This article offers a comprehensive case summary of Vlassopoulou v Ministerium für Justiz, Bundes- und Europaangelegenheiten Baden-Württemberg (1991), a seminal case for law students studying the mutual recognition of professional qualifications across the EU.

Legal Principles and Points in Case 340/89 Vlassopoulou [1991]

  • In Case 340/89 Vlassopoulou [1991], the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) stated that Member States are under a requirement to compare foreign diplomas to national diplomas for the purpose of application assessment for the admission of a lawyer.
  • If, in comparison, the diplomas are similar in terms of knowledge and the certifications offered, they must be recognised as legitimate by the Member State.

Facts of the Case

  • The applicant was working in the legal industry in Germany as an advisor. He was qualified as a lawyer in Greece, and he held a doctorate for law in Germany.
  • The applicant wished to become a lawyer in Germany, however Germany refused on the basis that she did not study law at a German university and she had not completed the necessary training period.
  • The applicant sought to appeal this decision, on the basis that it had been made in contravention of Article 49 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).


  • The issue for the CJEU to determine in this case was whether the decision of the German authority to refuse her admission as a lawyer in Germany was in contravention of Community law, specifically Article 49 TFEU on the freedom of establishment.

The CJEU Held That

  • National authorities have an obligation under Article 49 TFEU to assess whether the knowledge and qualifications held by the applicant correspond with the national requirements that nationals must meet to enter the profession. Following such an assessment, if they do correspond, then the national authority must regard the applicant’s qualifications as equivalent to those required domestically.
  • If there is a particular correlation between the applicant’s qualifications and the domestic requirements, then the national authority can request that the applicant demonstrate that they have the knowledge and qualifications which they do not have on their certifications.

The CJEU Specifically Stated

  • [19] “If that comparative examination of diplomas results in the finding that the knowledge and qualifications certified by the foreign diploma correspond to those required by the national provisions, the Member State must recognise that diploma as fulfilling the requirements laid down by its national provisions. If, on the other hand, the comparison reveals that the knowledge and qualifications certified by the foreign diploma and those required by the national provisions correspond only partially, the host Member State is entitled to require the person concerned to show that he has acquired the knowledge and qualifications which are lacking.”
  • [20] “In this regard, the competent national authorities must assess whether the knowledge acquired in the host Member State, either during a course of study or by way of practical experience, is sufficient in order to prove possession of the knowledge which is lacking.”
  • [23] “Consequently, the answer to the question submitted by the Bundesgerichtshof must be that Article 52 of the EEC Treaty must be interpreted as requiring the national authorities of a Member State to which an application for admission to the profession of lawyer is made by a Community subject who is already admitted to practise as a lawyer in his country of origin and who practises as a legal adviser in the first-mentioned Member State to examine to what extent the knowledge and qualifications attested by the diploma obtained by the person concerned in his country of origin correspond to those required by the rules of the host State; if those diplomas correspond only partially, the national authorities in question are entitled to require the person concerned to prove that he has acquired the knowledge and qualifications which are lacking.”

Significance of Vlassopoulou (1991) on the Development of the Law

Facilitating the Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications: The decision in Vlassopoulou v Ministerium für Justiz significantly advanced the mutual recognition of professional qualifications within the EU, setting a precedent that qualifications from one member state should be adequately recognized across others, with a focus on the equivalence of qualifications and experience.

  • Tawanda Tawengwa v Minister van Immigratie en Asiel (2020) from the attached file illustrates the continued application of Vlassopoulou principles in evaluating the equivalence of qualifications for professionals from third countries.
  • General Medical Council v B (2006) showed the UK courts applying Vlassopoulou’s principles to assess the medical qualifications of a doctor from another EU state, emphasizing practical experience when formal qualifications did not directly match.
  • Michel Leclercq v Bundesanstalt für Arbeit (1997) enforced the idea that member states must consider professional experience equivalent to formal qualifications when such equivalency facilitates the freedom of movement and establishment.

Enhancing the Right to Free Movement and Establishment: Vlassopoulou underlined the importance of the freedom of movement for professionals within the EU, impacting subsequent jurisprudence and legislation that sought to ease the mobility of workers by recognizing professional qualifications and experience.

  • Angonese v Cassa di Risparmio di Bolzano SpA (2000) built on this case to reinforce that any discrimination based on nationality regarding employment conditions violates EU law.
  • Kommission v Deutschland (2007), where Germany was found to have failed to properly implement EU directives on the recognition of professional qualifications, reiterating the importance of such recognition for free movement as underscored in Vlassopoulou.
  • Directive 2013/55/EU, amending Directive 2005/36/EC on the recognition of professional qualifications, reflects the evolving EU legislation influenced by the principles laid down in Vlassopoulou, aiming at greater facilitation of professional mobility across the EU.

Setting a Benchmark for Equivalence Assessments: The case set a benchmark for how equivalence assessments should be carried out, emphasizing a more flexible, comprehensive evaluation of professional qualifications and experience.

  • Haim v Kassenzahnärztliche Vereinigung Nordrhein (2000) further elaborated the requirement for member states to assess foreign qualifications not just on paper but in light of practical experience and the actual content of courses studied.
  • Pereira Roque v Liechtenstein (2010) from the attached file, utilized the Vlassopoulou framework to debate the rights of citizens with qualifications from other states, emphasizing the need for transparency in the recognition process.
  • Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive (2005/36/EC), and its subsequent amendments, codified the principles from Vlassopoulou into EU law, mandating member states to justify any refusal to recognize professional qualifications and providing a clear route for appeal.

Exam Questions and Answers

Below you will find answers to questions that are most commonly asked based on this case.

What specific criteria did the court use to determine the equivalence of Vlassopoulou’s qualifications?

The Court in Vlassopoulou v Ministerium für Justiz focused on assessing the substantive content of the qualifications obtained by the applicant, examining whether her training covered subjects comparable in duration and content to those required under German regulations for similar professions. The evaluation emphasized not only formal qualifications but also relevant professional experience, which should be considered equivalent to formal training under certain conditions. This approach aligns with the broader EU objective of facilitating professional mobility across Member States. The Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive (2005/36/EC), amended by Directive 2013/55/EU, embodies these principles by requiring Member States to take into account all relevant qualifications and professional experiences. This directive has been pivotal in cases like Pereira Roque v Liechtenstein (2010) from the attached file, where the principles of Vlassopoulou were applied to assess qualifications from different EU countries.

How have member states adjusted their national laws in response to the Vlassopoulou ruling?

Following the Vlassopoulou ruling, member states have been compelled to revise their national regulations to ensure a more flexible and comprehensive system for recognizing professional qualifications from other EU countries. The adjustments have been primarily aimed at reducing barriers to employment for qualified professionals moving across borders within the EU. For instance, the UK implemented the EU Directive 2005/36/EC, as part of its laws, to streamline the recognition process and ensure that professionals with EU qualifications are treated equivalently to domestically qualified individuals. Further, the Professional Qualifications and Services (Amendments and Miscellaneous Provisions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 adapted these principles to fit the post-Brexit context, ensuring continued recognition of qualifications between the UK and the EU.

What role did professional bodies play in the original assessment of Vlassopoulou’s qualifications and subsequent appeal?

Professional bodies often play a crucial role in the assessment of foreign qualifications, as seen in the Vlassopoulou case. These bodies are tasked with evaluating whether the qualifications meet national standards. In Vlassopoulou’s case, the professional body’s initial assessment was challenged for not adequately considering her professional experience and the substantive equivalence of her qualifications. This led to the appeal where the ECJ emphasized that professional bodies must not only assess academic qualifications but also relevant professional experience. The case of General Medical Council v B (2006), not previously mentioned but relevant here, illustrates a similar scenario where the UK’s General Medical Council had to reconsider foreign qualifications in light of EU directives, reflecting the ongoing influence of the Vlassopoulou principles in ensuring fair treatment of EU professionals.