SGI Europe: A New Start for Services of General Interest

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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On 8 December, the family of public services and services of general interest bid farewell to CEEP and welcomed SGI Europe. Whilst the COVID-19 shed a new light on the necessity of efficient and effective SGIs, the new identity of our association will better support our messages.

Let us try to imagine for a second: without even talking about healthcare, how would this last year have been for citizens without reliable access to high-quality internet? Or without guaranteed energy or water supply? Or social housing to protect the most vulnerable for living in the streets? Or even waste management, public transport systems or the flexibility of schools and education institutions?

We do not know about you, but it is impossible for us to imagine. Because those services, which are the core of our membership, are an integral part to our European way of life. Services of general interest are at the heart of the EU social and economic model. They are enabling personal development and economic growth. They are one of the key assets of the European Union, for citizens and enterprises. They are a pillar of the European society and of our way of life.

Since the creation of our association in 1961, our values and the sectors at the heart of our actions has remained the same. However, our membership, and the way those services are provided, have evolved.

The evolution of SGIs and of public services

In its early days, our family was mainly composed of big national enterprises – such as SNCF, EDF or GDF in France; Electrabel and SNCB in Belgium; ENEL and ENI in Italy. In the 1990s, our membership grew in a new and different directions: providers of public services and of services of general interest active at the very local level, such as the German or Austrian “Stadtwerke”.

This renewed membership was a chance to enrich and complement our identity. Following the evolution of the society and of the economy, our membership has evolved, with a constant focus on the services provided, regardless of the ownership or the legal structure in place. SGI Europe intends to represent ALL services of general interest at European level.

This evolution is the core reason of that new beginning, after 60 years of existence. This new identity, this ‘SGI Europe’, will bring a new breath of life into our association. It will also better translate the reality of our members, and the services they are providing, to the external audience. Finally, it will further cement our commitment to work together with the EU institutions for the benefit of all in Europe.

SGIs will be central in the post-COVID19 recovery

We see an important role moving forward for SGI Europe. We have mentioned it earlier, but the COVID-19 crisis has significantly highlighted and impacted our services of general interest. Across the continent, our members are coping from various constraints whilst ensuring the continuity of the services.

Now, at EU level, we have witnessed that the EU institutions, and singularly the European Commission and the European Parliament, have taken good note of this reality. Unlike what we witnessed in the past, we now see the ground for clear recognition of the added value of Services of General Interest. SGI Europe will play a central role in ensuring this recognition at all levels.

Whilst a dramatic and traumatic experience, the fight against the pandemic is also a chance to bounce back. And this time, we cannot miss the opportunity. Long term challenges such as climate change, demographic changes and the ongoing digital transformation are happening. And political and financial efforts are needed to face them.

Services of general interest, by their very nature, are central in these processes. Our members in the healthcare, housing or education are guarantors of fairness and quality of life. Our members in the energy, public transport or waste management provide direct solutions to cut down on CO2 emissions. Our members in the telecommunication and public sector media are at the heart of the digital transition.

We all understand that services of general interest will be central in landing the green and digital transitions in a fair and inclusive way. We need to ensure that EU institutions and Member States are considering SGI employers and providers in the recovery, and this new identity should support those messages. SGI Europe will continue, moving forward, to ensure that the Future of Europe is all about Sustainability, Growth and Innovation.

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