If the rules and regulations of the Single Market are being wrongly applied in another EU Member State and this is causing you or your business a problem, would you know what to do? Why not try SOLVIT – a service developed by the European Commission that aims to find a fast and effective solution to your problem.
Steadily gathering pace after two years in operation, the SOLVIT network has built up an impressive problem-solving track record. More than 70% of the cases it has tackled have been resolved and the average time taken has been less than 70 days. SOLVIT is currently expanding and is integrating local help and advisory organisations into what is rapidly becoming an extensive virtual SOLVIT network.
The SOLVIT service resolves cross-border problems in less than 70 days and sometimes within a week.
Network of specialists
SOLVIT is operated on a daily basis by the Member States. Every EU Member State as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, has a national SOLVIT centre.
The SOLVIT centres are located within a national ministry and the staff are specialised in solving cross-border problems.
Each SOLVIT centre is in direct contact with its counterpart in all other Member States. Equipped with a database of national specialists covering all sectors of Internal Market legislation, the SOLVIT case handlers can immediately identify and involve appropriate national experts and quickly get to the heart of any problem.
On-line approach in 20 languages
To support the SOLVIT problem-solving service, the Commission has custom-built a sophisticated, on-line database and communications tool. The SOLVIT software operates in all of the 20 official EU languages.
Transparent, traceable and fast
Another key feature of the problem-solving process is the transparent tracking of progress in resolving each case. The up-to-date status of a case is available at all times and this helps in finding quick solutions.
"Whilst the high-tech infrastructure behind SOLVIT is important, it is the network of people that actually resolve the problems"
SOLVIT works fast – the majority of cases are settled within the target deadline of 10 weeks.
After two years in operation, SOLVIT is already proving to be a highly attractive alternative to formal legal action which can be lengthy and costly.
‘Successes’ already range from helping individuals with residence permit and social security problems to helping companies facing service restrictions. However SOLVIT is continuing to think big! In addition to the 350 registered EuroInfo Centres, SOLVIT is developing a large network of local SOLVIT ‘associated organisations’ by integrating bodies such as chambers of commerce, consumer organisations, trade associations, Members of the European Parliament and various other kinds of ‘natural’ advisory bodies.
Once registered with SOLVIT, these local organisations can access the SOLVIT database directly and submit cases on-line on behalf of clients or constituents. This will help to ensure that more citizens and businesses with an Internal Market problem will find their way to SOLVIT.
An informal system
SOLVIT is effectively an alternative dispute resolution mechanism. If a solution is proposed, it does not have to be accepted but it cannot be challenged formally through SOLVIT.
Nevertheless, if a problem goes unresolved, legal action can still be pursued through a national court or a formal complaint lodged with the European Commission.
SOLVIT is built on European Team Spirit
“With SOLVIT, I have access to someone I know in another Member State whom I can trust to take charge of any case that I enter,” says Rosarinho Melancia of the Portuguese SOLVIT centre.
Regular workshops meetings are held, often in Member State SOLVIT centres, to bring all network members together. This helps to build the team spirit and problem-solving culture that is a pre-requisite for turning an administrative process into a customer-responsive and pragmatic system.
“Whilst the high-tech infrastructure behind SOLVIT is important, it is the network of people that actually resolves these problems,” emphasises Rosarinho Melancia of the Portuguese SOLVIT centre and organiser of the first SOLVIT workshop meeting to be held in a Member State.
“With SOLVIT, I have access to someone I know in another Member State whom I can trust to take charge of any case that I enter,” she adds.
Workshops provide opportunities to discuss difficult cases and are timed to ensure that those SOLVIT centres involved have the opportunity to meet face to face to solve tricky problems.
Commission – a watchful eye
While the European Commission provides the SOLVIT operating software, it is the Member States that have responsibility for the quality of the service and solutions proposed within SOLVIT. The Commission is on hand to offer advice and assistance to speed things up and reserves the right to intervene, should it feel that solutions proposed are not in fact in full conformity with EU law.
Increasingly, the Commission itself is passing some of the complaints that it receives to SOLVIT. Often, these cases get resolved quickly, although the Commission is committed to following up on those that fail.
“SOLVIT pushes responsibility for the proper application of EU rules to the Member States themselves,” explains Gerard de Graaf, Head of the Unit that manages SOLVIT. “It is no use agreeing a legal framework for our citizens and businesses if national authorities then do not apply the rules correctly. SOLVIT is a network that helps Member States to help each other in sorting out problems when the rules have been misapplied.”
“Poland places a lot of importance on SOLVIT because it offers assistance in solving problems informally but effectively. SOLVIT is an example of a new way of public service, where the interests of citizens and business are put first. For Polish citizens and businesses who are only just starting to work in the new reality of an integrated Europe, quick and easily-accessible help is crucial”
Minister Mr Miroslaw F. Zielinski, Undersecretary of State. Ministry of Economy, Labour and Social Policy.
What do our customers think?
Satisfied customers and Member State administrations frequently tell SOLVIT centres and the Commission of their positive experiences.
“My contact with SOLVIT has really restored my faith in the workings of the European Union” said a UK doctor, after SOLVIT had cracked his problem about getting permission to work in Spain.
Feedback from the Member States is equally positive. 11 Member States have now even introduced cases into SOLVIT about the wrong application of rules in their own country!
HOW SOLVIT WORKS
When a case is submitted to SOLVIT, the local SOLVIT Centre (known as the “Home” SOLVIT Centre) will first check the details of the application to make sure that it does indeed concern the misapplication of Internal Market rules and that all the necessary information has been made available. It will then enter the case into an on-line database system, and it will be forwarded automatically to the SOLVIT Centre in the other Member State where the problem has occurred (known as the “Lead” SOLVIT Centre).
The Lead SOLVIT Centre should confirm within a week whether or not it will take on the case. This will largely depend on whether it considers that the case is well-founded and whether there is a good chance that it can be resolved pragmatically. In some cases, not only its application, but the rule itself may be the problem. If the solution to a problem requires the repeal of a particular rule, this may take many months, if not longer – and may well require formal legal action. In such cases, there is little SOLVIT can do, although a Member State which has agreed that it will change a contested rule may well decide not to apply that rule.
The two SOLVIT Centres will work together to try to solve the problem and the individual concerned will be kept informed by the Home SOLVIT Centre about progress and the proposed solution. The target deadline for finding a solution to the problem is 10 weeks.
HOW TO SUBMIT A CASE
A problem can be submitted to a local SOLVIT Centre by telephone, fax, e-mail or on-line submission form. See the SOLVIT website for contact details.
If you do not have access to the Internet, you can call ‘Europe direct’ at 00 800 67 89 10 11 (this number is free of charge) and ask for details of your local SOLVIT Centre.
Areas where SOLVIT can help
While the Internal Market generally works well, it is almost inevitable that mistakes will sometimes be made or that problems of interpretation about an individual’s legal rights may occur.
SOLVIT deals, in principle, with any cross-border problem, involving the possible misapplication of EU rules, between a business or a citizen on the one hand and a national public authority on the other. The main policy areas SOLVIT has dealt with so far are:
Recognition of professional qualifications and diplomas, access to education, residence permits, voting rights, social security, employment rights, driving licences, motor vehicle registration, border controls, market access for products, market access for services, establishment as self-employed, public procurement, taxation, free movement of capital or payments.
Since SOLVIT is an informal approach to problem solving it should not be used in situations where legal proceedings are already underway. Moreover, SOLVIT does not deal with business-to-business and consumer–to-business problems.
EU-25 - smoothing the integration of the new Member States
SOLVIT is expected to become even more important following EU Enlargement, due to the likely increase in cross-border transactions and the steep learning curve faced by officials in the new Member States.
The new Member States had all put in place a fully operational SOLVIT centre before enlargement and many have already handled SOLVIT cases. “SOLVIT is ready to ensure that no opportunities are lost for our citizens and businesses,” said Anikó Katai, Head of the SOLVIT centre in Hungary.
SOLVIT deals with many kinds of problems
In the first two years, SOLVIT has taken on more than 300 case and successfully proposed solutions for over 70% of them.
The highest number of cases dealt with concern the recognition of professional qualifications.
|Recognition of professional qualifications
|Market access for products
|Motor vehicle registration
|Market access for services
Other on-line sources of information
Sometimes problems arise because of lack of information/awareness about citizen rights in Europe and about how procedures work in other EU Member States. In such cases, the ‘Your Europe’ portal on the Europa website can help to clarify matters.
The ‘Citizens Signpost Service’ (CSS), which is an essential part of the ‘Dialogue with Citizens’ initiative enables EU citizens to receive free personalised advice on how to tackle practical problems they have encountered while trying to exercise their rights in the Internal Market.
If you are a business and you would like more information or advice about
your rights in the Internal Market, visit the Dialogue with Business
SOME SUCCESS STORIES
Finland lifts ban on Swedish fruit product
Finnish customs authorities imposed a sales ban on a Swedish fruit product because the label on the package did not indicate all ingredients separately and in descending order of weight. While the Finnish authorities may request that labels are in conformity with EU rules, refusing to allow the products onto the Finnish market would be a disproportionate sanction since the product did not present a danger to public health. SOLVIT Finland took action and convinced the authorities that they should give the Swedish company three months to correct the label and allow the product onto the Finnish market in the meantime. Solution found in 1 week.
Restriction on new business overruled
A Portuguese citizen living in Luxembourg wanted to set up his own business, selling tyres. The Luxembourg authorities required the Portuguese authorities to provide proof of his ability to run such a business. Following the intervention of SOLVIT and the Portuguese authorities, Luxembourg decided to recognise a declaration by its own Chamber of Commerce confirming the citizen’s professional experience. Solution found within 6 weeks.
Green light for job in local government
A Spanish citizen working on a temporary basis for a local authority in Portugal was told she couldn’t apply for a permanent position because she did not have Portuguese nationality. SOLVIT Portugal contacted the ministerial department and asked them to point out to the local authorities that under EU law, an EU citizen cannot, in general, be excluded from permanent positions in the administrations of another Member State. As a result, the Spanish citizen was allowed to apply for a permanent position. Solution found within 4 weeks.
A German citizen had been registered as unemployed in Spain. Upon returning to Germany, he applied for unemployment benefit there. The social security office in Germany was not able to grant his unemployment benefit until they received certain information from the social security centre in Spain. Although Germany had asked Spain for this information, it had still not arrived some months after his initial enquiry at the German social security office. The case was submitted to SOLVIT and the Spanish authorities quickly sent the required documents. Solution found within 1 month.
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