Approach to Qualifications

The EU has introduced sector-specific and general qualifications legislation in relation to recognising diplomas, qualifications, and equivalent awards. There are two different approaches to the harmonisation of diplomas and qualifications.

The first approach involves specific rules for sectors.  There are specific directives which have been made law throughout the European Union covering lawyers, dentists, architects, midwives, nurses, veterinary surgeons, hairdressers, et cetera.

In addition, there are general provisions for the recognition of higher education diplomas related to professional education.  The legislation covers all regulated professions for which university diplomas are awarded for a course of at least 3 years duration.  This does not affect specific professions which are covered by specific legislation.

In addition, there is a general system of recognition of professional education and training.  The legislation covers higher and post-secondary education diplomas obtained after a period of less than 3 years and secondary education diplomas.  It also covers persons who have acquired professional experience.

States Must Give Effect

Under the general 2005 directive member states must carry out a comparative examination of diplomas on an application.  If there is no substantial difference, they must be recognised as equivalent.  If there is a substantial difference, the host state must give the opportunity to the applicant to show that he has acquired the knowledge and skill where lacking. The application must be examined and determined within four months.

There is a choice for the state between an adaptation period and an aptitude test.  The states may limit the practice of a profession which requires precise knowledge of the national law and the provision of advised assistance concerning national law.

There is a difference between the provision of services and establishment.  Where services are provided temporarily on an occasional basis for not more than 16 weeks a year, there is no requirement to have qualifications recognised.  The person can provide those services under his or her original home state title subject to conditions imposed for protecting the consumer.

The provider may be obliged to comply with requirements to provide customers and members of the national authority with information.  In the case of certain professions where safety is important such as health professionals, there may be a requirement to declare in advance to the host authorities and complete pro forma registration.

In respect of establishment, there is automatic recognition for qualifications on the basis of complying with certain minimum conditions.  Formerly there were specific directives covering doctors, nurses, dentists, vets, pharmacists, architects, and midwives.  These are now are covered under the single directive.

There is provision for recognition of qualifications by professional experience in relation to listed commercial crafts and industrial activity.  There is a system of general recognition covered by other professions not covered by the above.

Various Issues

The single contact points in each member state are provided for with the task of providing information in respect of recognition procedures and resolving difficulties.  There is provision for professional associations to introduce cards which would contain information in relation to qualifications, legal place of establishment of the person concerned, disciplinary measures, and the relevant national authority’s details.

A regulated profession is one where there are conditions and restrictions on taking it up or pursuing the activity or certain qualifications are preconditions to exercising the profession.

The professional body’s rules may impose conditions in relation to membership of the profession.  In order to be valid under European law, the rules must:

  • not discriminate between nationals and non-nationals
  • must be justified by impartial requirements on the general interest, must be suitable for that objective
  • must be proportionate to that objective.

There is a right to receive services as well as to provide services.  This includes commercial, industrial services, professional services, craftsmen services, et cetera.  There is freedom to receive services across borders.  A person has a right to travel to another member state to receive services or to receive them in his home country.

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