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Lara Comi on The importance of the Bologna Process and the Directive on recognition of Professional qualification in creating a real single market in Europe

24th March 2012

MEP Lara Comi is the Vice-Chairwoman of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee of the European Parliament.

Since the signature of the Schengen Agreement, one of the main goals of the European Union has been to dismantle all the existing barriers to the free movement of citizens. This perfectly fits in the framework of the general targets the European Communities have been pursuing since their very foundation.

Fostering the mobility of specialized workers could, on one hand, help supplying a lack of professionals in some Countries, and, on the other hand, reduce the excess in some other ones. Only through these steps a real common market can be built. This is the base to talk about any industrial policy or development plan: the mobility of resources is essential for their optimal allocation.

The economic reason why this goal is desirable is straightforward, as well as the efficiency gains following the labour drain from a low productive area to a high productive one, however it is necessary to overcome resistance coming from the categories in which competition would increase.

The importance of the mobility of workers is also inferable by the inclusion of the free movement of citizens among the four fundamental freedoms of the European Union. Indeed, besides the economic argument, a political consideration is necessary: there can be no real freedom if someone who moves cannot do a satisfactory job (or the one the migrant can best do) in the destination place.

Big steps have been made in this direction, and one of the few remaining barriers is the difficulty for specialized citizens to be recognized for their qualification outside the Country where the qualification has been obtained.

In this context, it is fundamental to ensure that an academic degree obtained within the European Union is recognized by all the Countries in the area, and to grant the possibility for a professional to practise his profession freely within the region.

On the other hand, this goal doesn't have to come at the price of lowering the quality of the service, and a standardization of the qualifications is a necessary condition for the mutual recognition of obtained degrees, especially in the field of health care, where the consumer is, first of all, a patient.

To ensure this, it is necessary for instance to achieve a minimum level of knowledge associated with a certain qualification, and to ensure the knowledge of the language of the country where the citizen means to move.

In the field of high Educational standards and mutual recognition of academic degrees, the Bologna Process has a fundamental role. It is worth recalling that the Bologna Accords aim to promote the creation of a European Higher Educational Area by making Academic degrees more comparable and the quality of such degrees more homogeneous, promoting the mobility of students within the area. They were signed in 1999 by the Education Ministers from 29 European Countries, and currently include 47 participating States.

The process of standardization has been pursued trough the adoption of a three cycles educational system composed by a 3 years Bachelor's degree, a 2 years Master degree, and a 3 year Doctoral degree; and through the institution of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS).

The majority of Countries participating in the Bologna Process have signed the Lisbon Recognition Convention, that allows for automatic recognition of the Academic degrees unless there are substantial differences. Furthermore, an 8-levels European Qualification framework has been developed in order to simplify the comparison among the qualifications obtained in different Countries.

Back to the professional qualification recognition, a modification of the current Directive (2005/36/CE) is currently being debated in the Internal Market and Consumers' Protection (IMCO) Committee of the European Parliament. The main objective pursued by this modification is to ensure a more balanced equilibrium in the trade-off between mobility of professionals and quality of the service.

One of the key innovations introduced by the proposal is the institution of the European Professional Card. Such Card is an innovative tool that helps accelerating and simplifying the recognition of the qualification of a professional by employers and consumers.

Through the exploitation of the existent "Internal Market Information System" (IMI), i.e. a virtual European network that facilitates information exchanges between public bodies of different Countries, the cost of implementation of the card is highly reduced. A professional is not obliged to request the Card, and the current procedure for the recognition will apply in the case of professionals that don't ask for it, even though, given the convenience associated with the Card, it is likely that it will be asked for by an increasing number of citizens.

Another key goal of the proposal is to extend the automatic recognition of the qualifications to other professional fields, ensuring the automatic procedure to more than the seven domains currently included.

Finally, if the tasks associated with a given qualification vary across Countries, a partial access to the dues will be granted to the professional.

Some innovations have also been introduced to grant quality of service and consumers' satisfaction: the professional who intends to move in another Member State has to demonstrate a certain degree of knowledge of the language spoken in the targeted Country, accordingly with the kind of professions; and an alert mechanism is introduced in order to avoid an interdicted professional to practise abroad.

Currently, the proposal is being discussed and the MEPs involved are trying to hear as many voices as possible to gain a thorough knowledge of the issue. Definitely, big steps have been made in fostering mobility of professionals within the European Union, and to improve the quality and the comparability of Academic degrees, but much still has to be done in order to fully exploit the potential benefits of a real common market. I deeply believe that this achievement can be a big step forward in the direction shown by the strategy "Europe 2020" and in order to reach it, it is necessary to reduce uncertainty on this issue and to overcome resistance to the change. It's therefore fundamental to give up the protectionism of some categories, which tends to be stronger in times of economic uncertainty like these, when the cost of keeping the status quo is even higher.

I see in the consumer's protection the only acceptable reason to limit the right of a citizen to practice her profession within the borders of the European Union, and I deeply believe that the recent developments of the work of the Committee are an important step along the path of simplification towards the achievement of a truly single market.

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