ITALY is once again incurring European wrath over its recalcitrance in offering jobs to engineers qualified in other EU countries within the four months' time limit laid down in EU rules.
Two German engineers and one Italian engineer with a British academic title complained to the European Commission some years ago that Italian officials refused to authorise them to work in Italy or failed to give adequate reasons for the delay within the time limit.
The commission has finally begun proceedings against Italy. The issue hinges on the proverbial slowness of Italian bureaucracy, but also on the intrinsic difficulty of applying common standards to radically different higher education systems.
The Germans were graduates of a three-year engineering course in a German Fachhochschule, or polytechnic, while the Italian had a three-year engineering degree but did not belong to any recognised British professional body.
Teresa Cuomo, of the Italian university ministry, said: "The problem is very complicated. In Italy a full engineering degree lasts five years and ends with a thesis, often an experimental thesis. We have recently instituted three-year university diplomas in engineering, in specific fields. But these are technical diplomas which do not admit graduates to the official register of engineers.
"Membership of the register allows an engineer to assume full legal authority and responsibility for the projects that he or she produces and signs.
"Obviously we cannot admit a Fachhochschule graduate to a register from which our own 'diploma' engineers are barred. A specific register for three-year engineers is planned but does not yet exist.
"What we do is examine foreign applicants on a case-by-case basis. We recognise the three-year diploma, we take into consideration further studies and working experience, and if we judge it necessary we ask the applicant either to take a compensatory exam or to spend time as an intern in an Italian engineering firm. Once these conditions are satisfied, the foreigner bypasses the difficult exam for admittance to the professional register that Italian graduates instead have to take."
The process is rendered complex and slow by the fact that the commission that deals with these requests belongs to the interior ministry, with consultant-members from the National Council of Engineers and the university ministry. All decisions come from the interior ministry.
The amount of documentation required is substantial, and there is a suspicion that the engineering council prefers to limit the number of engineers with full professional and legal capacities who can compete for the work available.
Even Italians often have immense difficulties in passing the "state exams" that admit them to the respective professional registers for architects, psychologists or engineers.
A senior official of the engineering council denied that there was any obstruction. "We are simply consultants on the commission. The time taken depends only on the interior ministry.
"These regulations are relatively new, and a running-in period is needed. Things are moving much more efficiently now than when the two Germans and the Italian with British qualifications applied."
The Germans have not yet chosen between compensatory exams or an internship in an Italian firm. The Italian with British qualifications has re-applied, having in the meantime acquired the additional qualification of "chartered engineer," and now has to take a compensatory exam that the interior ministry has yet to set up.