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Understanding Directive 2006/126/CE: EU mutual recognition of driving licences.

Directive 2006 repeals Directive 91/439/CEE and aims at harmonizing the European legislation regarding driving licences, an important aspect of the Union’s common approach concerning transports and freedom of movement for individuals.


Its Preamble, clarified by article 2(1), enshrines the principle of mutual recognition of all driving licences issued by member states. In other words, every EU citizen may drive freely within member states with a driving licence issued from the member state he normally resides in. No requirement of obtaining a specific licence to drive in another member state will be required as it can be an obligation in other countries around the world (i.e. obtaining an international driving licence). Its Annexes provide for practical criteria that states should apply when issuing licences. Harmonization of licences contributes and facilitates substantially mutual recognition between member states.


However, since directives are not directly transposed into national law, each member state has its own margin of appreciation to transpose a directive with regard to its own national rules. Indeed, Article 7 of Directive 2006/126/CE provides for the situation of the issuance, validity and renewal of a driving licence. More specifically, paragraph 4 states that member states may add and apply additional conditions to the issuance of a driving licence. A member state may also apply conditions relating to its national legislation while transposing this Directive.

Article 11 deals with the renewal and exchange of a driving licence within another member state of the Union. Paragraph 1 of this article specifies that the member state where the renewal is done will have to verify the category for which the licence is valid. Paragraph 2 adds that the member states may impose its national legislation when a demand for exchange is made.


An exemple of a national transposition of this directive is France: Directive 2006/126 was transposed through two Décrets and one Arrêté (1). Articles R.222-1 to R. 221-8 of the Code de la Route was modified subsequently to the transposition of the Directive (2). However, in France, driving licences are subject to a sytem of ‘points’ and to renew or exhange a licence, the French administration will ask for official and certified translations according to it principle of légalisation.


Directive 2006/126 provides for a relative mutual recognition of driving licences as it leaves EU states with a wide margin of appreciation in practice.




(1) Décret no 2011-56 du 23 Mai 2011, Décret no 2011-1475 du 9 novembre 2011 et Arrêté du 30 juin 2011.

(2)Loi no89-469 de 1989 amendant les articles L.233-1 to L.223-8 du Code de la Route.



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