Brussels, 7 January 2011
Public consultation on the Professional Qualifications Directive and a European Professional Card - Frequently asked questions
1. What is the Professional Qualifications Directive about?
Qualification requirements often determine access to a profession according to national laws or regulations, for instance to become a nurse, an architect, an engineer or a physiotherapist. National requirements often differ from country to country and may make the right to exercise one’s profession in another Member State quite difficult. Forty years ago a person who was fully qualified as a professional in one EU country would not necessarily have met the conditions to practise in another EU country. Therefore, European rules establishing mutual recognition of qualifications were introduced over the course of the last few decades. These rules have since been consolidated in a single Directive (Directive 2005/36/EC on the recognition of professional qualifications).
2. Why do we need a well-functioning system of recognition of professional qualifications?
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 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.
3. How does the recognition of qualifications work in practice under the 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 different 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 throughout the EU. 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 separate legal instruments exist allowing for mutual recognition of the home country registration and title of a lawyer.
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 a fair bit of 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 an individual’s qualifications differ substantially from those of the host country or in cases where the length of time spent in the profession falls short of the host country’s requirements may compensatory measures be imposed to make up for the disparity. In such a case the Directive allows citizens to choose between a period of supervised practice ("adaptation period") and an aptitude test. Successful completion of either ought to grant an individual full access to his/her 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. More detailed information is set out in a user guide published in December 2009:
4. Which professions are regulated in the EU?
About 800 categories of regulated professions exist across the 27 Member States. 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 find out more about regulated professions please consult the Regulated Professions Database:
5. Two concrete examples of how recognition works in practice:
Example 1: Hans is a general care nurse from Germany who obtained his qualifications in Berlin. Hans speaks French and wishes to relocate to Bordeaux to work there as a nurse. This is possible because the training requirements of general care nurses were harmonised under an EU Directive. According to these rules, Hans is required to apply to the country's relevant authority to demonstrate his qualifications, in this case the French Ministry of Health. The Ministry should grant him automatic recognition within a period of no more than three months, after which Hans can begin working permanently in France. Relevant authorities can differ across the Member States. In the case of France, Hans wrote to the health ministry; if he had wanted to work in the UK, he would have made an application to a country-wide agency or in Germany to a regional authority.
Hans' younger sister, Ulrike, is a childcare nurse and would like to follow her brother to Bordeaux. However, as a childcare nurse, she is not subject to the same automatic recognition procedure as her brother. This is because nurses who are not general care nurses are not recognised under the EU's automatic recognition rules. Instead, she would be required to apply to the French health ministry, who would then assess her on an individual basis. The training she acquired in Germany would be considered and compared against French requirements. If the French ministry concluded that her qualifications fell short of the French requirements, she may be asked to sit additional tests or undergo a probation period. According to the Directive the French ministry's decision to require a test or require Ulrike to complete a training period would need to be taken within a maximum period of four-months.
Example 2: 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 and Germany, 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. As in Ulrike's case, Anne's assessment ought to be made within a four-month period.
6. What is the European Professional Card?
The 2005 Directive offered gateways to professionals to actively engage in the opportunities offered by the Single Market, most notably by taking advantage of the ability to be mobile in terms of work. The Directive suggested that a Professional Card be developed by professional organisations in order to better facilitate mobility, but these ideas did not gain enough support from authorities and have not led to concrete deliverables to date. As such no European Professional Card currently exists.
The consultation paper calls for a debate on this issue. A Professional Card to be issued by a competent authority in the professional’s home Member State could be an instrument for a professional to demonstrate his/her credentials (having the necessary qualifications, being authorised to practise) to consumers, employers and relevant authorities. The consultation launched today will reassess this issue, asking stakeholders for their opinion on a European Professional Card.
7. What other parts of the Directive could be improved upon?
The 2005 Directive set out rules covering all regulated professions and eliminated arbitrary rules governing individual professions. There are many individuals who have benefited from the Professional Qualifications Directive. Excluding temporary mobility, some 200.000 citizens took advantage of the EU rules in seeking recognition of their professional qualifications since 1998. On a Europe-wide average 70% of recognition requests are approved quickly, while the remaining 30% result from cases of individuals who encountered difficulties or were denied.
There are several areas where improvements could be made:
The rate of difficult cases is still fairly high (30%). According to a Eurobarometer survey published in March 20102 only 4% of the EU’s population are genuinely concerned that their qualification would not be recognised in another Member State. However, the gap between citizens’ expectations (4%) and the number of difficult cases in Member States (30%) is considerable.
Excessive prior checks: According to the Directive most professionals (save for those whose activities entail serious risks for public health or the safety of consumers) can relocate within the EU without a prior check of their qualifications. Member States may only require professionals to submit an advanced declaration once a year. Whilst some professionals express a high interest in doing away with this requirement (such as tourist guides, crafts sector, engineers, architects, some health professionals) the relevant authorities in the Member States are reluctant to give up on prior checks. In general, Member States often impose prior declarations for the great majority of regulated professions.
Modernising the system of automatic recognition: Overall automatic recognition for health professionals and architects (on the basis of minimum training requirements) is seen as a success. It has helped to cut costs and is more easily managed. However, relevant authorities consider that adjustments might be necessary to refresh the harmonised minimum training requirements. The feedback on automatic recognition for craft, commerce and trade activities (based on professional experience as a self-employed professional or as a manager of a company) is more mixed. Some authorities support modernisation for two reasons: the list of activities covered by the regime was established more than forty years ago and there is a high risk of it being outdated. Second, it is sometimes difficult to assess which authority ought to be responsible for issuing any relevant attestations. These issues need to be looked at to see if progress can be made.
More proactive cooperation between Member States: For instance, relevant authorities from all Member States should alert their counterparts in other Member States in instances involving the use of falsified documents, such as diplomas, and in cases involving professional misconduct. At present, such an alert mechanism exists for most of the professions that fall under the Services Directive (such as an architect, an accountant, or a travel agent). However, professionals outside the scope of this Directive (e.g. healthcare professionals) are currently not covered by this alert mechanism. That is why they often invoke domestic data protection rules to block information sharing regarding their misconduct. This issue should be looked at to see if progress can be made.
Common platforms: The 2005 Directive offered the possibility to Member States and to professional organisations to prepare common platforms. Outside the area where automatic recognition already exists under the Directive, such common platforms could have a similar effect or at least reduce national differences between professional qualification requirements. In its transposition report from 22 October 2010, the Commission services noted that no common platform exists and that this innovative element in the Directive had not been taken up. The consultation asks if the idea of a European curriculum – a kind of 28th regime in addition to national training requirements should be considered.
8. What are the next steps?
The consultation period will last until 15 March. Interested parties have been invited to participate in an open meeting scheduled for 21 February (see the consultation document for further details).
The results of the consultation will feed into an evaluation report and a Green Paper on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications that the Commission will adopt in autumn 2011. A legislative proposal to modernise the Directive will follow in 2012. The legislative proposal is one of the actions (#33) identified in the Single Market Act adopted in October 2010 to bring new dynamism to the Single Market (see IP/10/1390).
Forecast by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training: http://www.cedefop.europa.eu/EN/Files/9021_en.pdf