can follow a number of more focused seminars on specific topics I order to specialise in some areas of law. I think that having a generalist education is a good way to go. The Commission, for example, likes hiring people with a broad background. Law firms, on the other hand, tend to prefer more specialized lawyers.


After graduating in Bruges, I was hired by Clifford Chance in Rome, but only stayed there a few months. I enjoyed working with the partner that hired me, he was a lawyer and an academic, something I appreciated a lot. However, I worked too much on Italian anti-trust and too little on Community Law. Rome isn’t often the best place to go to work on Community Law. Brussels is, needless to say, the centre.


I was then hired by Skadden Arps in Brussels where I also worked on anti-trust, mainly on Articles 101 and 102 (formerly Articles 81 and 82) and mergers, for two years. It was a positive experience, but after a while I felt I was doing most of the times the same things. I decided I wanted a change.


That’s what lead me to the Commission working as a contractor. After I sat the legal concours, my temporary contract was turned into a permanent contract. At the Commission, I worked in DG Competition for two and a half years on State Aid, then worked in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for two years – in the Chambers of Advocate General, then Judge, Antonio Tizzano - and have been working for the Legal Service for almost three years now.


BL: What does a typical day at work look life for you?


LP: I spend half of my time giving in-house advice to the Commission on legislation and other acts. You see, all acts with legal effect or all legal texts must have approval from the Legal Service. If there is no approval, the matter is referred to the College of Commissioners. Therefore, sometimes we get calls from within the Commission before the DGs have handed a text and asked for advice, or sometimes we get a draft text right away.


The other half of my job consists of litigation. We represent the Commission before the EU courts in Luxembourg. My team also does WTO litigation. So, for example, we will represent the European Union and, in case, its Member States, before the WTO adjudicating bodies (panels and the Appellate Body) in Geneva.


Of course, each Court case is also a language question. If a case comes up involving e.g. Poland and no one speaks Polish in the team responsible for that case, then they ask Polish speaking lawyers from other teams in the legal service to help out. We generally help one another out when needed. There’s a real feeling of solidarity within the legal service.


I think that the Commission allows you a good balance between professional and private life. I also get to travel and lecture in different places. For example, this year I taught some classes an introductory course in EU Law at the university in Turin and at the university in Rome and also in Trier In the past years I was also asked to give seminars to the civil servants of the new Member States. For instance, one year I spent 3 days with a colleague from DG COMP in Bucurest, in order to train Romanian judges on State aid law. It was very interesting since among our “students” there were judges from the highest jurisdictions.


BL: What do you prefer? WTO litigation or EC litigation?


LP: Well, deep down I am an EU lawyer, not a WTO lawyer. Litigating in Luxembourg and going in front of the court, the smell of the battle – in a good sense – the adrenaline that rushes through you when you’re standing in front of senior top lawyers and standing up against equally good lawyers defending the other side, that’s just good fun and that’s what I love to do.


However, WTO litigation can also be extremely challenging and interesting. Many provisions haven’t been interpreted yet and that means that, as a lawyer working in this field, I have the opportunity to be part of shaping a new legal order!

BL: How creative do you perceive your work to be?


LP: Well, law has to be interpreted. When litigating for example, I obviously need to propose an interpretation which is favourable to my case. Yet, as Commission officials, we also need to look at the overall system and suggest an interpretation which is … “good law”. Moreover, when working on areas where there is not a lot of jurisprudence, where provisions are ambiguous or outdated, again, it’s a chance for me to be very creative.


Not only do I have to try to be creative with my interpretations, but also with my strategy. What points do I circumvent? What are my political constraints (i.e. what are the objectives the Commission wants to achieve with a certain act)? We must draft legislation which minimises risks and fits with political aims. For example, when the GATT was formed in the late 1940s, the environment wasn’t a major concern to anyone. Today, the environment is on everyone’s minds and sometimes you have to limit trade when it has a negative spillover effect on the environment (e.g. favouring companies with less carbon emissions). The rules for the GATT are fairly ambiguous though and the importance of its interpretation cannot be overstated.  


BL: If you had to pick a downside to your job, what would it be?


LP: Although my job is challenging and interesting, I have great colleagues and I am happy about the Commission, I have to admit that I absolutely hate bureaucracy. Sometimes, you feel that the filling out of forms is useless and has no purpose. This is what you get when you work in public administration. However, the Legal Service suffers less in terms of bureaucracy. I do have to say that.


BL: Thank you for your time and we wish you the best of luck in your future.


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