Parliament concurs with Council on Services Directive
The Parliament has adopted, with the votes of its three largest groups, the much-disputed Services Directive, paving the way for the its entry into force in early 2010. It voted against all amendments to a summer 2006 Council compromise.
The Parliament's three largest groups - the EPP-DE (Conservatives), PSE (Social Democrats) and ALDE (Liberals) had not tabled any amendments.
Identical amendments of the GUE/NGL (Left) and UEN (Right) aiming at rejecting the Common Position were voted down by 405 to 105 votes (12 abstentions).
The GUE/NGL groups and the French delegation within the PSE group were the only ones to vote unanimously for the rejection of the Common Position, the UEN voted against its own amendment.
No PPE-ED, no ALDE and no non-French PSE MEP voted to reject the Common Position.
Due to the rules of procedure for second-reading votes in Parliament, the proposal was approved without a final vote.
Prior to the vote, Commissioner Charlie McCreevy addressed in the Parliament's plenary what the rapporteur, Evelyne Gebhardt (PSE, Germany) regards as the key questions:
- Assistance to member states for the proper implementation of the Services Directive. "Analyses and orientations" given by the European Commission will neither provide legally binding interpretation nor amend the provisions of the Services Directive.
- The need to consider additional further harmonisation within the field of services' sector.
On the following existing legal provision, the Commissioner stated globally that the Directive does not affect national law and practices already in place:
- Labour law;
- criminal law, and;
- social services.
Services make up around two-thirds of economic activities in the EU, but currently only some 20% of cross-border business. It is believed that the directive could boost cross-border provision of services, leading to as many as 600,000 new jobs in Europe.
The Services Directive, formerly also known as the Bolkestein Directive, after former commissioner Fritz Bolkestein who introduced it, is described by PSE MEP Arlene McCarthy as "the single most important and most disputed piece of legislation in the EU".
Following public resistance, particularly in France, the Parliament voted, on 16 February 2006 in favour of a version of the directive that watered down the Commission's proposal. Following a political agreement at the end of May 2006, the Council adopted its Common Position on the directive on 24 July almost unanimously. Only Belgium and Lithuania abstained. The common position took most of Parliament's amendments on board, but changed the wording on a number of the directive's most disputed issues (see 'Issues', below), which the Council claimed was necessary for legal clarification. The Commission enhanced the Council's Common Position.
Links to all speeches in the parliament debate.
Rapporteur Evelyne Gebhardt called the Services Directive an example of "policies for the people", stressing that the parliament managed to remove the disputed Country of Origin principle and ensure consumers’ rights. She stressed, however, that "important points remain to be discussed", in particular in the fields of labour, social and penal law. On what she described as "a note of bitterness", Gebhardt recommended that the Council "change its practice. The Council can’t say we can’t agree to any amendments from Parliament, because we have found such a difficult compromise in Council." Gebhardt added: "We have found a difficult compromise in Parliament also!"
Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy stressed the directive's importance for citizens and businesses. He voiced his conviction that the principle of the freedom to provide services, which replaced the country-of-origin principle, will "enhance legal certainty". In a formal declaration to be added to the minutes of the Parliament debate, the commissioner stressed that the Services Directive does not affect either labour law or criminal law as established in the member states. He announced that the Commission will examine whether, for certain services, there is a need for additional harmonisation.
For the Finnish Presidency, Trade and Industry Minister Mauri Pekkarinen praised the Parliament's vote in first reading as "a historic compromise", for which he thanked the House. He said that, as different as the text finally adopted was from the original Bolkestein Directive, "it still expressed the common goal of opening up the internal market for services".
MEP Malcolm Harbour (EPP-ED, UK) called the vote "an important date for European citizens", adding: "This directive is about enhancing the standards of life of people throughout Europe." He recalled that the directive obliges member states to take 40 measures to remove barriers to the cross-border provision of services and to improve their procedures in 65 cases.
MEP Bill Newton Dunn (ALDE) said: "The Services Directive will bring massive economic benefits to Europe. Estimates range from a 0.3% rise in GDP and a 0.7% increase in employment, predicted by Copenhagen Economics, to a 1.8% GDP increase and 2.5 million new jobs, foreseen by the European Commission.
MEP Heide Rühle (Greens/EFA) said that the three major groups "have refused to hold a proper second-reading debate here". Citing issues such as Services of General Interest, Services of General Economic Issues, social services and collective agreements, she said that the Council did not fully enhance the Parliament's vote in first reading but brought instead "a new lack of legal clarity".
MEP Francis Wurtz, the chairman of the GUE/NGL Group, said: "We know about co-decision and conciliation in Parliament-Council relations. Today, with the services directive, capitulation can be added to this. What else can you call this barely credible decision taken by the majority groups to give in to the injunctions of the Council by accepting to withdraw all the amendments that were examined in the Internal Market Committee and to adopt, without any resistance, the Council's Common Position which is undeniably a set back on their own compromise of 16 February last? "
Hans-Werner Müller, Secretary General with UEAPME, the association of small and medium-sized businesses, said: "The European Parliament’s vote marks the end of almost three years of negotiations over a complex and controversial piece of legislation, and shows how far the European institutions can go when they are willing to listen to requests and comments from European stakeholders. However, efforts to open up the services market in Europe should continue. It is now up to Member States to abide to the compromise text they approved at the European Council, and ensure that it is promptly put into practice."
ETUC, the European Trade Union Confederation, declared: "Today, the European Parliament (EP) has approved at second reading the modified Services Directive, burying for once and for all the initial Bolkestein proposal. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) considers this outcome as a success-story for the European trade union movement, and an example of good cooperation with the European Parliament. However the ETUC will continue its fight for improvements in some areas." ETUC named in particular "campaigning for better European regulation of public services and pushing for urgent adoption of European regulation especially in sensitive sectors such as temporary agencies."
- After its adoption by the Parliament, the Services Directive now goes back to the Council, which will adopt it in one of its forthcoming meetings.
- It will then be published in the Official Journal, foreseeably in early 2007.
- It will enter into force three years after its publication, probably in early 2010.