Report by Roxy Lackschewitz-Martin, recipient of the 2020 European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Court Scholarship
After one rapid PCR test, two flight cancellations, daily checks of the new visa requirements following the UK-EU trade agreement, and one terrifying Bridget-Jones-like encounter with Luxembourgish border guards, I am finally in Luxembourg! The first few days have been relaxed as the Court staff have been told to work from home and it’s still Christmas recess. I sorted out my flat, registered with my commune (how very European) and read some introductory articles on the function of the EFTA Court and the role of Legal Secretaries in the EU institutions (not secretaries – more like specialist researchers who are already established lawyers).
I have been extremely well looked after by one of my colleagues in the Liechtenstein cabinet, who has gone above and beyond to help me get here and show me around. On Friday she took me to the Court for the first time on a very swish new tram system that goes from a stop five minutes from my flat. Public transport is free (yes, you read that right!) but I explored the city centre a bit every day on foot – all deserted at the moment because of the lockdown and curfew here but beautiful with the Christmas lights still up. Excited to start work in person on Monday, but nervous that I don’t know enough about EU law, having only studied it on the GDL.
1. Know the law on the status of stagiaires and their exemption from the visa regime before you arrive in Luxembourg. You are allowed to stay for 90 days. Bring proof of employment and a print-out of the relevant law.
2. You can’t register with the Luxembourg City commune in the big town hall building in Place Guillaume II no matter how many times Google Maps tells you that it is the correct building. It is the one next door.
3. My rusty A-Level French is coming back to me daily (HARD to understand with masks) but there are Luxembourgish idiosyncrasies I (somewhat naively) was not expecting. Pro tip: learn what “moien” means, and how it sounds, before coming here.
4. In the supermarket you don’t hand your cash to the cashier, you put it in a machine below the till like a self-service machine. My first experience of this was very confusing. Technology these days! Considering setting up an Emily-in-Paris-style Instagram to document these things.
An interesting few weeks, not least for the commute to the office in deep snow and ice and attempting not to slide down the slope from the tram stop to the Court in my inappropriate shoes. I have discovered it snows a lot here and I need proper snow boots or shoes with some kind of grip. It is also awfully cold, despite being further south in Europe than we are in the UK. I am suddenly very grateful for the gulf stream.
Work has been fascinating. In my application for the scholarship I made it clear that I was interested in commercial law, but I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to gain any exposure to financial regulatory cases as the Court’s remit is so broad. I seem to have struck lucky. I have been working on a case concerning the Liechtenstein Financial Market Authority’s interpretation of Regulation (EU) 2017/1129, which refers to the contents of the prospectus published when securities are offered to the public or admitted to trading on a regulated market. The Court needs to consider whether a higher level of investor protection is necessary when deciding whether to interpret the intricacies of the Regulation, or whether to avoid setting too narrow a precedent which may affect market efficiency. It is a delicate balancing act between the principles of EU law.
Thinking laterally to solve legal problems like this has been the most challenging adjustment I have made since starting my placement. In EU law, you are essentially providing a philosophical justification for your argument as well as a logical one. Your opinion really matters in the office and you are encouraged to give it, but you need to be able to reason away any difficult questions. As a regular mooter and debater, I thought I had mastered this ability through responding to interventions. Boy, was I wrong! This is a different skill to thinking on your feet. You must think through your argument so thoroughly in advance that it is watertight. I have been stretched to my limit by my colleagues’ interrogation of my principles and I feel like this type of practical experience has already begun to shape me as a lawyer.
Having read up on the function of the Court and its relationship with the ECJ in my first few days, I feel privileged to be able to work in such a unique judicial environment with colleagues that I respect and admire. I hope that some of the cases I work on in the short time I am here end up setting precedent before the ECJ, however ambitious that might seem right now.
1. Inexplicably, you can buy kitchen knives freely in some supermarkets but razors are only available over the counter. Finding toiletries, painkillers and plasters in a world without UK-style pharmacies has been predictably difficult, so bring them with you if you can.
2. I have learnt how to say “moien” properly and I sometimes fantasise that I have duped the supermarket employees into thinking I am European rather than English. I believe the Covid masks help considerably with disguising my expressions when trying to decipher their accents.
3. There is one tram route. You are in no danger of ending up in a different place if you hop on the tram waiting at the tram stop, as long as you know it is going in the right direction. Trams start from the station (Gare) so only travel one way, like the Victoria Line from Brixton, with similar regularity.
4. Living in a house with other interns has pros and cons (especially during the pandemic). However, speaking a mixture of French, Italian and English has been such a huge part of my experience so far. If you can live with others during your traineeship, do. Fully embrace the diversity of culture and language around you and don’t be afraid to get things wrong when learning a language that is not your own.