The European Law Moot Court Competition was a success for the first team to ever compete on behalf of Babeș-Bolyai University. The Regional Finals took place in Belgrade, 8-11 February 2018. Dora Bidică, Maria Neștiut, Dorin Giurgi and Cristian Ioan were the four remarkable students that made it to the semi-finals and achieved an impressive result.
We were very glad to have the chance to sit down with them for an interview, and we thank them for the opportunity to get an insight of the moot court and their personal experiences.
Lawyr.it: Firstly, the Lawyr.it team would like to congratulate you all on your performance. Why European Law? Is it something specific about it that made you take interest in this MCC?
Cristian: Well, it is an interesting subject, one very useful in legal practice, because European Law is widely applicable. Moreover, the MCC case was very interesting, as it included some complicated issues that we did enjoy solving before going to the competition. So, indeed, we are passionate about European Law as it is a subject that exceeds the subjects you normally concentrate on during your studies –usually, criminal or civil law, because that is what the national exams are focused on. Somehow, it is a breath of fresh air; it takes a different kind of approach and really forces you to be creative.
Dora: It’s outside the box!
Maria: My interest in European Law grew, I believe, this year, during my semester in Utrecht as an Erasmus student, where I studied European Law intensively and began to discover it. This is one of the main reasons I had the confidence to participate in such a competition. I also think that European Law is very dynamic and allows many interpretations and solutions due to its structure and mechanisms. It is really interesting!
Lawyr.it: How does this competition work given the fact that it is bilingual?
Cristian: The competition is bilingual in the sense that you can receive questions both in French and English. Also, there are points that you get for using both languages during the pleadings; two points for French in total, one for using it and another for being fluent. During the competition, none of us were confident enough to present complicated ideas in French, while it was easier for us to do it in English, but we did receive many questions in French. During a pleading you can be asked between 10 and 20 questions and about half of them, at least, are in French, so you do need to have a good grasp of the language.
Maria: There is an element of surprise, because any team can plead either in English or French, so during the pleading sessions you don’t know the language the other team is going to use. This is what happened to me and Dora because in the semi-finals we pleaded against a Belgian team and, being natives, they were fluent in French. You have to respond and refer to arguments presented in French, and, as Cristian mentioned, answer questions asked in French.
Dorin: I haven’t studied French, so it was funny that I received a lot of questions, and, because of the similarity between French and Romanian, I was able to understand the core issue around the question and make a link to our case.
Cristian: It was amusing because during one of the semi-finals I acted as legal counsellor for Dorin and, while I was trying to translate a question in real time, he was already answering it because he already understood it perfectly - so there was no need for my translation.
Lawyr.it: It is obvious to all of us that there is a massive amount of work that you had to do before the oral rounds. Could you do a summary of this whole process, from the first to the very last thing you did before it was time to plead the case?
Maria: It was difficult because Dorin and I were in The Netherlands studying at Utrecht University, while Dora and Cristian were in Cluj-Napoca. We were preparing our written papers via Skype, so we had to divide the work.
Cristian: Basically, the case is usually announced in September, before the academic year begins, so the first step is to assemble the team, and select people you can trust with that amount of work. After that, what we did was to try to understand the case in detail, and to find the core issues that we could mention. Then we split into mini teams, due to our geographical locations. It made more sense to do it this way.
Maria: Also, because we had three preliminary questions, we had to somehow divide them.
Cristian: Essentially, we all shared our arguments and ideas, and came up with a core strategy for both Respondent and Applicant. After that, each of us was trying to research the topic in depth, find solutions and write our part. We learned that we were accepted to the oral rounds at some point in January, and after that there was a whole hassle with paying fees and finding transportation which was a bigger issue than we thought it would be (mainly because there is no train to Belgrade and we thought there would be one from Timisoara).
Maria: We found out there isn’t a direct train a few days before the competition.
Cristian: So, we had to call a lot of people from Timisoara to see if we can rent a car. What followed was the phase of oral pleadings, where someone is acting as a commission agent, someone as applicant, someone as respondent, and there is also the legal counsellor that can enter the round with both the applicant and the respondent, but not with the commission agent, who goes in by himself.
Maria: Cristian was a commission agent, I was a respondent, Dorin was an applicant and Dora was our legal counsellor.
Dora: We were all legal counsellors before the oral pleadings!
Cristian: The point is for all the members of the team to experience each position during the competition. After the semi-finalists are announced, two semi-finals are held where you plead for both applicant and respondent. Thus, there are four matches, not two- and only then you can qualify for the final. The commission agent has a separate point system leading to the final, so they can advance on their own to the final, without their team.
Lawyr.it: What was your favourite, least favourite, and most difficult part of this process?
Maria: My favourite part was the beauty of all of us working together and succeeding as a team, because it is very difficult. When you are on your own you work the way you are used to. With four people, each with their own concerns and things to do, it is significantly more difficult, but we made it through this immense workload, because each of us had their own role in the team. We really worked together as a “machine” and it was great to see that. My least favourite part, I think, was the lack of sleep, because we had some sleepless nights.
Cristian: I agree, I also think that the best part was actually working as a team. I also loved that feeling when we were working very late and we would start to lose our focus, so I would play some annoying music while everybody else was telling me to be serious. It’s really beautiful to see the process of working as a unit. My least favourite part, even though I didn’t personally handle it -because Dora did most of it- was the bureaucracy involved with the participation. The most difficult thing, I think, was the amount of questions we received during the pleadings. It is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just difficult. In many circumstances, for our team, more exactly for Maria and Dorin, the number of questions was in our favour because many times other teams would stumble into an unexpected question, whereas we usually had a prepared answer.
Maria: We prepared for any possible question, and we did receive many of them. During one of my pleadings, I had just started introducing myself and I already received a question; I did not even have a chance to put forward my first argument. It is a huge adrenalin rush when you have to adapt your argument on the spot and just work around the question.
Dora: And there is a lot of pressure because of the short time and it is really hard to adapt.
Maria: But we always had Dora, me and Dorin, she was holding us together, because of all the notes we wrote just in case we received a question were all over the place and Dora was the one putting them in place and instructing us: “you have to say this, you have to say that, you have 3 minutes left, you really need to put forward this argument”. She was the element that kept us together, because it is really easy to lose yourself while you speak
Dorin: Another interesting part that I loved about the competition was that we had the opportunity to learn more about European Public Procurement, which is a really interesting branch of administrative law and it is applicable in Romania as well, so we had the chance to get an insight, and in the future, if we happen to stumble upon some issues related to this, we will manage to solve them.
Lawyr.it: Dora, you had to be very organised in order to take the role of legal counsellor. How did you do it?
Dora: Yes! As I said, we all worked as legal counsellors, because our main activity was to research. But during the pleadings I managed to help them by paying attention to the reaction of the jury, to what Maria said, to what Dorin said, and, of course, to the time.
Cristian: Dora surely had the most complete knowledge of the law as far as the case was concerned. She had prepared answers to many potential questions along with case law, which is extremely important because it saves a significant amount of time.
Maria: And the arguments are surely valid if they were put forward by the European Court of Justice in previous cases.
Dora: Plus, during the semi-finals, it was much easier because we knew from the preliminary rounds how things work.
Lawyr.it: What do you think was that element of success that set you apart from the teams that you defeated on your way to the semi-finals?
Cristian: I think it was the manner in which we solved the case, because regardless if you were pleading on Applicant or Defendant, there was an issue regarding the legislation which could have been applicable. You could have worked, on one hand, with Directive 2009/81/EEC, or on the other hand, with Directive 2014/24/EU or finally, with the main principles from the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. We were one of the few teams that did not apply to the case any of the directives. We deemed them both as inapplicable on both the Respondent and the Applicant’s side. We based our arguments on the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and I think that was the key factor because there were surprisingly few teams that gave this type of solution to the case and we strongly believe this was the proper solution. The winning team and all the semi-finalists used this solution. In the matches we pleaded in, none of the other teams had this approach. That was a clear advantage because choosing the proper legislation meant that all our arguments were valid, whereas if you applied one of the directives your arguments would have fallen right away.
Dora: It was all black or white. No in-between.
Cristian: Yes, it was very risky. I was panicking before Maria had the first speech, it was also the first match of the day. It is a huge pressure, Dorin and I were waiting for Dora and Maria and I was really scared that one of the directives could have been applicable.
Maria: But they were not! My opponent was arguing on 2014/24/EU and I managed to rebut directly on her arguments, which was a big plus.
Cristian: The jury was actually harassing the opponent with many questions for using the directives.
Maria: They also asked us many questions, not because of the directives, but because they wanted to see if we had the correct arguments.
Dora: Based on their questioning, though, you can see what their opinion is.
Dorin: We learned that in the future we should try not to force arguments, but rather try to find the most valid options.
Lawyr.it: Would you consider a career in EU Law? Did the competition play any role in taking this decision?
Maria: I personally want to become a judge, but I do fancy the idea of having a career in EU Law, especially Competition Law and Public Procurement because they are both very dynamic branches of law. It is really interesting, and you never get bored working with them because everything is very up-to-date and in tune with the economic reality, so I would definitely like to do that sometime in the future.
Cristian: I personally want to become a public prosecutor, but I do think the knowledge of European Law will be very useful in many activities, because there are many crimes that are related to European Law, many procedures related to it, such as the European Arrest Warrant, Judicial Cooperation etc. But it is really hard to say if you can actually have a career focused strictly on European Law, because it is such a broad subject. Still, when talking about niche aspects of EU Law, you need to know them regardless of your profession.
Dora: I want to become a lawyer and I find European Law to be mandatory for this kind of job. I think I would like to work in data protection, which is so fancy nowadays- even the MCC case concerned data protection issues. I think that participation in the moot court certainly influenced me; I am not saying that I did not like EU Law before, but I like it more now.
Dorin: I was thinking about a career in a branch of European Law before going to this competition; that was the reason why I decided to participate. I also know that European Law will be useful no matter what legal profession you choose. Like Maria, I also studied Competition Law at Utrecht. I would very much like to work in this field, so it may be an option in the future.
Lawyr.it: Have your views of the EU changed in any way after your participation to this competition or after the massive amount of research that you had to do on it?
Cristian: Well, my knowledge on the EU was broadened a lot, but I already was a strong believer in the importance of the European Union in our lives, especially regarding the manner in which justice is perceived and works in Romania. I believe that it has improved significantly since we joined the European Union. So, as I already had a good opinion before, it did not necessarily change, it was confirmed.
Maria: I do not think my views have changed, but I started to like European Law more after I began studying for this competition. The more you study and research European law, the more you love it. I started to become more passionate about it, understand it better, and respect it even more than before.
Dora: I also understood it better, after the competition. For every problem I encountered I started researching EU Law, because I keep saying to myself that “there must be some regulation regarding this”.
Maria: You also understand the way in which EU Law influences national law. You get the chance to see how the interpretation of the national law and the law itself can change for the better, while thinking about and applying the principles of EU Law.
Dora: It is not as general as you might think.
Dorin: For me it was interesting to discover the wide applicability of EU law, for example in Public Procurement. Without Public Procurement rules at a European level, European integration would not have been possible, because it would be very hard for firms in Italy to compete in Romania for example, if Romania was not be obliged to follow some rules. This is part of the European project, and I am very glad that I had the chance to understand this.
Lawyr.it: You are all very good, consistent students. What was the most significant personal challenge or sacrifice that you had to make in order to maintain your good grades and high academic performance?
Maria: I do not think it was necessarily a sacrifice in the proper meaning of the word. For me, law is what I always wanted to do: it is interesting, it is beautiful, it can develop, and it is connected to every aspect of our lives. I do not see research and work for something I love as a sacrifice to study. Sometimes, I have to admit, it is difficult, I do not really have time for everything I would like to do, but I do find the time to invest in my hobbies in my spare time.
Cristian: I agree! I personally cannot stop with these types of competitions, they genuinely make me happy, so I do see them as a sacrifice, more like a challenge. I think the hardest part is not giving up, because you do feel like you are giving up a lot.
Dora: I find them a plus as well, because they make you think outside the box. But a minus for me is that being a law student makes you overthink a lot. I also love that we work together and that really helps you evolve as a person.
Dorin: I very much agree with my colleagues, if I did not participate in competitions, if I did not read law-related stuff, I would not meet awesome people, read interesting things or visit new places, because basically this is what you do by participating in moot courts. And this is why I do it! Because it is awesome!
Lawyr.it: Do you have any advice for students who want to follow your example?
Maria: Just do it! On a more serious note, my advice would be to have confidence in themselves, because it is achievable, you just have to find the right people and have a good mindset. Just work for what you want, but you have to enjoy it, if you do not enjoy it you are not going to make it.
Cristian: My advice would be to have a little fun with it, in the sense that you do not have to worry yourself too much. I mean, the result is important; I hate that part when after a competition someone says ‘you are all winners’. Not everyone is a winner for just participating, but you should have fun, you must not think ‘I must be the best, I must beat the competition’. I have always seen these activities as friendly activities and I hate it when participants have that attitude like they hate you. It is a competition, but it is a friendly one. Things work best when having fun, you have to crack a joke, or two. Or ten.
Dorin: Speaking of jokes, we all make mistakes, we all used arguments that were not valid, so at the end of the competition the judges plead, using all the mistakes made by the participants and recreate funny moments.
Maria: They actually recreated something Dorin did.
Cristian: When Dorin got up at some point his chair fell and made a lot of noise. It fell because of one of his hand gestures, the chair flew a meter away and off the stage.
Maria: And the judges recreated that during the ‘mock moot court’ and it was really funny, because we knew it was him.
Lawyr.it: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Maria: I would strongly encourage younger students to participate to this competition, and others of this kind, because it really helps you evolve as a person and as a professional, and it also helps you develop your ability to work in a team. This is something you are not born with, you have to learn it. It is very important for your future career.
Cristian: I would give the same advice. This was the first time our university participated to this competition and it would be extraordinary if this became a tradition.
Dorin: I would have one extra piece of advice for people who want to participate. The case is published in September, but our academic year starts in October, so you should decide earlier if you want to participate.
Cristian: On a final note, we would also like to express our deep gratitude towards miss Alina Oprea for helping us, and we would like to encourage anyone to get in touch with her as far as participating is concerned, because she was of great help.
Do you also want to participate in the European Law Moot Court Competition and live through this fascinating experience yourself? Check the official website for more information.
By Patricia Cimpian
This material was published in Lawyr.it Vol. 5 Ed. 3, September 2018, available only online.