Nobody Puts Greek Masseur in the Corner

     (CN) – Greece cannot cloak its refusal to license a trained masseur behind public safety concerns, Europe’s highest court ruled Thursday.
     Eleftherios Nasiopoulus trained in Germany for 2 1/2 years to become a licensed medical masseur-hydrotherapist. Upon returning to his native Greece, however, he discovered his chosen field does not exist.
     In Greece, the closest equivalent to medical masseur-hydrotherapist is a physiotherapist, which requires three years of training. The Greek ministry of health rejected Nasiopoulus’s application for a license to perform physiotherapy on grounds of inadequate training.
     Nasiopoulus appealed to the Greek Council of State, arguing that his license in Germany made him eligible to practice the similar – but differently named – profession in Greece. He argued that health ministry violated both the EU’s system of recognizing professional qualifications and his constitutional right to freedom of establishment.
     The Greek Council of State considered granting Nasiopoulus partial access to the physiotherapy field, which would allow him to carry out some aspects of his profession. It nevertheless referred the case to the EU’s Court of Justice for resolution of inter-EU regulatory differences.
     In its preliminary ruling, the Luxembourg-based high court said public health concerns alone can justify blocking Nasiopoulus from his chosen profession, even though the EU has yet to fully harmonize professional regulations across member state lines.
     Doing so could nevertheless fragment professions into “activities,” which could confuse and mislead consumers regarding both services and qualifications of the professionals in question, the justices added.
     “Exclusion from even partial access to the profession of physiotherapist goes beyond what is necessary to achieve the objective of consumer protection,” the decision states.
     Vigilance is necessary but the court rejected calls from the Czech, French and Italian governments to keep the medical sector tightly regulated to ensure public safety and confidence.
     “Nonetheless, it must be pointed out that the profession of physiotherapist and, accordingly, that of any type of masseur do not fall within the sector of medical professions proper but within the paramedical sector,” the court wrote. “That sector, covering a wide range of different activities, cannot by definition avoid the system of mutual recognition of regulated professions as established by European Union law.”
     The justices continued: “Secondly, it must be noted that the recipient of the services provided by a medical masseur-hydrotherapist enjoys the particular vigilance required as regards the protection of health. As the Greek Government stated at the hearing, the provision of the services supplied by a medical masseur-hydrotherapist consists merely of the implementation of a therapy prescribed to the patient not by that masseur but by a doctor. It is that doctor whom the patient sees first and that doctor who then indicates to the masseur what is to be done as regards the technical execution of the therapy. Thus, the medical masseur-hydrotherapist is not chosen directly by the patient and does not act on his instructions, but is designated by and acts in close liaison with a representative of the medical profession, depending on and cooperating with each other.”
     Where the differences in professional requirements between member states are insignificant, the court advised granting partial access while the applicant finishes the necessary training. In those cases, partial access complies with EU’s constitutional right of establishment.
     Sometimes, however, differences are so great that an applicant is forced to completely retrain to practice – such as when the applicant is already qualified in another European country. In this case, denying a license would likely discourage the applicant and therefore infringe his rights, the court found.
     “It is for the national court to determine whether that is the case,” the justices concluded.

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