Open letter to Barroso: Is the Commission shying away from its responsibilities on diploma recognition?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The European Commission is shying away from its responsibilities regarding the mutual recognition of university diplomas between EU member states, writes Prof. Dr. Vesselin Blagoev, vice-rector of International University College in Sofia, Bulgaria, in an open letter to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. 

The following letter was authored by Vesselin Blagoev.

"Dear Mr. President,

Recently I had a meeting with Mr. Ivailo Kalfin, member of the European Parliament, during which he briefed me on the meeting he had with the European Commissioner for Education on the recognition of foreign degrees for higher education in Bulgaria.

The holders of university degrees (non-regulated professions) from universities in the EU are discriminated against in Bulgaria when they apply for jobs in the state and local administrations and when they apply for further education at Bulgarian universities, because they are requested to get legalisation of their diplomas from the Ministry of Education of Bulgaria.

That process takes at least six months, and as I know from our alumni with diplomas from University of Portsmouth in the UK, very often ends in rejection. Mr. Kalfin spoke on this issue at the European Parliament and his meeting with the Commissioner on Education was a follow-up to his speech before the Parliament.

Mr. Kalfin has been informed by the Commissioner for Education that recognition of university degrees is an internal affair and the responsibility of EU member states, and there are no EU regulations in that area. He was told that EU Directive 89/48 is about professional qualifications only and is not relevant in the case of university degrees. 

According to the Commissioner on Education, the Court of European Communities Judgment on Case 274/05 ‘The Commission v. Greece’ is not relevant for the recognition of the university degrees either.

Personally, I find these statements from the EU Commissioner for Education strange, because the Court of the European Communities’ Judgement on Case 274/05 states: ‘… a general system for the recognition of higher education diplomas awarded on completion of professional education and training of at least three years' duration, as amended by Directive 2001/19/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 May 2001; …[and Greece] has failed to fulfil its obligations under Articles 1, 3, 4, 8 and 10 of Directive 89/48 as amended by Directive 2001/19.’

I would think that the commissioner simply does not know her area of responsibility, but the Official Spokesperson Mr. Dennis Abbott is quoted on EURACTIV as stating that "the Commission is not responsible for the recognition of diplomas, which is a matter for the member states, although it considers that the procedure should be speedy and fair".

I understand this statement as indicating that recognition of university degrees is not a matter of interest to the European Commission and that it will do nothing to stop discrimination against people with diplomas from universities across the EU.

I do not think that the Official Journal of the European Union, C 313/2, 6.12.2008 provides wrong information and this means that the EU Commissioner for Education does not consider the EU regulations (Directive 89/48 as amended by Directive 2001/19) as part of the EU framework of regulations and the Court of European Communities’ Judgement on Case 274/05 as a mandatory interpretation of the quoted directive.

This is a strange manifestation of negligence of the rule of law, for which the EU Commission should be expected to be a role model.  

However, there is something much more serious, because it raises a major political issue.

In my view it is imperative that a high representative of the Commission, as the executive body of the European Union, should never mislead a representative of the European Parliament on any issue, which has been raised officially in the Parliament. The EU Commissioner intentionally misled Mr. I. Kalfin in his official function as an MEP on an issue raised officially in the European Parliament, and the spokesperson misled the media and the general public.

I find this a very serious political problem. I do not think that such behavior of the commissioner should be tolerated. I think that it is a very serious violation of the acquis communautaire and of the rule of law, and it has to be countered with all political means by the European Parliament and by the media.

The history of Europe has shown what could happen when high representatives of the executive power forget about the rule of law and the fundamental principles of democracy.

With all my personal respect to you, Mr. President, I intend to make this problem known to the chairpersons of the political groups in the European Parliament and to the media.

When the European Commission does not show respect for the rule of law and for the acquis communautaire we, the citizens, must ask for the support of the political system, the media and public opinion.

With very kind personal regards and wishes,

Prof. Dr. Vesselin Blagoev


International University College

Sofia, Bulgaria."

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