Traveling to other EU member states has never been easier for the union’s citizens, but those who want to earn a living away from home still face a bureaucratic nightmare -- a situation the bloc wants to change.
But will their degrees be useful when they want to leave the country?
In theory, Germans, just like all other European Union members, are allowed to work in all member states of the bloc. But in practice it's not quite so easy. Individual states can still make it difficult, or even impossible, for foreigners to practice their chosen profession, a situation the bloc has been trying to change for decades.
The adoption of a report on Wednesday by the European Parliament could do away with a mishmash of 15 different EU directives and replace it with a single one that makes professional qualifications issued in one member state valid across all the union’s 25 nations in 2007 if the EU Commission accepts it as expected.
A European passport is no guarantee skills will be recognized recognition across the union
Making it easier to work abroad
"We have such different systems of qualification in the member states, it's not easy to find a way for mutual recognition," said Heide Rühle, who is responsible for internal market issues for the European Green party. "Under the proposed system it's easier to move to another member state and to look for a new job."
As unemployment in Germany stays near the top of the European table at 9.8 percent, German job seekers are often well-advised to broaden their search to include nations like Ireland and Austria, where unemployment is 5.5 percent and 5.2 percent less.
The proposed guidelines would apply to over 150 professions, including French teachers -- 80 percent of whom were denied the right to stand at the front of a German classroom between 2001 and 2002 -- and German professors -- 65 percent of whom failed in their attempts to have their professions recognized in the Netherlands, according to EU internal market statistics.
Professional mobility ID cards
Workers will be divided according to their skill level
The new regulations would discern between five different types of credentials for all professions. Qualifications would be divided by jobs that require no training; professions that require a technical education and secondary school diploma; and the final levels would differentiate between three-year and four-year post-secondary training programs.
Rühle also suggested a set of professional cards with information regarding workers' career training and experience as well as any penalties imposed on them by professional organizations as a way of aiding worker mobility and bringing more transparency to the international job search.
"This professional card should make it possible to monitor the career of professionals who establish themselves in various member states," she said.
Keeping the public safe
Trade unions and economic groups are also interested in workers who can work throughout the EU and support the universal qualification acceptance. But they would prefer to see certain restrictions put in place to protect not only local job markets but also public safety.
Nurses and other health professionals will have to show a minimum set of skills before being able to work abroad
"Restrictions should cover mainly regulated professions where there is public safety at stake," said Petri Lempinen, of the European Trade Union Confederation. "It is also important that incoming workers have same working conditions as local workers."
Other concerns come from German groups such as the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce and Confederation of German Employers' Associations. They fear that German qualifications will lose in stature if put on par with other European qualifications.
Certain professions, especially in the health care industry, will also carry minimum education requirements and all professionals planning to work outside their native state for more than two years would have to register with established authorities as a way of protecting patients and customers.
A qualification's native language
German craftsmen, for example, need to undergo more training and a longer apprenticeship before they're able to call themselves "bricklayers," a title available to anyone in Britain with two years of experience.
To be sure the public knows exactly what it's getting for its money as workers move from one country to another, professionals have to use the title of their qualification in their native language, meaning a German bricklayer would go by Maurer even when working outside Germany.
Bricklayer? That's Maurer to you!
"It is true that competition is going to increase," said Joachim Wuermeling, a German Christian Social Union member of European Parliament. "But German quality will become accepted and 150 German professions, from electrician to veterinarian to land surveyor."
Not included in the proposed guidelines are notaries, judges and other public servants, according to Barbara Weiler, a German member of the European Parliament's Socialist Group.
Answer to local authorities
Even though their native qualifications are recognized, the new directive requires foreign workers to abide by the host country's laws. They will also be held legally responsible in their adopted country -- earlier attempts to open the service sector by applying the laws of a person’s native country failed.
"The proposed guidelines for the recognition of professional qualifications strike a good balance between permitting freedom of movement and consumer protection," Rühle said.