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Brussels, 22 June 2011
Green Paper on the modernisation of the Professional Qualifications Directive – frequently asked questions
1. Why do we need a well-functioning system of recognition of professional qualifications?
EU Treaties endow citizens of the Member States with the right to live and work anywhere in the single market and to be treated in the same manner as citizens of the host Member State when they seek to provide their services, either temporarily or through permanent establishment. Differences in the qualifications required by each Member State as a condition for the exercise of a profession can act as barriers to the realisation of these rights. Effective mechanisms for the mutual recognition of qualifications between Member States are thus essential building blocks of the single market.
Tools facilitating recognition of professional qualifications benefit not only individual professionals who are interested in moving to another Member State. They are important to our economy and society as a whole. The working-age population in many Member States is shrinking, but the demand for a highly qualified labour force remains a key source of future growth. Demand for highly skilled people is projected to rise by over 16 million jobs in the European Union between now and 20201. From a market standpoint it is essential that qualifications of mobile EU professionals are recognised in a fast, simple and reliable way if we are to meet this surge in demand. Moreover, Europe's ageing population (by 2050, the EU's labour force will have declined by 68 million) will lead to gaps in labour markets in many Member States. Mobile workers can help fill these gaps. Dealing with labour supply shortages will require a well-functioning system for recognising professional qualifications - see information on new skills for new jobs.
Projected shortages of skilled health personnel in many Member States is of particular concern. How countries can better manage the mobility of health professionals by further strengthening their general workforce policies, and further elaborating workforce planning mechanisms will be the subject of separate action by the Commission and the Member States.
A legislative framework on recognition of professional qualifications has been developed since the 1960s with individual directives for different professions. These rules have since been consolidated in a single 2005 Directive (Directive 2005/36/EC on the recognition of professional qualifications). For more information on how those rules work, see answers to questions 10 and 11.
2. What is the Professional Qualifications Directive about?
According to national laws or regulations, qualification requirements determine access to a profession and can apply, for instance, to those who wish to become accountants, architects, engineers or physiotherapists. National training requirements for obtaining a professional qualification can differ from country to country and may, therefore, make the right to exercise one’s profession in another Member State quite difficult, even impossible.
A few decades ago, a person who was a fully qualified professional in one EU country would not necessarily have met the requirements to practise in another EU country unless he/she had completed an entire training course in a host Member State. European rules establishing mutual recognition of qualifications were introduced over the years to overcome this difficulty.
The Directive applies to EU citizens. Certain third-country nationals can also enjoy rights under other European legislation (which does not necessarily bind all Member States): family members of EU citizens (Directive 2004/38/EC), long term residents (Directive 2003/109/EC), refugees (Directive 2004/83), and “blue card” holders (Directive 2009/50/EC).
3. Which professions are regulated in the EU?
Between them, the twenty seven EU Member States regulate around 4,700 different professions, which can be grouped into about eight hundred categories. In order to find out more about the specific professions regulated in Member States, please consult the Regulated Professions Database:
4. Why does the Directive need to be modernised so soon after its entry into force?
The Single Market Act from last April, in which the European Commission identified 12 levers to boost growth whilst restoring consumers' trust in the Single Market, pinpoints legislation modernising the system of recognition of professional qualifications as the key action for improving mobility of EU citizens in the single market (IP/11/469).
While the primary objective of the 2005 Directive was to simplify the legislative framework by consolidating the separate directives adopted since the 1960s, the forthcoming proposal will focus on bringing the Directive into the twenty-first century and adapting it to an evolving labour market.
The Green Paper does not suggest a change to the policy on recognition of professional qualifications. On the contrary, it reaffirms the underlying philosophy of mutual recognition and mutual trust, whilst exploring innovative ways to better reflect it in practice.
It looks at new ways to maximise the potential of the legal and administrative tools which have already proven effective and suggests alternative solutions to problems which have emerged over the years. For example, it is clear that for some professions, for example engineers, nurses, physiotherapists or tourist guides, the recognition process in Member States does not work smoothly and a simpler approach to recognising qualifications across borders is necessary. That is why a professional card which would use the resources of the Internal Market Information System (IMI) could be useful.
Strong emphasis is placed on the use of modern technologies in recognition procedures to cut through red tape and speed up procedures. The Green Paper also proposes to review the scope of regulated professions. For some regulated professions, domestic training criteria for a regulated profession are so strict that if you have not been trained in that Member State fully, you cannot meet them. An example in this respect might be professions regulated only in a single Member State and not in the other 26 Member States, such as the barman in Portugal. The public is invited to provide examples. A regulated profession can therefore pose insurmountable barriers to the free movement of services and citizens and in these cases, the Professional Qualifications Directive and its mutual recognition rules de facto cannot help.
Finally, the 2005 Directive contains much older acquis on minimum training requirements for professions benefiting from automatic recognition. The existing rules on doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, veterinarians and architects are sometimes twenty or even thirty years old.
5. What is the European Professional Card?
The Green Paper puts forward an innovative tool to make it easier for professionals to move to another Member State. The European Professional Card could be available as an option to interested professionals, regardless of whether they intend to permanently relocate to another country or offer their services on a temporary basis anywhere in the EU. It could be issued by the competent authority in the Member State from which the professional is departing. This authority could communicate any requisite information about the professional to the competent authority in the Member State to which the professional travels using the Internal Market Information System (IMI) (IP/11/203). A professional card could also take much of the administrative burden off the professional's shoulders and expedite the process because the Member State of departure would help the professional (for instance, by confirming that he does not hold any fake diplomas). Professionals could make further use of the card to prove their credentials to potential clients and employers.
6. How did you come up with the idea of proposing a European Professional Card?
Demand for simplification has given rise to the idea of the European Professional Card. Various stakeholders worked in the past on the idea of a professional card. The idea is even mentioned in the current Directive but only as a tool to be issued by professional associations to facilitate exchange of information although it would not offer any additional rights to the professional.
In January 2011, the Commission not only launched a public consultation on this issue but also set up a steering group on the European Professional Card. Its members are representatives of the national competent authorities and professional organisations. In order to explore the potential of a card for access to a profession, the steering group has so far selected five professions for initial case studies: doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, engineers and tour guides.
For professions which benefit from automatic recognition, a professional card could ensure that automatic recognition does not only exist in theory but that it is linked with a speedy but also reliable recognition. At present, automatic recognition means waiting for three months before a doctor could start practising; in practice, it can take much longer.
For professions like engineers, for which a case-by-case analysis of the training of an engineer is necessary, the lack of expertise in the host Member States often leads to lengthy procedures whilst industry and clients wait for engineers to start work. A professional card issued in the country of departure could clarify the training background given that all information is available in any event; as a result, the country which has to recognise the qualifications of the engineer could move much faster (and also be more confident that there are no faked diplomas). A tourist guide who moves on a temporary basis to another country could more easily show his credentials to local authorities in the country where he wishes to work.
The results of these different case studies will be presented at the Single Market Forum in Cracow in early October 2011 – more details at the following link: (http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/top_layer/single_market_forum_en.htm).
Whilst the Steering Group will focus on particular professions, the questions in the Green Paper should clarify whether the public agrees with the overarching principles and the value added proposed.
7. How many citizens have sought to have their profession recognised?
The 2005 Directive set out rules covering all regulated professions. For explanations on what regulated professions are and examples, please see answer to question 3. At least 200,000 citizens have taken advantage of the EU rules in seeking recognition of their professional qualifications since 1998 when Member States began collecting statistics. (The actual number is estimated to be much higher as notified statistics have been incomplete and in any event did not cover professionals moving just on a temporary basis).
The results of the Commission's evaluation of the Directive indicate there is potential for further improvement of how the system works in practice. A more detailed report on the evaluation of the Professional Qualifications Directive and a summary of more than 370 responses to a previous public consultation will be made public shortly.
8. What is the Green Paper consulting about?
The Green Paper invites feedback on various options which could be included in the legislative proposal at the end of the year:
- Rules on partial access to a regulated profession: the principle of partial access derives from a judgement of the EU Court of Justice (Case C-330/03). The principle does not appear to be sufficiently understood or consistently applied across Member States at the moment. It can benefit professionals who engage in a genuine economic activity in their home Member State which does not exist, in its own right, in the Member State to which they wish to move. Instead, the economic activity can only be carried out as part of a profession regrouping a whole range of activities. For example, a hydraulic engineer who travels to a Member State where the professional activities he pursues are performed by engineers also qualified to work on roads, channels and ports, might be able to gain partial access to the profession there. He/she would, however, only be authorised to perform activities relating to hydraulics.
- Reshaping Common Platforms: the 2005 Directive introduced the concept of common platforms: a set of criteria aimed at overcoming substantial differences in training requirements, removing the need for tests or periods of practice under supervision. However, no common platforms have been created to date. The main reason is that the Directive imposes too many constraints. The Green Paper outlines possible new conditions which could make the creation of common platforms easier. In particular, it is suggested that the minimum threshold for participating Member States could be lowered from two-thirds to one-third of Member States (with the possibility of other Member States joining at a later stage). At the same time, the Green Paper stresses that common platforms should not become an obstacle to the mobility of professionals from non-participating Member States.
- Better access to information and access to e-government services: many stakeholders signal difficulties in identifying the authority which is responsible for the recognition of their professional qualifications in the host Member State. A central entry point in each Member State, with immediate online access, could rectify this problem. The National Contact Points for the Professional Qualifications Directive or the Points of Single Contact created under the Services Directive could play a pivotal role.
- Improving consumer choice: the Green Paper puts forward ideas for further facilitating temporary mobility in cases where safeguards put in place to protect local consumers are not necessary. For example, a consumer crossing borders and using foreign professionals (and not locals) should be free to make this choice. The professional chosen by a consumer should in particular not be forced to demonstrate two years of professional experience, which would be necessary if the professional offers his or her services to local consumers. This could be a tourist guide accompanying tourists but also an architect visiting a secondary residence with a potential buyer from abroad.
- An alert mechanism for health professions: The current Directive does not foresee an alert in the case of a doctor who is subject to professional malpractice and no longer authorised to practise in a Member State but moves to another Member State with the intention of practising there. An alert mechanism could stop such a doctor from practising in another Member State. To this end, the Green Paper suggests two options for consideration: either extending the existing obligation under the Services Directive (from which health professions are excluded) so that Member States can judge on a case-by-case basis which other Member State should be informed; or sending an immediate alert to all Member States via the IMI system.
- Clarification of the rules on language knowledge: the Directive requires that any linguistic requirements must be proportionate with respect to the activities of a professional. Overall, there are no problems with the existing provision. A particular case could be made for the language knowledge of health professionals who treat patients. The Green Paper puts forward the idea of increasing language controls for these health professionals. The Green Paper suggests considering either building on the existing Code of Conduct by interpreting the Directive (and allowing language tests in exceptional circumstances) or amending the existing provisions in the Directive.
- Modernisation of minimum training requirements for doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, pharmacists, veterinary surgeons and architects: some of -the minimum training requirements for the professions benefiting from automatic recognition may perhaps need to be updated to reflect the evolution of these professions since the harmonisation was achieved many years ago. The Green Paper suggests improving compliance in that Member States report more and much earlier about new essential training programmes and diplomas. Young graduates should no longer face situations where they acquire a diploma but do not know – due to late and insufficient notification from a Member State – where this diploma can actually be automatically recognised across all the Member States. In addition, the Commission suggests a modernisation in a number of phases: in 2011 and 2012, considering changes to the Directive itself (such as on the duration of training) and in a second phase (2013/2014), implementing rules on the need for technical adjustments (such as on the training subjects). The first phase could already entail adjustments to the training requirements of architects (a possible introduction of supervised practice element), nurses (a possible change to minimum entry requirements to nursing training from ten to twelve school years) and pharmacists (a possible expansion of the list of professional activities, introduction of a period of practical training and removing restrictions on the management of new pharmacies by pharmacists with qualifications from another Member State)
- Possible adjustment of the rules for recognition of third-country qualifications: the Green Paper seeks feedback on the need to adjust the rules on the recognition of third-country qualifications in response to the demographic challenges facing the EU. At present, each Member State is free to decide on third-country qualifications. Once this is recognised in a Member State and the person has acquired lawful professional experience of at least three years, the Directive currently comes in and confers concrete mutual recognition rights to such citizen. Given the shortage of skilled workforce in the European Union, the question might asked be whether the period of three years does not provide an artificial constraint for labour markets.
9. Will the modernisation result in weaker requirements, thereby putting quality of services and consumer protection at risk?
One of the objectives of the modernisation is to ensure consistently high quality of services across the EU. To this end, updates to the minimum training requirements which have been harmonised at EU level will be considered notably for nurses, midwives and architects. They will not be increased for other professions but they will also not be lowered.
The Green Paper also encourages stakeholders to participate in a review of the number of regulated professions by concrete examples. However, this initiative does not seek to limit Member States' ability to ensure high quality of services and the protection of consumers or the environment where this can be achieved through regulation of professional qualifications.
10. How does the recognition of qualifications work in practice under the existing Directive?
If a professional wishes to relocate to another Member State in order to establish himself/herself as either self-employed or in a job with a new employer in his/her professional field, he/she may be required to apply to have his or her professional qualifications recognised. The process differs depending on the national laws of the Member State in question. The Directive offers several routes:
- For a limited number of professions, the Directive allows for automatic recognition of qualifications. This means that the host state only has the ability to check whether or not the qualifications are in line with what is required under the Directive. Professionals including doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, veterinary surgeons, and architects are granted automatic recognition of their qualifications based on EU-wide agreed minimum training requirements.
For example, a Dutch doctor qualified in The Netherlands must be recognised as a doctor in all other Member States. The same applies to professionals in the craft, commerce and industry sectors who can demonstrate relevant work experience either as a self-employed professional or as the manager of a company. For lawyers additional legal instruments exist allowing for mutual recognition of the home country registration and title of a lawyer, irrespective of any training requirements.
In 2008, around 6.4 million citizens benefited from such automatic recognition in the European Union - 5.7 million were healthcare professionals, 160,000 veterinarians and more than 435,000 architects.
- For a large majority of professions, a so-called 'general system' allows for the mutual recognition of qualifications. Member States proceed on a case-by-case basis and have some discretion in terms of granting access to a given profession. In principle, access to regulated professions is granted to any individual who can demonstrate that he/she is fully qualified in their home country. Only in cases where professionals' training differs substantially from that of the host country and their professional experience does not compensate for the differences, may the competent authority of the host country impose tests or a period of practice under supervision to make up for the disparity. In most cases, the Directive allows citizens to choose between a period of supervised practice and an aptitude test. Successful completion of either ought to grant an individual full access to the field.
- If a professional intends to work or provide services in another Member State on a temporary and/or occasional basis he/she may, in principle, do so without a prior check of his or her qualifications (save for professions with public health or safety implications). There is no need to apply for recognition in a host Member State. The Directive only allows Member States to collect information on the status of temporary and occasional workers in an annual declaration. This procedure requires that a professional signal his/her intention to provide services in a given Member State and provide more detailed information regarding their establishment, insurance and professional competence in one of the other Member States. As a result of the 2005 Directive, professionals moving on a temporary and occasional basis were given more flexibility to practise anywhere in the EU.
The Professional Qualifications Directive, in essence, applies to EU citizens holding qualifications acquired in an EU Member State. However, it also helps EU citizens holding qualifications acquired outside the European Union (for instance a diploma from Canada or China). When a Member State recognises these qualifications in accordance with its national rules, the Directive allows for a treatment of the initial third-country qualification as if it had been acquired in a Member State after three years' lawful and effective professional experience in the Member State which took the initial recognition decision. At the same time, the Directive contains safeguards to guarantee the minimum training requirements which have been harmonised at EU level.
More detailed information is set out in a user guide published in December 2009:
11. A concrete example of how recognition works in practice:
Anne is an engineer from the UK seeking better job opportunities elsewhere in the EU. However, training requirements for engineers are not harmonised at EU level and can differ by Member State. Anne could check whether access to her profession is regulated in the country she wants to work in or not by a certain qualification (for instance a certain numbers of years of university studies). In France or the Netherlands, for example, Anne would note that access to her profession is not regulated, while in Greece, Italy and Spain she would find that national legislation is in place for many types of engineers. For these countries, Anne would need to apply to the relevant authority there and would be assessed on the basis of the training she received in the UK. If there were any substantial differences between her training and that in, for example, Spain, the relevant authority there may require her either to take further tests or undergo a probation period. Anne's assessment ought to be completed by the relevant authorities within a four-month period.
12. What are you doing about regulated professions?
A regulated profession implies that access to a profession is subject to a person holding a specific qualification, such as a diploma from a university, in order to safeguard important public policy objectives such as protection of consumers. In principle, Member States are best placed to determine the need to regulate a profession. However, there may be instances where barriers to the free movement of professionals are unduly erected. Some Member States are reassessing some of their regulations as part of an effort to stimulate economic activity and boost growth. In response to the Single Market Act, which calls for a review of the scope of regulated professions, the Green Paper invites stakeholders to provide information on any professions where a Member State's qualifications requirements are so high that a complete training course is necessary when a professional from another Member State moves there and where these requirements might go beyond what is necessary to meet public policy objectives.
13. What are the next steps?
Contributions to the Green Paper can be submitted until 20 September 2011. The Commission will also organise a high-level conference on 7 November 2011 in order to review the outcome of the consultation on the Green Paper (and other preparatory work by the Commission such as a study on recent educational reforms and the impact on the Directive) and the next steps towards a legislative proposal planned for the end of 2011.