Interview with Anoushka Janssens from SOLVIT
Unfair rules or decisions and discriminatory red tape can make it hard for companies in the European Union (EU) to do business in another EU country. Such issues are a particular problem for small and medium sized enterprises, which may not have the regulatory knowledge and experience or the resources to seek legal advice and representation in these circumstances.
SOLVIT is a European Commission initiative that aims to help in such cases.
Here Anoushka Janssens, who works for the service, tells us more.
What is your role with SOLVIT and how long have you been involved?
I am the leader of the team in the Commission that is responsible for the coordination of the network of national SOLVIT centres, having worked for the service since 2009. It is one of the most fantastic jobs you can have.
We are concretely helping businesses and citizens to make the most out of the European Single Market, and we are doing it with a fantastic group of people who work in the national SOLVIT centres. We are in contact with them daily and, when not subject to COVID restrictions, we would usually all see each other at least once or twice a year.
We also have many contacts with colleagues throughout the whole Commission, as we are dealing with all Single Market legal areas.
Could you please give a brief overview of what SOLVIT is and what it offers?
If an EU citizen or business face obstacles in another country because a public authority is not doing what is required under EU law, SOLVIT can help. We remind the authorities in question what the applicable EU rights are and work with them to solve the problem.
SOLVIT is a service provided by the national administration in each EU country as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The service is free of charge and operates primarily online, although there is a SOLVIT centre in each participating country.
Two centres will be involved in every case; the centre in the country the citizen or business with a complaint is from, and the centre in the country where the problem occurred.
How long would it usually take for a case to be resolved?
The time it takes us to deal with a case can vary from around 1 to 16 weeks, depending upon the nature and complexity of the problem.
In 2020, SOLVIT handled more than 2,600 cases, successfully resolving 80% of them.
What are the most common issues that small businesses approach SOLVIT for help with?
Most of the problems businesses ask us to investigate relate to authorities denying them the right to sell their products or services, VAT reimbursement, posting of workers, social security, or car registration.
For us to take up a case, three basic conditions must be met; there must be a cross-border element involved in the dispute, a breach of EU law by a public authority and, finally, no legal proceedings related to the dispute must have been started.
We are unable to help, however, if your company is having problems with another company, if you have a consumer-related problem or if you are seeking compensation for damages.
Do you have any examples of how SOLVIT has successfully been able to help small businesses?
Yes, there are many examples of how we have been able to help small businesses resolve issues.
Frequently these can involve problems around taxation, such as the cases of several Italian companies who applied for VAT refunds in Romania. The companies asked SOLVIT to intervene to ensure that the Romanian authority issued prompt decisions and, where applicable, that fees were applied for a late decision. Member States have four months to issue a decision in such cases, extending to six months if there are additional requests.
The Italian SOLVIT centre opened several cases and SOLVIT Romania got in touch with the relevant administrative bodies in order to ensure that decisions were issued. Following this intervention, the Italian companies obtained their refunds.
Another type of case can relate to the place where an SME needs to fulfil VAT obligations. For example, a Belgian company supplied services as an intermediary for another Belgian company in Luxembourg, prompting requests for the VAT to be paid by the company in both countries. Following intervention from SOLVIT and clarification of the applicable rules, the Luxembourg authorities agreed not to impose VAT, saving the company €7,650 on an invoice of €45,000.
The social security status of workers can also cause some issues, as with the case of a Danish company cooperating with self-employed workers in Poland. SOLVIT was asked to help with determining the applicable legislation and issuing the correct paperwork for the workers. As a result of this intervention it was found that, in most cases, applications for papers had been sent to the wrong offices in Poland and, moreover, some of them were incomplete, so the Danish company had to make appropriate changes to the applications.
In a similar case in Portugal, the responsible authority for social security had not responded at all to the Danish company. Following the intervention of SOLVIT, the Portuguese authority replied, outlining the applicable legislation for social security purposes. Problems may also arise around the mutual recognition of goods. For instance, a Czech company which was lawfully marketing fertilisers in Czechia and a number of other Member States was told that one of the substances used in its product was prohibited in France and it could not be sold there. SOLVIT intervened and clarified that the company had the right to provide evidence that the substance was not harmful to humans and, if it did, that the French authorities had to justify any decision restricting or denying market access.
These are just a few of the cases SOLVIT helps to resolve for small businesses on a regular basis.