Free Help with European Problems

In the first of a series of articles on SOLVIT, Paul Abbiati, an EU law expert based in Madeira writes about SOLVIT which is an on-line problem solving network in which EU Member States work together to solve without legal proceedings problems caused by the misapplication of Internal Market law by public authorities.

Having problems with getting a residence permit? getting your professional qualifications recognised? or registering a car. Your employment, social security or tax rights might be denied. You might have trouble getting the right to vote in European and local elections in the Member State to which you have moved. Your business could be faced with administrative obstacles, unjustified refusal of access to a national market or problems in getting reimbursement of VAT.

Having problems with getting a residence permit? getting your professional qualifications recognised? or registering a car. Your employment, social security or tax rights might be denied. You might have trouble getting the right to vote in European and local elections in the Member State to which you have moved. Your business could be faced with administrative obstacles, unjustified refusal of access to a national market or problems in getting reimbursement of VAT.

The Internal Market offers citizens and businesses many opportunities such as movement to another country in the European Union, to study, to work, to follow your partner or to enjoy life after retirement. Or you may want to set up a business or sell your products or services in another EU Member State.

Sometimes the problems mentioned above arise because of a lack of information about your rights in Europe and about how procedures work in other EU Member States and if you click on the "Your Europe" portal on the Europa website you may find the solution to your problem. But, if you are already well informed about your internal market rights and have tried in vain to exercise them in another EU country, SOLVIT is there to help you.

SOLVIT has been operating since July 2002. The European Commission coordinates the network, which is operated by the Member States, the European Commission provides the database facilities and, when needed, helps to speed up the resolution of problems. The Commission also passes formal complaints it receives on to SOLVIT if there is a good chance that the problem can be solved without legal actionThere is a SOLVIT centre in every European Union Member State (as well as in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). SOLVIT Centres can help with handling complaints from both citizens and businesses. They are part of the national administration and are committed to providing real solutions to problems within ten weeks. Using SOLVIT is free of charge.

How SOLVIT works

When you submit a case to SOLVIT, your local SOLVIT Centre (known as the "Home" SOLVIT Centre) will first check the details of your application to make sure that it does indeed concern the misapplication of Internal Market rules and that all the necessary information has been made available. It will then enter your case into an on-line database, and it will be forwarded automatically to the SOLVIT Centre in the other Member State where the problem has occurred (known as the "Lead" SOLVIT Centre).

The Lead SOLVIT Centre should confirm within a week whether or not it will take on your case. This will largely depend on whether it considers that the case is well-founded and whether there is a good chance that it can be resolved pragmatically. If the solution to a problem requires the repeal of a national rule – rather than simply applying it correctly – this sometimes requires formal legal action, though SOLVIT can sometimes help persuade a member State to waive the offending rule pending its abolition.

The target deadline for finding a solution to the problem is 10 weeks.

The two SOLVIT Centres will work together to try to solve the problem and your Home SOLVIT Centre will keep you informed of progress.

SOLVIT is an alternative dispute resolution mechanism. It works much more quickly than making a formal complaint. You do not have to accept the proposed solution but you cannot challenge it formally through SOLVIT. Nevertheless, if a problem goes unresolved, or you consider that the proposed solution is unacceptable, you can still pursue legal action through a national court or lodge a formal complaint with the European Commission.

Where SOLVIT can help

SOLVIT deals with cross-border problems between a business or a citizen on the one hand and a national public authority on the other, where there is possible misapplication of EU law. The policy areas SOLVIT has mostly dealt with so far are:
 
Recognition of Professional qualifications and diplomas
Access to education
Residence permits
Voting rights
Social security
Employment rights
Driving licences
Motor vehicle registration
Border controls
Market access for products
Market access for services
Establishment as self-employed
Public procurement
Taxation
Free movement of capital or payments
 
Note that this is not an exhaustive list. SOLVIT will consider any case that meets the criteria above.

However, since SOLVIT is an informal approach to problem solving it should not be used in situations where legal proceedings are already underway.

In the next article Paul will look at SOLVIT Quality and Performance standards and how SOLVIT has helped citizens in Portugal and other EU member states.

Link to the SOLVIT website: http://ec.europa.eu/solvit/site/index_en.htm

Paul Abbiati can be contacted at: law@abbiati.co.uk

Article 4b

Paul Abbiati EU Law Expert based in Madeira

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