Architect’s professional qualifications within Europe

The Dutch Architects’ Register regularly receives questions concerning the automatic recognition of professional qualifications within Europe. Time for an explanation of the current state of affairs.

Castle Street, Hull / foto Ian S

At the most recent meeting of the European Network of Architects’ Competent Authorities (ENACA), an important subject of debate were the so-called ‘mixed qualifications’. In the Netherlands and most other European countries, the professional qualifications of architects comprise a Bachelor, a Master, a professionally accredited traineeship and/or an entry examination. Under certain conditions, relevant work experience can also serve as a qualification. In general, particular combinations of these qualifications are required for registration as an architect in a register.[1] The term ‘mixed qualifications’, in this case, is meant to indicate that a candidate completed for instance a Bachelor in country A, a Master in country B and a professional traineeship in country C. Due to students’ increasing mobility, this situation is increasingly more common, but it sometimes leads to problems, not only when registering in the home member state, but also when registering elsewhere in Europe on the basis of automatic recognition.[2] In this article, I will describe the current state of affairs and give some considerations for students who are currently making plans concerning their professional traineeship.

First of all, it’s important to point out that this article only deals with architects; not with urban planners, landscape architects or interior architects. For those latter three professions, no automatic recognition of professional qualifications exists within Europe at this moment.[3] When members of these occupational groups register outside their country of origin, their application falls under the general system. A complete explanation of this procedure is beyond the scope of this article, but under the general system, compensation measures may be imposed in some cases.[4]

However, as said, automatic recognition of professional qualifications for architects does exist on a European level. Just like the general system, this mechanism is described in Directive 2005/36/EC.[5] This directive provides the recognition of a whole range of professions, also including doctors, pharmacists and nurses, for instance. Among other things, Annex V of the directive includes a long list with all recognised architecture schools in the EU, and a list of all other required certificates, including the Dutch professional traineeship. Since the Bologna declaration of 1999, the interchangeability of Bachelor and Master degrees is well-established within Europe. However, the content and duration of the professional traineeships greatly differs between member states. Belgium and the Netherlands, for instance, both have a two-year professional traineeship (locally called ‘stage’ and ‘beroepservaringsperiode’, respectively). Portugal has a one-year professional traineeship; Austria has three. Instead of a professional traineeship, Italy has a state exam that can be taken when the candidate is ready for it. This exam only tests design capabilities and no practical knowledge of the architectural practice. There are also member states without any form of professional traineeship, such as Spain.

Now, in order to establish a smooth mutual recognition of architects’ professional qualifications, in spite of all these differences, the EU member states have agreed to recognise each other’s qualifications without taking into consideration the content and duration of the university courses and professional traineeships, provided they have already been through a process of approval that has determined that they meet the minimum training conditions of the directive for architects. I will describe the procedure in the following paragraph, but it is important to remember that the history of the recognition of professional qualifications goes back further than 2005. As written in the preamble, the directive is an aggregation of a large amount of earlier directives concerning professional qualifications.[6] Some of those earlier directives date from the 1970s, when the EU was still the EEC. The mobility of EU-citizens between member states was then much less frequent than it is today.

The procedure for automatic recognition is as follows. Based on Annex V of the directive, the architects’ register (for instance the Dutch one, but the procedure is the same for all European registers) checks if the candidate has the correct diploma, awarded by a recognised school (i.e. a school listed in the Annex), combined with the accompanying certificate of professional competence, if required in the home member state. This means that the registration request isn’t reviewed based on the single fact of registration in the home member state, but on the individual diplomas and certificates that led to the first registration. Moreover, those diplomas and certificates have to be awarded in one and the same country. If a significant amount of the overall training has been completed outside of the EU (for instance the Bachelor), automatic recognition may be not be possible as the education and training must be undertaken mainly in the European Union.[7] These are the conditions for automatic recognition.

Therefore, university courses and professional traineeship are inseparable and, for the purpose of automatic recognition, can’t originate from different countries. This way, the arrangement addresses the various educational traditions within the EU member states and honours the national laws regarding professional qualifications in those states. Only the combination of professional qualifications that can lead to registration in the home member state can be the basis for automatic recognition elsewhere in the EU.

This registration procedure also explains why the directive sometimes causes problems in the case of mixed qualifications; the system of automatic recognition is based on the idea that EU citizens first complete their qualifications in a member state and only then start crossing borders. Now that the mobility of EU citizens has considerably improved, candidates increasingly complete their professional traineeship in a different country from where they studied. In these cases, the (longer and often more expensive) general system is applicable, which also applies to urban planners, landscape architects and interior architects. As said before, under this procedure, the register may impose compensation measures under certain conditions. Even if the register in the home member state has or takes the freedom of policy to register people with mixed qualifications without any compensation measures, these people may encounter problems later on in their careers, when they apply for registration in another EU member state based on automatic recognition.

The increasing mobility of EU citizens therefore has undesirable consequences: the amount of automatic recognitions decreases and the amount of procedures under the general system increases. This goes against the important EU principle of free movement of people and services and that’s why mixed qualifications are a subject of debate within ENACA.

The most obvious solution to this bureaucratic problem would be to consider the various components of professional qualification as individual achievements, irrespective of the countries where they were acquired. It’s questionable if such a solution would be politically feasible within the EU. Apart from the previously mentioned principle argument of the intrinsic unity of those components, there are two large objections. First of all, a solution along these lines would open up the possibility of ‘cherry picking’, where candidates would acquire each of the components in the country that has the lightest requirements in regards to the specific component. Second, this solution would give EU member states less sway over the requirements for registration in their national register, and they would therefore have to transfer autonomy over their national policy. As we know from other discussions in the European Parliament, the transfer of national autonomy is currently a very sensitive subject. Great Britain, that is still an EU member as I write, and has one of the most elaborate requirements for registration of all EU member states, has indicated that it is opposed to a solution along these lines, and so have other member states. Therefore, the ENACA is now studying on other solutions for this problem.

Besides, it’s important to note that not just the entry requirements, but also the rights that can be derived from registration differ between EU member states. Grosso modo, a distinction can be made between regulation of the use of title and regulation of the profession as a whole. In the case of regulation of the profession as a whole, requests for building permits can only be submitted by architects (or other engineers). In the case of regulation of the use of title, any natural person or legal entity can submit a request for a building permit; only the use of the title itself is regulated. Most EU member states have (a form of) professional regulation. The Netherlands only has title regulation, along with for instance Great Britain. There are also countries without regulation of title or profession for architects.[8] The question if registration in a particular member state is useful, therefore depends on both the candidate’s professional plans and the national laws in that country.

In conclusion, I would like to give some considerations for students who are currently making plans concerning their professional traineeship. In view of a smooth recognition of professional qualifications, in many cases it’s wise to complete the professional traineeship in the same country where the Master or five-year Bachelor was completed, as long as the automatic recognition procedure in the directive doesn’t allow for mixed qualifications. Belgium, the Netherlands and Great Britain offer the opportunity to complete the professional traineeship abroad (under Belgian, Dutch or British supervision, respectively), which could be a solution in some cases.[9] In the current situation, the completion of a professional traineeship in a different country from where the Master’s degree was acquired, can not only lead to longer procedures and higher costs when registering in the home member state, but also to less legal certainty when the architect requests registration in another EU member state later on in the career, based on automatic recognition. In an ideal world, the automatic recognition of professional qualifications would be more flexible, but that’s the way it is.[10] Considering the political limitations of the EU, the automatic recognition in its current form is already an accomplishment that should be treasured. In any case, when in doubt, it makes sense to discuss any international plans with the register that the candidate first hopes to register at.

source Wikimedia Commons

[1] In most European countries, a Master’s degree is required for registration as an architect. However, there are countries (such as Ireland) that offer five-year Bachelors that give access to their register. A few European countries (among which Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway) have no architects’ register. In these countries, the title and profession of architects are unregulated. They have other means to ensure building quality and consumer protection, most notably obligatory professional insurance and strict building codes.
[2] Both in Directive 2005/36/EC and in this article, the phrase ‘home member state’ does not refer to the candidate’s country of birth, but to the member state where the candidate first acquired a set of qualifications that grants access to that country’s national register.
[3] In some of the mentioned professional groups, studies into automatic recognition are being conducted.
[4] The European Commission’s user guide provides a practical overview. It can be found online and it’s titled: User Guide Directive 2005/36/EC: Everything you need to know about the recognition of professional qualifications, 66 questions, 66 answers.
[5] This directive is relevant to the European Economic Area (EEA), which comprises the EU member states as well as Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland. Apart from that, the EU has made the same arrangements with Switzerland in a bilateral agreement. In this article, the phrase ‘EU-member states’ refers to EU member states plus the aforementioned four individual countries.
[6] See the preambule of Directive 2005/36/EC, consideration (9).
[7] See article 3.1(c) of Directive 2005/36/EC.
[8] See footnote 1. For more information, see: John L. Heintz, Quality by Title: A report on quality measures in professional registration bodies, TU Delft, 2018
[9] Other registers of EU member states may offer this possibility too.
[10] Occasionally, the interpretation of Directive 2005/36/EC is subject to legal challenge in a law court. Relevant cases relating to architects were the 2009 Cavallera case and the 2015 Angerer case, both at the European Court of Justice. Also interesting was the 2016 ruling of an Austrian Administrative Court in a case concerning a Luxemburg national. See the links at the end of this article.