An official website of the European Union An official EU website

This page is available in the following languages:

The United Kingdom withdrew from the EU on 31 January, 2020. The 2020 edition of the Single Market Scoreboard refers to time periods preceding the withdrawal of the UK, and the UK is therefore listed as a Member State.

Professional Qualifications

Reporting period:
2016-2018

The Professional Qualifications Directive provides rules on recognising the qualifications of professionals who are fully qualified in one EU country and wish to practise in another. It specifies two systems of recognition:

  • a general system (with possible “compensatory measures“)
  • automatic recognition (based on “minimum training requirements” or professional experience).

Find out more about professional qualifications.

Professional qualification and the Single Market – why does it matter?

Under EU law, Europeans can live and work in another EU country. This is one of the direct benefits of the Single Market.

Rules on qualifications vary between EU countries. A professional might fully qualified in one country, but encounter difficulties practising their profession elsewhere. Getting qualifications recognised can be complicated, expensive and time-consuming.

This can hold people back from setting up a business or providing services in another EU country and prevent them from benefiting from the Single Market. It also reduces the number of skilled workers potentially available to businesses across the EU. In short, it hinders the free movement of services and people.

Key messages

  • In 2016-2018, 143 975 decisions were taken to recognise qualifications in the EU. This is slightly higher than in the previous reporting period. Recognition rates vary widely between EU countries.
  • In 59 218 cases, qualifications were recognised without compensatory measures (e.g. a test or traineeship). This figure also increased compared to the previous period.
  • The system of mutual recognition of professional qualifications facilitates free movement in the Single Market. It would, however, benefit from further improvements in national regulatory environments and administrative procedures.

Performance indicators

Performance is assessed in terms of recognition rates across EU countries.

These statistics refer to decisions taken by host country authorities on professionals who, having qualified in another EU country, apply for their qualifications to be recognised in the host country so they can practise there long-term.

[1]  Recognition > 96.07 % 88.81 % – 96.07 % < 88.81 %
[2]  Recognition without compensatory measures > 47.72 % 28.32 % – 47.72 % < 28.32 %

Source: Regulated professions database (data validated up to 27 January 2020). Based on statistics recorded by national authorities (2016-2018: Greece recorded no data, Bulgaria’s data was insufficient)

Each EU country’s performance is scored on the two indicators as follows:

Main findings:

The average recognition rate in the EU (indicator 1) is 92.4 %, with a standard deviation of 7.3 %. The average recognition rate without compensatory measures (indicator 2) is 38 %, with a standard deviation of 19.4 % (indicator 2 has a far wider dispersion than indicator 1).

Proportion of positive decisions

The map below shows how each EU country performed on the first indicator (positive recognition decisions).

Source: Regulated professions database (data validated up to 27 January 2020). Based on statistics recorded by national authorities (2016-2018: Greece recorded no data, Bulgaria’s data was insufficient)

Indicator [1]: Positive recognition decisions

This indicator shows positive recognition decisions as a percentage of total decisions in each host country.

Source: Regulated professions database (data validated up to 27 January 2020), based on statistics recorded by national authorities.

Main findings:

In 2016-2018, of the 181 155 cases recorded in the regulated professions database:

  • 86 % (155 754) were concluded by a decision – either recognition (143 975) or non recognition (11 779),
  • the remaining 14 % (25 401 cases) were either unsettled (no decision taken), under examination or subject to appeals.

EU averages:

In general, a relatively high response and recognition rate means it is easier and/or cheaper for professionals to have their qualifications recognised.

Recognition rates vary widely between EU countries. Several factors may be involved including:

  • resources available to manage applications and the attention given to them;
  • number of applicants;
  • complexity of the rules concerned.

Highest recognition rates: Estonia (100 % of 132 decisions), Germany (99.9 % of 19 103 decisions), Slovakia (99.8 % of 1347 decisions), Czechia (99.6 % of 2992 decisions) and Hungary (99.5 % of 1033 decisions).

Lowest recognition rates: the Netherlands (69.9 % of 6640 decisions), Italy (77.4 % of 15 836 decisions) and Spain (84 % of 1252 decisions) – see Chart 3.

Indicator [2]: Positive recognition decisions without compensatory measures

This indicator shows positive recognition decisions without compensatory measures (e.g. a test or traineeship) as a percentage of total decisions in each host country using the general system. Automatic recognition is not included.

Source: Regulated professions database (data validated up to 27 January 2020), based on statistics recorded by national authorities.

Main findings:

    Highest recognition rates without compensatory measures: Spain (81.4 % of 1252 decisions), Portugal (73 % of 971 decisions) and Finland (68.3 % of 739 decisions).

    Lowest recognition rates without compensatory measures: Italy (8.9 % of 15 836 decisions), Belgium (17.2 % of 13 041 decisions) and Malta (18.4 % of 440 decisions) – see Chart 4.

Priorities

  • Ensure that Member States and their authorities transpose and implement the Professional Qualifications Directive and its recent amendments in full.

Facts and figures

Total number of decisions by host country (2016-2018)

Source: Regulated professions database (data validated up to 27 January 2020), based on statistics recorded by national authorities.

Variations in number of decisions reported

Numbers differ from country to country for several reasons:

Positive recognition decisions in 2016-2018

143 975 decisions were taken to recognise qualifications. The highest numbers recorded were:

By profession:
  1. Nurses: 24 608;
  2. Doctors: 21 716;
  3. Secondary school teachers: 16 439.
By country (2016-2018):
  1. The UK, with 39 246 professionals hosted, including more than 10 000 nurses (around 3700 from Romania, 2500 from Italy and 1800 from Spain), followed by secondary school teachers (9200) and doctors (4500).
  2. Germany, with 19 094 professionals hosted, including 7000 nurses and 4300 doctors (both mainly from Romania).
  3. Belgium, with 12 590 professionals hosted, including nearly 2000 doctors (mostly from the Netherlands, France and Romania) and 1500 nurses (mainly from France and Romania).

Main country-to-country flows in a range of professions

This part of the analysis focuses on the professions that recorded the highest numbers of decisions to recognise qualifications in recent years: dentists, doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and secondary school teachers.

Source: Regulated professions database (data validated up to 27 January 2020), based on statistics recorded by national authorities.

In 2016-2018, the host countries that recorded the most arrivals in these 5 professions were the UK (over 24 700), Germany (around 14 000), Sweden (5500), Belgium (5100) and Italy (4200).

The countries with the largest number of professionals leaving to practise in another EU country were Romania (over 12 700), Spain (around 9 200), Greece (5700), Italy (5400), and Poland (4900).

Achievements

  • The EU systematically applies rules for mutual recognition of professional qualifications among its Member States.

More information on the legislation

The Professional Qualifications Directive specifies two systems of professional recognition.

General system

Professionals wishing to work in another EU country need to apply to the relevant authority in the country where they are moving to have their qualifications recognised.

The relevant authorities examine the duration and content of the professional training attested by their diploma(s) and any accompanying documents. The issue is whether there are any significant differences between their training and the qualifications required to practise the relevant profession in the host country.

If there are major differences, the authorities can impose “compensatory measures” on the applicant. For instance, they might have to take a test or complete an adaptation period.

Automatic recognition

This system, which does not allow for compensatory measures, covers a limited number of professions:

  • health professions (doctors, nurses, dentist, pharmacists, veterinary surgeons);
  • architects.

Applicants from either category must meet the minimum training requirements set out in the Directive.

Certain professionals in trade, industry and business can also have their qualifications recognised automatically if they meet minimum professional experience requirements.
For more details, visit the free movement of professionals page of the European Commission.

The source data for indicators (retrieved from the Commission’s regulated professions database) refer to 2016-2018. As it is the national authorities that record recognition decisions, the Commission receives these statistics at different times, with a delay of a year or even longer. For instance, when this report was being drafted, Greece had no data for 2016-2018, while Bulgaria’s data was insufficient. Using the 3-year reporting period, the Commission can – to some extent – even out data gaps arising from delays in providing statistics.