One of the main ambitions of the revised Lisbon Strategy is to complete the internal market in the area of Services, which provide 75% of EU jobs and 65% of GDP in the EU. This means enabling the Service Sector to operate across member state boundaries. The main interest is in opening up the market in the big network industries ( ie Energy, telecommunications..)
However the Commission has recognized that many services are of “general interest”, and require specific safeguards. Following the public consultation launched by the Commission’s Green Paper on Services of general interest (May 2003), the White paper on services of general interest published in May 2004 also proposed the need for a more systematic approach in the field of social and health services of general interest., due to the specific role that these services play in social protection systems and as part of the EU Social Model.
Dialogue with civil society was a crucial element in this process with a conference held on “Social services of general interest in the EU – Assessing their specificities, potential and needs” (PDF) , 28-29 June 2004.
In February 2004, the Commission published its draft ‘Services Directive’, aiming to liberalise the market in services in Europe. The main demand from NGOs was to press for the exclusion of social and health services from the Directive, asking that these should be covered by a specific framework directive which will deal with the specificity of the sector. The European Parliament took a strong position on the whole of the Services Directive, as a result of effective lobbying by the sector. The Services Directive was finally adopted at the end of December 2006. Member states have to implement it by the end of 2009.
On the 24th April 2007 the Commission published its long-awaited Communication on Social Services of General Interest (For more information see the section below dedicated to Social Services of General Interest)
In October 2007, the re-negotiated Reform Treaty on the Constitution included a new Protocol which underlined the relevance of universal service obligations and implied the possibility of a strengthened horizontal framework. However, in November 2007, the Commission released a report on SGI, which highlights its unwillingness to move beyond the Protocol and affirms a sector –based approach. A communication on an EU strategy for social services of general interest was also published.
Social Services of General Interest
On the 24th April 2007 the Commission published its long-awaited Communication on Social Services of General Interest. It went someway towards giving a definition of the specificity of social services but with no legislative proposal attached to it.
The consultation process initiated by the Communication included the launch of a questionnaire by the social protection committee, the preparation of a consultant study on social services of general interest and a report by a group of legal expert.
The Commission’s view has been that most of the difficulties experienced in the application of Community rules are not caused by the rules themselves but by the lack of knowledge or understanding of the rules by public authorities and service providers.
Internal Market Review – SGI and SSGI
The big new development of the whole Services area at the end of 2007 was the publishing of the Internal Market Review –. This was published on the 20th November as part of the package setting out the “Citizen’s Agenda for the 21st Century”. The package included:
- A Communication on “A single market for 21st century Europe“: This concludes the review of the internal market initiated in 2006. This Communication is supported by five staff working papers
- A Communication on “Opportunities, access and solidarity: towards a new social vision for 21st century Europe“: the aim of this document is to enrich the consultation on social reality, which is extended until 15 February 2008, and pave the way for a renewed Social Agenda in mid-2008.
- And the Communication on “Services of general interest, including social services of general interest: a new European commitment“.
The Communication is published with adjoining staff working papers on Progress since 2004 White Paper and Frequently asked questions on state aids and public procurement .
The Communication also announced the setting-up of an interactive information service (IIS) open to the general public, public authorities and service providers. The ISS is operational since 25.01.08.
The Commission sees this package as the end of the discussion on Service of General Interest, which will primarily drawn on the new protocol on SGEI agreed with the Lisbon Treaty (see below), and the clear statement that no legislative frameworks will be promoted either in relation to SGI or SSGI.
The new Lisbon Treaty provides a new confirmation of the values of SGI through the new Protocol 26 ( Agreed October 18th 2007). This includes the following commitment to:
- The shared values of the Union in respect of services of general economic interest within the meaning of Article 14 of the Treaty.. In particular
- The essential role and the wide discretion of national, regional and local authorities in providing, commissioning and organising services of general economic interest as closely as possible to the needs of the users;
- The diversity between various services of general economic interest and the differences in the needs and preferences of users that may result from different geographical, social and cultural situations;
- A high level of quality, safety and affordability, equal treatment and the promotion of universal access and user rights.
- The provisions of the Treaties do not effect in any way the competence of Member States to provide, commission and organize non-economic services of general interest.
- New Article 14 replaces Article 16 highlights that the European Parliament and Council will establish these principles and conditions through regulations, in compliance with the treaties.
Health Services were separately excluded from the Services Directive. Although most Social NGO’s see social and health services as a common area, the Commission and the EU seems determined to separate them. A Communication was published on cross-border patient mobility followed by a consultation which closed 31 Jan 2007.
There were a large number of responses from Members States, organisations and NGOs. The summary report of the consultation is now available
Energy Directive/Energy Charter
One of the main areas of Services of General Interest causing most concern to people experiencing poverty is the impact of the expansion of the internal market and the privatization of Network Services – particularly Energy. The EU has been rapidly trying to complete the internal market in the Energy sector. But some steps have also been taken to try and protect the consumer in these vital services. Energy Poverty has been raised as key concern.
In March 2007 the European Spring Council adopted a “Global Action Plan” which included the full implementation of the internal market in gas/electricity ie opening up of the market to privatization and liberalization.
In July 2007, the Commission ( DG TREN) published a communication – Towards a Charter on Energy consumers rights followed by a consultation which ended in September 2007. The main focus on the Charter is to:
- assist in establishing schemes to help the most EU vulnerable citizens deal with increases in energy prices;
- improve the minimum level of information available to citizens to help them choose between suppliers and supply options;
- reduce paper work when customers change supplier;
- protect customers from unfair selling practices
In September the 3rd Legislative package for the EU electricity and Gas market was launched. The Energy Directive package will be finally adopted in July 2008 The current debates are focused on the Common Rules for the internal market in Electricity ( COM) 20070528 and Gas ( COM) 2007 0529. There is no proposal to link the Energy Charter to the Energy Directive.
Background resources and documents
- Commission Documents: on the Services Directive are available on the Internal Market site.
- Parliament Documents: related to the Services Directive are available on the Parliament site.
- The documents related to the Communication on Social Services of General Interest are available on DG Employment site.