EU to decide on colleges

BRUSSELS – A European Union directive on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications comes before the plenary session of the European Parliament on Thursday this week. It includes, as an amendment submitted by New Democracy Eurodeputy Costas Hadzidakis, the recognition of degrees awarded to graduates of branches in Greece of foreign universities. The basis of the directive is the mutual, complete and automatic recognition of European citizens’ professional qualifications, in other words their degrees and registration with professional chambers in all member states, irrespective of the member state that issued the degree or in which the chamber is based. Nevertheless, a number of amendments, including that by Hadzidakis, have been added to the original proposal, as a rule aimed at the greatest possible clarification and broadening of the fundamental move toward mutual recognition. According to the Hadzidakis’s amendment, «professional degrees issued by educational establishments through franchising, recognition or accreditation, are considered as professional degrees of the foundations that issue them,» for example, a French university affiliated with a Greek «college.» Rarely have so few words created such a great upheaval. A second amendment, also submitted by Hadzidakis and the head of the ND parliamentary group Professor A. Trakatellis, introduces certain control mechanisms for evaluating the standards of the degrees issued at these centers. However, since it is not related to the internal market, as is the directive, but to the guarantee of educational standards, its approval is considered extremely difficult. The directive with the first amendment proposed by Hadzidakis was approved last November by the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Commission and on Thursday afternoon it will be put to a parliamentary vote, in the first of a long series of steps to make it European and therefore national law. Despite the approval by the parliamentary committee, the outcome of Thursday’s vote is not necessarily a given, since the correlation of forces is still unclear and it is important to note that the committee approved it by a narrow margin (11 votes to 10). One factor that particularly complicates the issue is that most Eurodeputies are ignorant of the details and importance of an issue that basically affects only Greece, Italy and Spain, although in these two latter countries, it has not caused the upheaval it has in Greece. So even experienced observers in Strasbourg are unable to predict the outcome of the vote. At the level of political groups, the few definite indications are that the bulk of the majority, the European People’s party, to which ND belongs, will vote in favor of the amendment, as will the Liberals. The Socialists are likely to vote unanimously against it. Nevertheless, there could be surprises, in the form of leaks on both sides that could be the deciding factor. A second point to note is that even if the amendment is passed, Thursday’s vote is just the first stage in a process that takes years. Two more votes have to be held a few months apart, while the directive and its amendments also have to secure the approval (by a majority) of the governments at the Council of Ministers. If all these obstacles are not overcome, there will be an obligatory period of adjustment that usually lasts two to three years until the directive must be implemented. Any involvement of the European Court of Justice, as the Education Minister promises, will probably add another two years or more. The only certainty involves another facet of the issue. The inconceivable situation that Greece finds itself in is due to the inability of the state education system to meet the needs and goals of its citizens. If the issue does in fact go before the European Court of Justice (which might happen anyway since the European Commission is planning to take action against Greece over the non-recognition of degrees), then Athens will have to explain why it permits the operation of businesses whose only product, tertiary degrees, it considers illegal or even worse, non-existent.

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