ECONOMY

Uniform licensing of services

EU member states have been given three years to simplify licensing procedures for a wide range of professional services in order to allow the free movement of professionals within the EU and encourage inward investment. To this end, a Ministry of Interior circular to all ministries involved in such licensing, as well as to the newly constituted procedure simplification and legislative coordination directorates within ministries, calls for a radical redesign of procedures for licensing the provision of services. Such procedures must be simplified and sped up, with only a minimum of certificates required. State agencies must also communicate with each other online, in order to save paperwork. Calls for the simplification of such procedures are nothing new; only this time, the European Union has set binding deadlines for them to take place. The decisions stem from the European Council at Lisbon in March 2000, which adopted a program of economic and structural reforms designed to turn the European Union into the world’s most competitive, forward-looking economy by 2010. There is wide agreement that the so-called Lisbon Agenda will not be implemented within the adopted time frame. This, however, has not deterred the European Commission from pushing ahead with directives for implementing parts of the agenda. While economic policies are still largely the preserve of individual member states, most of whom have been reluctant to reform their economies, the Commission thinks it can impose at least a degree of conformity on administrative procedures and encourage the freedom of movement of professionals and qualified employees within the Union. In January 2004, the Commission proposed a directive aimed at a common legal framework for regulating most services. The directive obliges member states to simplify licensing procedures for services. The latter are defined as «any kind of non-salaried economic activity consisting of the provision of labor in exchange of financial remuneration.» The services regulated by the directive include management, certification, office maintenance and security consultancies; advertising; employment agencies; commercial agents; legal and tax consultants; services related to the property sector, such as real estate brokers, construction firms and architects; trade fair and conference organizing; vehicle rentals; insurance; tourism industry services, including guides; audiovisual services; sports clubs and other leisure facilities; entertainment; and health services, including home care. Exempt from the directive’s scope are financial services, electronic communications and transport. The directive must be implemented by the end of 2007. The licenses awarded to the providers of services must be indefinite, with only a few exceptions, where automatic renewal is provided for.