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    Reporting period: 01/2016 - 12/2016

    SOLVIT

    About

    SOLVIT is a service provided by the national administrations. There is a SOLVIT centre in each EU country and in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. They work together via an online database.

    SOLVIT helps people who encounter difficulties in another country when public authorities do not apply EU legislation correctly.

    It is a faster, informal alternative to filing a court case, submitting a formal complaint to the Commission or putting forward a petition.

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    Performance

    1. by indicator

    [1]Home centre sending an initial reply within the 7-day target in:≥ 75% of cases   55-75% of cases< 55% of cases
    [2]Home centre submitting case to lead centre within 30-day target in:≥ 75% of cases 55-75% of cases < 55% of cases
    [3]Cases handled by lead centre within 10-week target in:≥ 75% of cases  55-75% of cases< 55% of cases
    [4]Resolution rate:≥ 90%70-90%< 70%
    *Countries with under 10 cases   

    2. overall
    (all 4 indicators combined)

    A country's overall performance  is calculated by assigning the following values to each of its 4 indicators:
    RED = -1, YELLOW = 0 and GREEN = +1.

    Definitive colours are assigned based on the sum of these scores:

    2 or higher-1, 0 or 1 -2 or lower

    * countries with less than 10 cases

    No assessment has been made for Iceland and Liechtenstein as they had no cases.

    How does SOLVIT work?

    People who encounter a problem exercising their rights apply to their Home centre (usually in their home country).

    The Home centre prepares the case and sends it to the SOLVIT centre in the country where the problem occurred (the Lead centre), which deals with the authority in question.

    Indicator [1]: Home centre – first response time

    The indicator measures the time taken to establish initial contact with the applicant. The target deadline is 7 days maximum.

    Comments

    It is important to establish an initial contact with applicants promptly. In that way SOLVIT's role can be explained to them and any possible issues can be checked. Overall there has been an improvement in this area in recent years. However, additional efforts are still required from Luxembourg.  

    Indicator [2]: Home centre – preparation time

    The indicator measures the time taken to prepare cases for transfer to the Lead centre. The target deadline is 30 days maximum. On average SOLVIT centres took 12 days to prepare a case compared to 15 days in 2015.

    Comments

    Preparation time is in all countries satisfactory.

    Indicator [3]: Lead centre - resolution time

    The indicator measures the time taken by the Lead centre to handle a case. The target deadline is 10 weeks maximum.

    Comments

    Average number of days taken: 59 (69 previously). Poland should take steps to deal with cases more quickly (Latvia had only 4 cases.

    Over 10 weeks:  25% of cases (33% previously).

    Over 20 weeks (twice the target time): 9% of cases (11% previously).

    Although 68% of the cases which took longer than 20 weeks were ultimately solved (69% in 2015), this figure is not acceptable - SOLVIT's key aims include providing help promptly.

    Factors affecting resolution speed:

    • cooperation with national administrations
    • caseload
    • case complexity
    • number and continuity of staff (many centres are understaffed, have other tasks in addition to SOLVIT-related work or members rotate frequently).

    Indicator [4]: Resolution rate by country

    The indicator measures the percentage of cases solved. The aim is to solve all cases submitted. 

    Comments:

    In 2016, the resolution rate was 89% (88% in 2015).

    Countries below 70%: Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Malta (Slovenia and Latvia did not have enough cases for this figure to be relevant).

    In the first four countries mentioned, the low resolution rate can be explained by their taking up a number of cases that are of a persistent nature and where it is known beforehand that the issue cannot be solved informally.

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    Achievements

    • In 2016 SOLVIT helped more than 5 000 people by resolving their problem, clarifying the issue(s) or signposting them towards another service.
    • 4th February 2016 Competitiveness Council Conclusions on reinforcing SOLVIT.
    • Intensified cooperation with SOLVIT centres and stakeholders to identify the actions necessary to strengthen SOLVIT.
    • SOLVIT received more cases than last year from the network partners, mostly from Your Europe advice (40% more, 342 cases in 2016 compared to 243 cases in 2015) and Europe Direct Contact Centre (40% more, 34 cases in 2016 and 24 cases in 2015)
    • SOLVIT organized and participated in a number of meetings with businesses to identify their needs and to increase the number of cases submitted.

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    Facts and figures

    Overall caseload

    The caseload in 2016 grew to the highest number ever since its start in 2002 (2 414 cases).

    • 44% (1062) of all cases were submitted online, 14% (342) were transferred by YEA and 1% (34) were transferred by EDCC. The rest were submitted via other means (e-mail, phone, post, in person).

    In 2016 SOLVIT also received an additional 2 600 complaints that were not within its remit (the figure for 2015 was 2 500). For those cases, SOLVIT helped complainants by explaining their EU rights in more detail or by finding another means of redress.

    Distribution of cases: Home centres and Lead centres

    Net recipients of cases: Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Sweden, Cyprus, Portugal, Austria, Malta, Spain, Romania and Norway

    Net submitters of cases: Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, United Kingdom, Slovakia , Czech Republic, Lithuania, Belgium, the Netherlands, Estonia, Croatia, Slovenia, Denmark, Latvia, Luxemburg and Finland

    Cases submitted by country over the last 3 years

    Biggest submitters: Hungary, UK, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, Spain, Italy and France

     

    Comments

    The further increase in cases submitted by Hungary is due to the issue of delay of decisions on family benefits in Germany.

    Cases received by country over the last 3 years

    Biggest receivers: Germany, France, Italy, UK, Ireland and Spain

    Problem areas

    The percentage of social security-related cases remained high at 62% in 2016 (61% in 2014 and 58% in 2015).

    Comments

    • Social security remains the biggest problem area dealt with by SOLVIT (1 507 cases);
    • Cases on the right of entry and residence of EU citizens and their family members increased by 34% in comparison to 2015 (461 cases);
    • Cases on free movement of goods increased by 23% - 27 cases received;
    • There were less cases on recognition of professional qualifications (43% less – 158 cases) and Free movement of workers (17% less – 111 cases).

    Business cases v. citizens cases

    Over the years, businesses have submitted only a fraction of the number of cases compared with those submitted by individuals. In 2016, SOLVIT received 1 case less than in 2015. The highest reduction was in Belgium (-8),the highest increase in Denmark (+6).

    Business cases - by country

    Biggest contributors to business cases: Germany, UK, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Poland, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Finland and Portugal.

    Comments:

    • Germany, UK, Spain, Denmark, Poland, Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Hungary maintained or increased numbers of business-related cases.
    • Belgium and Sweden experienced the highest reduction in business cases.
    • 80% of the business cases were solved.
    • SOLVIT will continue its efforts to attract business cases, including:
      • Further strengthening cooperation with national business organisations & networks.
      • Specifically enhance cooperation with the Enterprise Europe Network.
      • Enhancing presence and findability on the web, in particular through Your Europe Business.
      • Improving centres' access to expertise on business issues.
    • The three main problem areas continued to be:
      • taxation (27 cases),
      • free movement of goods (27 cases),
      • free movement of services (19 cases).

    Structural cases* - by area of legislation

     * Structural cases are usually highly complex. They often entail amendments to national laws, so resolving them usually takes longer than the SOLVIT 10-week deadline.

    • Cases handled: 97 cases (same in 2015)
    • Main areas: entry and residence rights of EU citizens and their family members (64), social security (20), recognition of professional qualifications (5) and vehicles/driving licenses (3)

    Handling times:

    Cases closed within 10 weeks: 74%

    • Longest handling time: 317 days
    • Most cases (Lead centre): Sweden (34), Spain (18) and Ireland (15)

    Examples of difficulties relating to the Single Market in SOLVIT (as reported in the SOLVIT database):

    EU citizens trying to get their professional qualifications recognised in another country met with:

    • difficulties in obtaining recognition of professional qualifications for a psychologist, a radiologist, a physiotherapist, a logopedist, a certified interpreter of German and nurses in different Member States;
    • refusal to deliver certificate of conformity for plumbing and heating installers by a Member States' responsible authority;
    • no possibility to get partial access to a profession.

    Cross border goods and services providers were submitted to the following conditions:

    • obligation to obtain a Certificate for Special Operations provided by the responsible certification authority and the denial of recognition of the equivalent Spanish certificate for a company that owns helicopters for fire combat,
    • requirement to have an establishment in the Member State to grant access to the central database on creditworthiness of borrowers for a provider of financial services,
    • denial of foreign accounts if the bank has not been qualified as 'collaborating bank' in the Member State,
    • prohibition to use foreign languages in marketing slogans, unless they are registered as trademarks,
    • allegedly unjustified requirements to market products in another Member State incompatible with the Mutual Recognition principle.

    Problems with taxation:

    • double imposition of VAT and import taxes to products delivered by post from one Member State to another,
    • higher tax rates for non-residents as regards real estate tax,
    • delays in providing income tax refund in a Member State.

    EU citizens met with the following social security issues when moving cross border:

    • delays in decisions for family benefits for cases handled by a particular Member State associated with a significant number of claims by families in a cross-border situation,
    • delays in the administrative treatment of pensions of EU citizens,
    • unjustified reduction in family benefits,
    • denial of national authorities to issue S1 documents to pensioners that reside and are only taxable in another Member State,
    • denial in payment of child benefits directly to the parent supporting the child but residing in another MS,

    Problems with entry and residence rights:

    • extra conditions for the recognition of marriage certificates in visa procedures for non EU family members of EU citizens,
    • delays in issuance of residence cards to non-EU family members of EU citizens,
    • difficulties for EU citizens to be registered in the population register and obtain a Personal Identification Number (PIN) which is necessary to get access to certain essential public and private services in that Member State,
    • delays in issuance of EU entry visas to non-EU family members of EU citizens in Member States,
    • limiting the validity of residence cards issued to non-EU family members of EU citizens to the time period of the validity of the passport or the work contract,
    • unjustified conditions such as proof of accommodation, sufficient resources, travel tickets, genuine purpose of travel, etc. for short-term visas for non-EU spouses of EU citizens.

    Issues of discrimination

    • residence-based price discrimination in public transport services,
    • refusal to grant supporting funds for studies for non-residents workers,
    • request for translation of the European registration certificate in order to register a car,
    • denial to provide data for the homologation certificates for vehicles if the applicant is not a permanent resident,
    • refusal to a resident worker who is not a national of digital access to a website where citizens can retrieve information from the government, municipalities, pension funds etc.,
    • requirement of residence card in order to exchange driving license,
    • discrimination in access to an e-health platform for a non-resident medical specialist.

    Staffing level in SOLVIT centres

    The chart below shows current staffing levels (i.e. staff time to be spent on SOLVIT work) in relation to caseload.

    The number of staff (FTEs or full-time equivalents) should be determined by the caseload of the SOLVIT centres:

    • small SOLVIT centres (16–50 cases) => 1 FTE
    • medium SOLVIT centres (51–150 cases) => 2 FTEs
    • large SOLVIT centres (151–300 cases) => 3 FTEs
    • very large SOLVIT centres (over 300 cases) => 3.5 FTEs

    Red symbol: low staff numbers

    Green symbol: minimum staff numbers/time spent on SOLVIT

    Issues

    1. Caseloads are rising – but staff numbers are static or even decreasing. In many cases, staff may be unable to cope with any further caseload increases. Many centres also seem to experience difficulties with communicating promptly (replying to e-mails, telephone calls etc.).
    2. High turnover in some centres makes business continuity and efficient case handling more difficult.
    3. Many SOLVIT centres often have to give priority to other tasks for their national administrations, leaving insufficient time for SOLVIT duties.

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    Priorities

    Governments:

    • Make sure SOLVIT centres are adequately staffed
    • Enable them to prioritise SOLVIT work
    • Ensure a degree of staffing continuity
    • Ensure that national SOLVIT centres have sufficient authority within their national administration
    • Follow up of relevant structural issues detected through SOLVIT

    SOLVIT centres:

    • Focus on the quality of case handling
    • Ensure a maximum number of cases to reach SOLVIT, especially by business
    • Meet the recommended target times and keep applicants informed on progress
    • Ensure support and recognition of SOLVIT within the national administration by organizing network meetings
    • Ensure that issues linked to breaches of EU law detected through SOLVIT are channeled to the responsible services in the Member State concerned
    • Ensure SOLVIT centres have (access to) legal expertise on business problem areas
    • Signal specific problems in handling business cases to the Commission.

    Commission:

    • Ensure more strategic coordination between SOLVIT and Commission's enforcement actions
    • Make more structured and systematic use of the available data and evidence detected in the SOLVIT database
    • Improve the accessibility of the Online Complaint Form
    • Ensure a more comprehensive user feedback system
    • Continue efforts inside the Commission to increase awareness and use of SOLVIT for the handling of individual complaints
    • Reach out to business – mainly via the Your Europe Business portal, EU-level business organisations, networks like the EEN and goods/services national contact points.
    • Implement the in 2016 agreed changes to the functionalities of the SOLVIT application.

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    Success stories

    The following barriers to the free movement of people, goods and services in the EU were removed thanks to SOLVIT:

    • lengthy delays in issuing residence cards for non-EU spouses in Portugal, Ireland, Sweden – and thus preventing them to start working
    • requirement that a Polish company establishes a subsidiary in Czech Republic as a pre-condition for temporary provision of services there
    • condition of permanent residence for discount tickets in public maritime transport in Croatia
    • refusals to accept EHIC or incorrect reimbursements of medical costs incurred abroad after having presented an EHIC in France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Sweden
    • discriminatory rules on the proof of life for resident and non-resident pensioners in Belgium
    • over 300 cases of delayed payment of family benefits in Germany
    • refusal of parking permits for cars with number plates from other MS in Germany
    • absence of compensatory measures for translators/interpreters from other EU countries in Spain.