Parliament approves key directive regulating professional qualifications

Michel Barnier, Member of the European Commission in charge of Internal Market and Services (in the centre), Benoît Battistelli, President of the European Patent Office (EPO) (first from left), and António Campinos, President of the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Center for International Intellectual Property Studies (CEIPI), gave a joint press conference following the publication of a study on Intellectual Property Rights. (EC Audiovisual Services 30/9/2013).

Michel Barnier, Member of the European Commission in charge of Internal Market and Services (in the centre), Benoît Battistelli, President of the European Patent Office (EPO) (first from left), and António Campinos, President of the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Center for International Intellectual Property Studies (CEIPI), gave a joint press conference following the publication of a study on Intellectual Property Rights. (EC Audiovisual Services 30/9/2013).

It might not be much, but the European Parliament’s approval of the modernisation of the Professional Qualifications Directive to promote the intra EU mobility of professionals, is a giant step forward towards more Union, at a time when some countries long for less EU, by undermining the right of citizens for free movement within the Union. Undoubtedly certain professions will continue to unduly burden many EU countries, with excessive costs for their services. In any case the new draft directive which was approved yesterday at the plenary of the EU Parliament by 596 votes to 37, institutes a virtual professional qualifications card, which will make it easier for doctors, pharmacists, architects and other professionals to move to and practice in another EU country.

Today there are about 800 regulated professions in the EU, access to which is subject to possession of a specific qualification or diploma. Under the existing Professional Qualifications Directive, seven of them are automatically recognised throughout the EU: doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, midwives, veterinary surgeons and architects. To make the system of regulated professions more transparent, the updated rules will require the Commission to set up a public database of these professions.

A data base for professionals

According to the texted passed in Parliament yesterday this data base “would be compiled from information received from member states, which would also have to demonstrate to each other that decisions to regulate any given profession are proportionate and not discriminatory”. For example, florists and taxi drivers are not currently regulated in all member states.

“Introducing a European professional card, establishing common training frameworks and recognising traineeships as part of professional’s experience will greatly improve their mobility and European’s security”, said the Parliament’s rapporteur Bernadette Vergnaud (S&D, FR). The updated rules will enable professions keen to accelerate the recognition of their members’ qualifications by other EU state to opt for European professional qualifications cards. These cards would be granted by the home member state mostly for short periods of work abroad and the host member state if the practice is to be transferred for long periods there.

This incentive of qualification recognition in other member states will act as a catalyst for the swift progress of the new system. Of course there will be cases where a certain profession in one or more member states might seek protection from newcomers from other EU countries, by creating or maintaining artificial entry barriers. If the majority of its members don’t care to work abroad and consequently don’t seek reciprocal recognition of qualifications or the issuance of the card, it will be difficult to prove that regulations are not proportionate and discriminatory. The profession of tourist guides in many EU countries is such a case.

Unduly barriers

There is no question then that throughout the EU there are many incidents of unduly entry barriers and strong administrative rules protecting certain professions. As a result those professionals tend to be well paid while for some the gains from a protected market can be enormous. On top of that in many member states there are regulations imposing to consumers the engagement of professionals in certain activities, that could be carried out by non ‘club members’.

Undoubtedly in those 800 regulated professions around the EU, there are cases which constitute a heavy burden on societies, by enacting real barriers to growth and undermining competitiveness. The excessive cost of certain services due to the exorbitant protection of a profession could at the limit block the economic and social progress in entire countries.

So far the European Union has managed to create a seamless environment in the health care universe. The success in this domain is visible in the hospitals all over the EU, and European doctors have no problem working in any country they choose. If this was possible for this very demanding profession, why not for lawyers, accountants, notary publics to mention only a few key activities weighing heavily on the operational costs of SMEs.

Michel Barnier, EU Commissioner responsible for internal market, welcomed the European Parliament vote on the modernisation of the Professional Qualifications Directive. He concluded that “young graduates wishing to access a regulated profession will be able to benefit from this Directive to do all or part of their traineeship abroad”. Finally he predicted that the new directive will enter into force before the end of the year.

 

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