Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Fifth Report



10. RECOGNITION OF PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS

 

(23345)

7239/02

COM(02) 119

Draft Directive on the recognition of professional qualifications.

Legal base:

Articles 40, 47(1), 47(2), 55 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting (but see paragraph 10.4 below)

   

Document originated:

15 March 2002

Deposited in Parliament:

26 March 2002

Department:

Education and Skills

Basis of consideration:

Minister's letter of 30 May 2002

Previous Committee Report:

HC 152-xxvii (2001-02), paragraph 1 (1 May 2002)

To be discussed in Council:

Date not set

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

Not cleared; information on progress requested

 

 

Background

    1. This proposal marks the first major attempt to modernise the EU system of professional recognition. It is intended to contribute to wider EU work on improving skills and labour mobility and making the labour and services market more flexible. The need for such an initiative has been flagged in a number of Commission Communications and in the Conclusions to the Lisbon, Stockholm and Barcelona Councils.
    2. When we first considered the document (in May), we noted that it was at an early stage. We kept it under scrutiny and asked a number of clarifying questions about both the proposal and the Explanatory Memorandum.
    3. The Minister's letter

    4. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Young People and Learning and Higher Education (Mr Ivan Lewis) has now replied, addressing our questions. As we requested, he provides the full list of the Directives to be consolidated. There are fifteen in all.
    5. We asked for clarification about the legal base. The Minister explains:
    6. "The effect of the first and third sentences of Article 47(2) is that Council decisions concerning the directive will normally be taken by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). However, the second sentence of Article 47(2) provides an exception to this; where implementing the directive in any Member State will require the state to change its existing law about the taking up and pursuit of activities as self-employed persons, all Council decisions on the directive must be taken unanimously. At this stage, we do not know whether such changes will be required to existing law in other Member States; we have yet to identify changes that may be needed to any UK legislation. It is thus not yet possible to be sure whether the proposed directive will have to be adopted by unanimity. Note that, in either case, the co-decision procedure provided for in Article 251 of the Treaty will be used."

    7. With regard to our request for an explanation of the phrase "home state title", and why the greater flexibility for provision of services might have implications for public health and safety protection, the Minister tells us:
    8. "The phrase 'home state title' refers to the basis of the professional's registration in their home state. The proposal seeks to establish less onerous conditions for those individuals wanting to provide cross-border services. It sets out specific rules aimed at permitting the service provider to undertake professional activities for a specified time period, on the basis of the professional's registration in their home state.

      "Under the proposal, the service provider must be legally established in their home Member State for the purposes of practising the profession; and in the host Member State, the service provider will be exempt from the requirements normally placed on the state's own professionals such as formal authorisation to practise or to be registered with a professional body. Such a measure would (a) circumvent the checks on registration status currently carried out in the UK (for instance whether or not disciplinary proceedings had been taken against a health professional in another Member State) and (b) make it difficult for members of the public to ascertain whether the health professional from whom they sought treatment was in fact properly qualified. We would wish to be reassured during negotiations with the Council that patient safety would be adequately protected."

    9. We also asked for a fuller explanation of the phrase "common platforms", and why the implications for their introduction will need to be discussed during negotiations. In reply, the Minister says:
    10. "A 'common platform' is an agreement established at European level between professional bodies from a number of Member States and may define professional activities, establish common core curricula, and determine qualifications. Only one professional body from each participating Member State is party to an agreement and not all Member States may be involved. Common platforms currently exist for professions such as mountain guides, geologists and ski instructors. Common platforms have no formal recognition under the Mutual Recognition Directives currently.

      "The Commission suggests that common platforms may provide adequate guarantees as regards the level of qualification and therefore a vehicle for providing more automatic recognition of qualifications. The Commission proposes therefore to provide a legal basis for their approving common platforms, which will then afford exemption to compensation measures.[26]

      "We are concerned that a system which relies on a single professional body in a Member State, and on a limited number of Member States participating, may not provide a sufficiently wide base for establishing exceptions to compensation measures. We are also concerned to ensure that the regulatory body, which may or may not be the professional body, contributes to the determination of a common platform and to what is or is not acceptable by way of compensation, so that standards are maintained. Changes in education and practice should be led by the requirements of the service and its users rather than being solely responsive to professional aspirations."

    11. More generally, we asked whether the impression we gained from the Explanatory Memorandum that the measure was unlikely to be very controversial was correct, and what the main points at issue, if any, were. The Minister tells us that, at this stage, the proposal is considered to be uncontroversial. While meeting the Commission's objectives of clarifying the rules and providing a more uniform, transparent and flexible system, it does not lose the benefits of any of the existing systems or the existing guarantees. However, those provisions which go beyond consolidation (that is, those relating to provision of services and common platforms) will require further scrutiny to ensure that public safety and patient protection are properly safeguarded.
    12. We understand that the Government's consultation exercise will begin in early July and run for twelve weeks.
    13. Conclusion

    14. We thank the Minister for his helpful and clarifying response. We agree that those provisions which go beyond consolidation need careful consideration. For this reason, we will keep the document under scrutiny until we know whether the Government has received the reassurances it is seeking. We would also like to know the eventual legal base for the measure, and the outcome of the UK consultation process.

 


26  Compensation measures may involve a written examination, a practical test, or a period of supervised practice during which the individual can demonstrate the necessary competences. Back

 
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