The Professional Qualifications Directive provides rules on recognising the qualifications of professionals who are fully qualified in one EU Member State 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 Member States. A professional might be 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 can hinder the free movement of services and people.
- In 2017-2019, 90 456 decisions were taken to recognise qualifications in the EU (following the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, this edition includes no data for the UK, hence no comparisons with the previous reporting periods are possible). Recognition rates vary widely between EU Member States.
- In 30 063 cases, qualifications were recognised without compensatory measures (e.g. a test or traineeship).
- The system of mutual recognition of professional qualifications does facilitate free movement in the Single Market. It would, however, benefit from further improvements in national regulatory environments and administrative procedures.
Performance is assessed in terms of recognition rates across EU Member States.
These statistics refer to decisions taken by host country authorities on professionals who, having qualified in another EU Member State, apply for their qualifications to be recognised in the host Member State so they can practise there long-term.
| Recognition||> 98.63%||89.62% – 98.63%||< 89.62%|
| Recognition without compensatory measures||> 49.99%||29.06% – 49.99%||< 29.06%|
Source: Regulated professions database (data validated up to 12 April 2021), based on statistics recorded by national authorities. Note: no data was available for Greece and Latvia for 2017-2019.
Each EU Member State’s performance is scored on the two indicators as follows:
- green = Member States significantly above the EU average (higher than the average +½ standard deviation)
- yellow = Member States close to the EU average (within the average ±½ standard deviation band)
- red = Member States significantly below the EU average (lower than the average −½ standard deviation).
The average recognition rate in the EU (indicator 1) is 94.1%, with a standard deviation of 9%. The average recognition rate without compensatory measures (indicator 2) is 39.5%, with a standard deviation of 20.9% (i.e. 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).
Indicator : Positive recognition decisions
This indicator shows positive recognition decisions as a percentage of total decisions in each host country.
In 2017-2019, of the 127 808 cases recorded in the regulated professions database:
- 81 % (103 567) were concluded by a decision – either recognition (90 456) or non-recognition (13 111),
- the remaining 19% (24 241 cases) were either unsettled (no decision taken), under examination or subject to appeals.
- Recognition – 94.1%
- Non-recognition – 5.9%
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 131 decisions), Germany (99.97% of 11 356 decisions), Slovakia (99.72% of 1 088 decisions), Czechia (99.64% of 1 938 decisions) and Hungary (99.59% of 1 234 decisions).
Lowest recognition rates: the Netherlands (65.60% of 7 610 decisions), Italy (67.49% of 22 021 decisions) and Spain (85.98% of 1 512 decisions) – see Indicator .
Indicator : 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.
- EU average: 39.5%;
- Wide dispersion.
Highest recognition rates without compensatory measures: Spain (79.4% of 1 512 decisions), Portugal (74.4% of 665 decisions) and Finland (72.2% of 741 decisions).
Lowest recognition rates without compensatory measures: Italy (5.4% of 22 021 decisions), Ireland (16.6% of 5 163 decisions) and Belgium (19.5% of 11 412 decisions) – see Indicator .
- Ensure that Member States and their authorities transpose and implement the Professional Qualifications Directive and its recent amendments in full.
- Ensure that Member States and their authorities transpose and enforce the Proportionality Test Directive in full. Implementation is supported by a new online form in the Regulated Professions Database and later on via the Internal Market Information System.
- Follow up on implementation by national authorities of the recently updated Commission’s reform recommendations for professional services.
Facts and figures
Total number of decisions by host country (2017-2019)
Variations in number of decisions reported
Numbers differ from country to country for several reasons:
- the country’s size – the bigger it is, the more decisions are (usually) taken;
- some Member States attract more professionals than others and therefore receive proportionally more requests than those of the same size or larger;
- not all EU Member States report their statistics on recognition decisions in the same detail or as often – this can distort the true picture.
Positive recognition decisions in 2017-2019
90 456 decisions were taken to recognise qualifications. The highest numbers recorded were:
- Nurses: 13 716;
- Doctors: 13 237;
- Secondary school teachers: 5 102.
By Member State (2017-2019):
- Italy, with 14 090 professionals hosted, including 7 146 ski instructors and 1 410 dental practitioners.
- Germany, with 11 167 professionals hosted, including 4 281 nurses and 2 076 doctors of medicine.
- Belgium, with 10 800 professionals hosted, including 1 947 doctors of medicine and 1 400 nurses.
Main country-to-country flows in a range of professions
This part of the analysis focuses on three professions that recorded the highest numbers of decisions to recognise qualifications in recent years: nurses, doctors and secondary school teachers.
In 2017-2019, the host Member States that recorded the most arrivals in these three professions were Germany (around 6 600), Belgium (4 100) and Austria (3 300).
The Member States with the largest number of professionals leaving to work in another EU country were Romania (over 5 800), Germany (3 200) and Greece (2 500).
- The EUsystematically applies rules for mutual recognition of professional qualifications among its Member States.
- Directive 2005/36/EC on the Recognition of Professional Qualifications, the cornerstone of the EU mechanism for mutual recognition, was amended in 2013 by Directive 2013/55/EU. The 2013 Directive has simplified recognition processes through digitalisation. It introduced the European professional card (EPC), the first electronic recognition procedure harmonised at EU level, which helps people get their professional qualifications recognised more quickly and easily. The card is supported by the Internal Market Information system (IMI) and by the EU budget. It became available in January 2016 for general care nurses, physiotherapists, pharmacists, real estate agents and mountain guides.
- The revised Directive also introduced an alert mechanism in specific sectors (health and education of minors). This flags up individuals who were barred from practising their profession or who have used fake qualifications.
- Directive (EU) 2018/958 on a proportionality test before adoption of new regulation of professions was adopted in June 2018. It states that before new professional requirements are introduced or existing ones amended, Member States should assess the impact of these measures against clear criteria and should ensure they are proportionate and suitable for achieving legitimate policy objectives. Member States were required to implement the Directive by 30 July 2020.
- In July 2021, the Commission published the updated recommendations on reform needs in regulation of professions for each EU Member State. These indicate possible ways to reform specific professional regulations based on a qualitative and quantitative assessment of national regulation.
- To support such regulatory assessments, the Commission has updated the composite restrictiveness indicator for comparative analysis of regulatory barriers in EU Member States. It measures how restrictive national regulation is in seven key professions and enables benchmarking of regulatory differences across Member States for each of these professions.
More information on the legislation
The Professional Qualifications Directive specifies two systems of professional recognition.
Professionals wishing to work in another EU Member State 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.
This system, which does not allow for compensatory measures, covers a limited number of professions:
- health professions (doctors, nurses, dentist, pharmacists, veterinary surgeons);
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 2017-2019. Following the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, this edition includes no data for the UK, hence no comparisons with the previous reporting periods are possible. 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, no data was available for Greece and Latvia for 2017-2019. Using the three-year reporting period, the Commission can – to some extent – even out the data gaps arising from delays in providing statistics.