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Draft EU rules aimed at improving the functioning of the single market in the services sector and the mobility of professionals were approved by MEPs on Monday.

In its Services Package, the EU Commission proposed to streamline and clarify how member states should undertake a “proportionality test” before adopting or amending national rules on professional services.


There are over 5,500 regulated professions across the EU, with significant variations between member states, representing 22% of the labour force in all sectors of activities, such as health and social services, business services, construction, network services, transport, tourism, real estate, public services and education.


The changes introduced by Internal Market MEPs to the Commission proposal aim to strike a balance between the freedom of movement and consumer choice and the need to regulate professions in a non-discriminatory and proportionate way.


The specificity of healthcare professions, the obligation for member states to carry out public consultations in order to involve all parties concerned and give them the opportunity to make known their views, as well as cross-border provision of services, are among the issues addressed in the committee amendments, approved by 33 votes in favour and three against.


Regarding the regulation of professions providing healthcare services, “member states shall be granted a margin of discretion that is sufficient to ensure a high level of human health protection”, says the text.


The Internal Market Committee rapporteur, Andreas Schwab (EPP, DE), underlined “the good compromise found that will protect the health sector in the interest of EU citizens without harming the internal market at the same time”.


In order to ensure that citizens and businesses will fully benefit from adequate and proportionate rules, MEPs included a new provision requiring member states to ensure that judicial review is available in national law in respect of the legislative, regulatory or administrative provisions restricting access to or pursuit of regulated professions falling within the scope of this directive.


Improved notification procedure


The other legislative proposal voted in the committee aims at improving the current notification procedure of the Services Directive, to make the process more timely, effective and transparent.  


MEPs’ amendments, approved by 30 votes to seven, clarify the notification obligation, the consultation process on the notified measures, and the Commission's powers with regard to member states.


The rapporteur, Sergio Gutiérrez Prieto (S&D, ES), highlighted the need to secure member states’ legislating powers, especially procedures of their national parliaments, and proposed changes in this regard. An alert by the Commission “shall not prevent the member state from adopting the corresponding legislation, regulation or administrative act after the three months period has passed”, MEPs say.


The Council of the EU agreed its positions on these proposals in May 2017. The talks between Parliament and Council negotiators (trilogues) can start once the plenary gives its green light.


Reforms in professional services


The non-legislative report on the need for reform in professional services, drawn up by Nicola Danti (S&D, IT), focusses on the need to ensure transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate rules on access to professions, to guarantee high-quality professional services, as well as on the impact of scientific progress, innovation and digitalisation in this area. It was approved by 32 votes to two, with two abstentions.


Quick facts


Regulated professions are present in all economic sectors, with the following being most relevant (the percentage indicates the relation to all regulated professions):


  • health and social service: 40%
  • business services (including lawyers, accountants and architects): 15%
  • transport (such as taxi drivers): 9.6%
  • public service and education: 9.1%
  • construction (including civil engineers and craft professions): 6.6%

Several professional activities are already regulated at EU level (doctors, nurses, architects, pharmacists, auditors, insurance brokers etc.).


In the absence of harmonised requirements at EU level, the regulation of professional services remains a prerogative of the member states. It is up to each one of them to decide whether there is a need to intervene and impose rules and restrictions for the access to or pursuit of a profession, so long as the principles of non-discrimination and proportionality are respected.


According to the Commission, the current uneven scrutiny of the regulation of professions across the EU has a negative impact on the provision of services and the mobility of professionals.