The European Court of Justice Unveils its Special Report on the Directive of the Automatic Recognition of Professional Qualifications

On July 1st, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) released a Special Report on the implementation of the Directive on the automatic recognition of professional qualifications, first adopted in 2005 and updated in 2013. Within this Report, the ECA assesses that the tools and dispositions provided by the Directive remain scarcely and imperfectly used by Member States.

To explain these shortcomings, the ECA first underscore the uneven digitalisation of the system. Indeed, while the Single Digital Gateway (SDG) Regulation provided that Member States must make a digital procedure available to all professionals, most Member States do not comply and require physical documents or presence. Moreover, the ECA notes that some countries also violate the Directive by asking for excessive documentation from professionals. For example, the French and Flemish Communities of Belgium still request a motivation letter from foreign nurses wishing to exercise their activity, despite the fact that the Directive does not indicate that a competent authority can demand such a document.

Among the issues, the ECA also explains that not only the suboptimal procedural aspects of the recognition of professional qualifications hinder the potential of the Directive, but also the excessive checks on competencies imposed by Member States. Indeed, the ECA found that most countries have established additional pre-checks for health and care professions. These voluntary verifications, which the European Commission advises to remove, consequently lengthen the duration of the procedure of recognition which poses a grave issue for temporary mobility and can, in some cases, such as in Luxembourg, contravene the Directive.

The European Professional Card, introduced within the Directive in 2013 to facilitate the mobility of professionals, also suffers from severe issues. In particular, the fees charged by Member States often dissuade professionals from using this procedure. The ECA exemplifies this phenomenon by showing in its Report that it is still 20% more expensive for nurses to relocate to Austria with the European Professional Card than via the standard recognition procedure.

The Report also finds that, while Common Training Frameworks (CTF) can play a role in integrating national labour markets, only a few professions currently possess one. The ECA notably highlights that, owing to the fact that the required threshold of a third, or nine Member States, could not be reached during the negotiations, several policy dialogues did not result in implementing a CTF. Additionally, the Luxembourg-based institution underscores that several professions struggled to find enough similarities in their training frameworks to agree on a CTF.

Overall, the European Court of Auditors notes that although the Directive is crucial for professional mobility, its implementation by Member States is still lacking. Uneven and imperfect application of current Law seriously hinders its usefulness and create major barriers to the professional mobility of highly qualified professionals.