Modernisation of the Professional Qualifications Directive – frequently asked questions
European Commission - MEMO/13/867 09/10/2013
Other available languages: none
Brussels, 9 October 2013
1. What is the Professional Qualifications Directive about?
According to national laws or regulations, the practice of certain professions can be subject to having particular qualifications, e.g. for those who wish to become accountants, architects, engineers or physiotherapists. Training requirements for obtaining such professional qualifications can differ from country to country and may, therefore, make the exercise of a 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 the latter (host Member State). European rules on mutual recognition of qualifications were introduced in the past to overcome this difficulty. These were consolidated into the Professional Qualifications Directive which came into force in 2005.
The Professional Qualifications Directive (Directive 2005/36/EC) 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/EC), “blue card” holders (Directive 2009/50/EC) and researchers (Directive/2005/71/EC).
2. How does the recognition of qualifications work in practice under the current Directive?
If a professional wishes to relocate to another Member State in order to establish himself as either self-employed or in a job with a new employer in his professional field, he may be required to apply to have his professional qualifications recognised. The process differs depending on the national laws of the Member State in question. The current Directive offers different routes:
3. Which professions are regulated in the EU?
About 740 categories of regulated professions exist across the 28 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 the specific professions regulated in Member States, please consult the Regulated Professions Database (compiled from information made available by Member States):
4. Why did the Professional Qualifications Directive need to be modernised so soon after its entry into force?
While the primary objective of the 2005 Directive was to simplify the legislative framework by consolidating the separate directives adopted since the 1960s, the modernised Directive focuses on bringing the Directive into the twenty-first century and adapting it to an evolving labour market. Strong emphasis is placed in the new directive on the use of modern technologies in recognition procedures to cut through red tape and speed up procedures. For example, the systematic use of the Internal Market Information System (IMI) for the European professional card will simplify recognition procedures for applicants and for competent authorities (see questions 5 and 7).
The modernisation of the Directive also responds to the need to have a smoother system of recognition of qualifications supporting the mobility of professionals across Europe. At least 15% of all SOLVIT (an online problem solving network) cases in recent years concern professional qualifications issues. Therefore, there was a clear need for simplification. In addition, the working age population in many Member States is estimated to shrink by 6 million persons (1 million for health professionals) by 2020. However, the demand for a highly qualified labour force continues to increase. Demand for highly skilled people is projected to rise by over 16 million jobs in the European Union between now and 2020. In the same vein, professionals trained at vocational schools, such as in the craft sector, will be needed. From a market standpoint, it is essential that the 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.
Thus the Single Market Act from April 2011 (IP/11/469), in which the European Commission identified 12 levers to boost growth whilst restoring consumers' trust in the Single Market, pinpointed legislation modernising the system of recognition of professional qualifications as the key action for improving mobility of EU citizens in the single market.
5. Is the new Directive an evolution or a revolution?
This reform concerns a modernisation of the current Professional Qualifications Directive and not a completely new Directive. It is mainly building on the achievements of the existing rules and further developing them where necessary. However, it also introduces brand new features like the European Professional Card.
The modernisation of the Directive does not constitute a radical change to the policy on recognition of professional qualifications. On the contrary, it reaffirms the underlying philosophy of mutual recognition and mutual trust between Member States, whilst exploring innovative ways to better reflect it in practice. In particular, it does not touch on the fundamental principle of automatic recognition of qualifications for certain professions.
It introduces new ways to maximise the potential of existing tools and structures, such as the Internal Market Information System (see also IP/10/1022) and the Points of Single Contact (e-government portals for entrepreneurs active in the service sector).
6. What are the main elements of the modernised Directive?
(1) The introduction of a European professional card will offer interested professionals the possibility to benefit from easier and quicker recognition of their qualifications. It should also facilitate temporary mobility. The card will be made available according to the needs expressed by the professions. The card is linked to an optimised recognition procedure carried out within the existing Internal Market Information System (IMI) and will take the form of an electronic certificate, allowing the professional to provide services or become established in another Member State. See also question 7.
(2) Better access to information and access to e-government services: Member States will make available all information about recognition of qualifications (in particular, a list of competent authorities and of documents required) through the Points of Single Contact which were created under the Services Directive and are already in operation. Professionals will also have the possibility to complete recognition procedures online. In addition, the existing national contact points will become assistance centres, responsible for providing advice and assistance on individual cases.
(3) Modernisation of harmonised minimum training requirements: the revised Directive introduces changes in the definition of the minimum training requirements for the professions benefiting from automatic recognition (doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, pharmacists, veterinary surgeons and architects).
(4) An alert mechanism is set up for all professions with patient safety implications and professions involved in the education of minors, including childcare and early childhood education (where the profession is regulated). The revised Directive effectively introduces an obligation for competent authorities of a Member State to inform the competent authorities of all other Member States about a professional who has been prohibited, even temporarily, from exercising his professional activity or who made use of falsified documents. This exchange of information will be based on the use of the Internal Market Information system (IMI).
(5) Common training principles: the modernised directive introduces the possibility to set up "common training frameworks" and "common training tests", aimed at offering a new avenue for automatic recognition. A common training framework should be based on a common set of knowledge, skills and competences necessary to pursue a profession. A common training framework or test could be set up if the profession concerned or the education and training leading to the profession is regulated in at least one third of the Member States. Qualifications obtained under such common training frameworks should automatically be recognised in the other participating Member States. Specialties of sectoral professions may also develop common training principles. The Commission may introduce such frameworks by delegated acts. Member States may be exempted from the application of common training frameworks or tests under specific conditions.
(6) Mutual evaluation exercise on regulated professions: a new mechanism is introduced in the Directive to ensure greater transparency and justification of regulated professions. Member States will have to provide a list of their regulated professions and the activities reserved for them, and justify the need for regulation. This should be followed up by a mutual evaluation exercise facilitated by the European Commission. In a Communication of 2 October 2013, the Commission presented a work plan for carrying out the mapping and mutual evaluation of regulated professions (see IP/13/897). See also Question 9 below.
(7) Rules on partial access to a regulated profession: the principle of partial access – access to part of the activities reserved to a particular profession - is included in the new directive. 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, then, only be authorised to perform activities relating to hydraulics. However, Member States have to apply this concept on a case–by-case basis and could refuse such partial access if it is justified by an overriding reason of general interest. Partial access cannot be granted to sectoral professions. The principle of partial access derives from a judgement of the EU Court of Justice (Case C-330/03) and can also apply in the case of health professions (Case C‑575/11).
(8) Extending the scope of the Directive to professionals who are not fully qualified: professionals who hold a diploma but have yet to complete a professional traineeship before getting full access to the profession will be able to benefit from the Directive which clarifies the relation of the professional with the home Member State where the professional has been previously trained. This professional traineeship is required under the law of some Member States, for example for lawyers, architects and teachers. However, Member States may limit the duration of the part of the professional traineeship which can be carried out abroad. They will have to publish guidelines on the organisation and the recognition of professional traineeships carried out abroad.
(9) Exempting notaries from the Directive: the new Directive clarifies that the Directive should not apply to notaries appointed by an official act of government. Accordingly, the provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union continue to apply.
(10) Improving temporary mobility: the amended Directive reduces the professional experience requirement for professionals coming from non-regulating Member States and clarifies document requirements and the procedural steps.
(11) Comparison of qualifications and use of compensation measures under the general system: the new Directive removes the possibility for competent authorities to refuse an application on the basis of the classification of education levels set out in Article 11 of the current Directive (classification of qualifications based on five levels of education) save for the case where the professional holds a level “a” attestation of competence and the host Member State requirement is at level “e”. In all other cases, Member States have to recognise the qualification but can impose the type of compensation measure or, in the case of a level “a” application to level “d” it can impose both an adaptation period and an aptitude test. The classification of education levels is maintained but should in future be used only as a reference point to compare qualifications and assess the need for compensation measures. The proposal also includes an obligation for competent authorities to better justify their decisions to impose compensation measures.
(12) Rules on language skills: the revised Directive clarifies that the checking of the language knowledge of a professional should take place only after the host Member State has recognised the qualification but it might intervene before the professional accesses the profession. In the case of professions with implications for patient safety, competent authorities may carry out systematic language controls. In other cases, language control can intervene only if the competent authority has a serious and concrete doubt regarding the language knowledge of the professional. In any case, language control should be limited to the knowledge of one official or administrative language of the host Member State.
(13) Continuous professional development: according to the new Directive, Member States will have to ensure that sectoral professions (doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, pharmacists, veterinary surgeons and architects) can update their knowledge, skills and competences via continuous professional development. The Commission recently launched a study (Tender n° EAHC/2013/Health/07) concerning the review and mapping of continuous professional development and lifelong learning for health professionals in the EU.
7. What is the European Professional Card and how will it work?
The European professional card is an innovative tool to make it easier for professionals to work in another Member State. Its introduction for a particular profession requires further implementing acts to be adopted by the Commission.
The European professional card will in essence be an electronic certificate to be exchanged between competent authorities via the Internal Market Information System (IMI). It should accordingly not take the form of a smart card or any other type of physical card as this would run the risk of falsification or becoming outdated.
The European Professional Card could be available as an option for interested professions, and professionals could use it regardless of whether they intended to become established on a permanent basis in another country or to offer their services on a temporary basis anywhere in the EU.
The introduction of the European Professional Card responds to the need to streamline recognition procedures. It is based on stronger involvement of the competent authority in the home Member State. This authority will communicate any requisite information about the professional to the competent authority in the host Member State by using the IMI. A professional card could also take much of the administrative burden and costs off the professional's shoulders and expedite the process because the home Member State would assist the professional (for instance, by confirming that his diploma is valid).
With a European professional card:
8. How can interested professions obtain the right to use the professional card?
Professions interested in using the European professional card should express their interest at European level, for example through a European professional organisation. The Commission has the right of initiative on implementing acts and will consult professions and Member States to sound out the interest for a European professional card. Nurses, doctors, engineers and mountain guides have already expressed an interest in using such a card. The Commission will soon publish a call for manifestation of interest in this regard.
9. The directive provides for a mutual evaluation exercise on regulated professions, what is its purpose?
Across the 28 Member States, the Professional Qualifications Directive applies to about 740 categories of regulated professions. The rationale for regulating the professions is clear in many cases (43% of regulated professions belong to the health sector and 9% to education) but it is essential that Member States review which regulated professions exist on their national territory and for what reasons.
The modernised Directive introduces an obligation for Member States to list and describe the professions they regulate (including the activities reserved to the qualified professionals) and explain why the regulation is necessary. In addition, the Directive foresees a mutual evaluation of the national legislations regulating the professions. This exercise will bring a better understanding of the reasons justifying the regulation of the professions and will encourage Member States to compare their regulatory approaches and share best practices.
In order to implement the provisions of the Directive, the Commission published on 2 October 2013 a Communication setting out the work programme for the transparency exercise.
10. Will the modernisation result in weaker requirements, thereby putting quality of services and consumer protection at risk?
No. One of the objectives of the modernisation is to ensure consistently high quality of services across the EU. To this end, the revised Directive introduces an alert mechanism for health professionals, clarifies the rules applying to the control of language skills and updates the minimum training requirements for doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, pharmacists, veterinary surgeons and architects.
11. When can a citizen benefit from all the changes introduced by the Directive?
The Directive foresees a two-year transposition period for the Member States. However, as far as the new minimum training requirements introduced for midwives are concerned, Member States will have to bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with these within 6 years after the entry into force of the new Directive.
12. 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.
13. How many citizens have sought to have their profession recognised?
To date more than 265,000 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).
14. Next steps
Formal adoption by the Council is foreseen in the coming weeks. Following publication of the Directive in the Official Journal of the EU, the Directive will enter into force and Member States shall have two years to transpose the Directive into national law.