Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications – must EU regulators accept part-time and simultaneous training through automatic recognition?
Minsterio della Salute v Preindl C-675/17
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has recently ruled that the principle of automatic recognition in Directive 2005/36 requires a Member State to accept certain part time and simultaneous qualifications from other Member States (i.e. where passing a single module counts towards two separate qualifications), even if such a method would not usually be permitted. The Directive emphasises that it is for the home Member State to assess whether a qualification meets the basic requirements for automatic recognition, and other Member States are required to accept their decision.
Directive 2005/36 on Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications (MRPQ) allows for certain professional qualifications to be recognised across the EU, making it easier for professionals to exercise their freedom of movement. For certain professions (including a number of healthcare professions such as doctors, dentists, pharmacists and general care nurses) this principle has been extended to automatic recognition; for these professions, the Directive sets out the minimum training requirements (including subjects, length of training and minimum hours of education) for each profession, and a qualification from one Member State must be accepted by other Member States as meeting those requirements.
Mr Preindl first obtained a degree in dentistry from the Medical University of Innsbruck in Austria in January 2013. In August 2014 the same institution awarded him a second degree in medicine, on the basis that many of the courses taken as part of his degree in dentistry also counted towards a degree in medicine; taking two qualifications simultaneously and applying courses to both qualifications was specifically permitted in Austrian law. Shortly after each qualification Mr Preindl applied for them to be recognised by the Italian Ministry of Health. While the Ministry recognised the dentistry qualification, it refused to recognise the medicine qualification on the basis that he could not have met the minimum training requirements in the time since his dentistry qualification; Italian domestic law did not allow training to count for two separate qualifications as in Austria. After appealing to the Italian Courts the matter was referred to the CJEU.
The CJEU noted that MRPQ specifically allowed for part-time training, as long as the overall duration, level and quality were not lower than the requirements for full-time training. Furthermore, the Directive did not specifically preclude simultaneous enrolment in multiple training courses. The principles of MRPQ prevented a Member State from requiring an individual to meet further domestic requirements (i.e. that they were only enrolled on one training course at any one time) than those set out in the Directive.
The CJEU went on to find that the responsibility for ensuring that qualifications met the requirements for automatic recognition was with the home Member State (i.e. where the qualification was granted) and the receiving Member State could not question the merits of this decision as to do so would seriously jeopardise the principles of MRPQ and automatic recognition.
At present a vast number of professionals working in the UK, particularly in the health sector, are registered on the basis of EU qualifications (notwithstanding the impact of Brexit); MRPQ allows for their recognition and registration much more quickly than international applicants. This decision will benefit EU nationals looking to work throughout the EU and furthers the principle of automatic recognition. Regulators will need to consider this decision and focus on the fact that a qualification has been recognised, rather than whether it meets the criteria for recognition, even when it may go against the UK requirements for professional education.