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Belgium defies EU law over professional recognition

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The Belgian government has refused to take even preliminary steps to recognise architectural qualifications gained in the rest of the European Union, leading to a threat of legal action from the European Commission to resolve the problem.

It has sent Belgium a 'reasoned opinion', stating that, in the commission's view, it has broken European law on 'the freedom to provide services in respect of professions for which qualifications, (diplomas and experience) are required'.

Under eu rules, should Belgium fail to give a satisfactory reply within two months, the Commission could launch a case at the European Court of Justice, which has the power to force member states to adapt their policies to fit European law.

A commission report said the note 'regarded certain obstacles encountered by architects from other member states who wish to practise their profession there'. These focused on the recognition of qualifications. Under the Architects Directive, (85/384/eec, of 10 June 1985), professional training and qualification for architecture is not harmonised and its content is under the control of member states. It means that national governments can refuse to recognise an architectural qualification gained elsewhere in the eu. But - vitally - member states can only do so after conducting 'a comparative examination of the qualifications required to practise architecture on its territory and the qualifications, including diplomas and any professional experience, held by the person concerned'.

If the qualifications do not correspond, the host member state is entitled to require the person concerned to acquire the qualifications which are lacking. Reasons must be given if an application is refused and a remedy must be available before a court. The commission is threatening legal action because, it says, 'Belgium has refused automatically and on principle to apply this examination', which has led to eu architects who are not Belgian nationals having difficulties establishing themselves professionally.

Keith Nuthall

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