Some experts estimate that around 50 million people (approximately 22% of the EU workforce) need some form of prior authorisation to enter and exercise their profession.

Within the EU, decisions on whether and how a profession is regulated are up to the member states. This is why there are differences between countries in the number of jobs regulated. What causes this panorama? Well, qualified professionals in a country like Spain may have serious difficulties accessing their profession and practising it in another member state.

Since, in a way, these administrative gaps are detrimental to the freedom of movement of workers and the provision of services within the EU (one of the fundamental precepts of economic union), European directives have been created with the aim of reducing these barriers.

For example, the Professional Qualifications Directive (PQD), Directive 2005/36/EC, was adopted in 2005 and subsequently revised in 2013 under the title Directive 2013/55/EU.

These Directives recognise three different systems of professional recognition in the EU:

  • Automatic recognition system (for professions with minimum training requirements such as nurses, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, architects);
  • System of general recognition (for other regulated professions, such as teachers, translators and estate agents);
  • Recognition system based on professional experience (for certain professional activities such as carpenters, upholsterers, beauticians).

Recent study

The European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs commissioned, in 2019, the study "Labour mobility and recognition in the regulated professions". This project examined both the functioning of the system for the recognition of professional qualifications in the EU and the effects of the PQD and related initiatives on labour mobility in the Union.

The study, based on extensive documentary research supplemented by interviews with stakeholders, sought to:

  • To provide an overview of how and why Member States regulate the different professions;
  • Review the literature on the economic impact of regulation;
  • Describe the main changes to the PQD in 2013 and examine whether these changes have helped to improve and simplify recognition procedures;
  • In the health sector, examine trends in recognition of qualifications and labour mobility and analyse the extent to which the recognition system supports or hinders labour mobility.

Key findings

Some of the most important findings of the study and worth noting were:

  • The complexity and fragmentation of the process are the main stumbling blocks of the recognition process itself: from the time it takes and the cost, to the fact that recognition procedures cannot always be completed online.
  • The main barriers, in the case of professionals, are the language requirements of the host state and the total time needed to enter the labour market (preparation of the application, fulfilment of additional requirements, language exams, etc).
  • The reasons behind differences in labour regulations are not always transparent or objectively justified.
  • In professions where minimum training requirements are harmonised at EU level, the automatic recognition procedure works well.
  • The overall system of recognition can be slow, mainly due to differences in education and training requirements and difficulties in cooperation between competent authorities across the EU.
  • The European Professional Card (EPC) has not been widely used, but has benefited a profession for which it is available: mountain guides.
  • The Internal Market Information system (IMI), used for the exchange of information between Member States' competent authorities, the issuing of EPCs and the issuing of alerts, has proved to be an effective tool
  • The Single Points of Contact have improved the information available to professionals applying for recognition, but the lack of easily accessible information remains a problem.
  • The high proportion of positive decisions on professional recognition (around 85% or more, from 2011) tells us that professional recognition should not be a major obstacle to mobility. However, rates of successful applications for recognition vary considerably between professions and countries of origin.
  • The report, in carrying out a country-by-country analysis, identifies some cases of good practice: Germany - where a general legal right of professional recognition has been introduced and where comprehensive and easy information on recognition procedures is available — or the Netherlands — which has very good guidance and information for applicants and has developed a general framework for assessing the justification and proportionality of professional regulations.


The 2019 study has also left some recommendations for the future:

  • The need to make national procedures for professional recognition more transparent and to improve guidance for professionals in all these procedures.
  • The obligation to improve the accuracy and completeness of information regarding regulatory requirements, according to the EU Database on Regulated Professions.
  • Raise awareness of existing EU instruments (such as EPC) to promote and encourage professionals to use them.
  • Promoting the IMI system to make the recognition of certain professional qualifications truly effective.
  • Update Annex V of the PDQ more regularly to ensure that professionals with newly introduced qualifications can also benefit from the automatic recognition system.
  • Improve the statistical data in the EU database on regulated professions to allow the assessment of trends in the recognition of qualifications and the use of different recognition regimes.


Legalisation is an administrative act that grants validity to a foreign public document, since it verifies the authenticity of the signature placed on the document; as well as the quality in which the authority signing the document has acted. For more information, please consult our Basic Guide to Legalisation in Spain.

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