SOLVIT: the solution for your Internal Market problems

In the European Union businesses, consumers and workers all enjoy the benefits of the Single Market. The Single Market rules ensure that there are no internal frontiers for people to work, live, study and do business within the EU. However businesses and citizens also often run into trouble because of the incorrect application of EU Single Market rules by public authorities of the EU Member States. For that purpose, the Commission launched an informal network named SOLVIT in 2002. Despite being almost old enough to buy a drink in a pub, not everyone is aware of SOLVIT’s existence, nor of what it does. A lack of (effective) promotion is most likely the cause of this problem. Therefore, this post is meant to offer some clearance on how SOLVIT functions in practice, while also dwelling upon some success stories.

SOLVIT’s functioning

SOLVIT is an informal network which consists of centers in all EU Member States, including Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway. Whether it be trouble with obtaining a driving license, getting professional qualifications recognized or obtaining a VAT refund; when public authorities act contrary to the EU rights of private parties, SOLVIT may be able to take care of the problem. The rules for cooperation within SOLVIT are included in a Commission recommendation that was endorsed by conclusions of the Council of Ministers. In practice it offers a great deal of flexibility to the SOLVIT centers in how they think a case can be tackled in the most suitable way, because the centers are not bound to many formalities. However, deadlines are almost always diligently observed to ensure that cases get handled within reasonable time.

Each case is divided between a home and a lead SOLVIT center, which are always located in two different EU Member States. The home center is typically the center in the Member State of which the citizen is a national or where the business is established. It will check whether the case falls within SOLVIT’s mandate first. A case is eligible to be handled by SOLVIT when the EU rights of a citizen or a business are breached by public authorities in another EU country and the case has not (yet) been taken to court. If the case falls within SOLVIT’s remit, the case will be prepared by the home center, often by obtaining the necessary documents from the applicant and making a legal analysis of the (potential) breach of EU law . Then it will be passed on to the lead center. The lead center is located in the Member State where the alleged breach of the Single Market rules has taken place. In 2018, SOLVIT handled 2295 cases which fell within its remit. Remarkably, only 115 business-related cases were submitted in 2018. The cases submitted by citizen’s mostly concerned social security and the right to reside in or enter another EU country.

Structural problems and cooperation

SOLVIT is mainly entrusted with solving individual cases, but at the same time it is key that the centers are vigilant in signaling structural and recurrent problems in one or more Member States. Structural problems are caused by wrongful implementation of EU rules, whereas recurrent problems occur when national authorities apply EU rules incorrectly. For example, in one Member State it took the authority entrusted with the issuance of driver’s licenses up to two years to fully process the request of applicants.

Over the years the SOLVIT centers through their mutual efforts have managed to achieve numerous successes. For example, after SOLVIT’s intervention, the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure got rid of a discriminatory discount system for train tickets. In other cases SOLVIT has managed to speed up the administrative process in other Member States with regards to residence cards for third country family members.

So whether you are a business or a citizen experiencing problems with your EU rights in another Member State; SOLVIT may be the one to help you out! For more information you can go to: https://ec.europa.eu/solvit/index_en.htm

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Author: Tijn Hendrikx

Intern at SOLVIT Netherlands (Ministry of Economic Affairs & Climate)

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