Parliament tells the Commission to clearly distinguish services of ‘general interest’ from services of ‘general economic interest’ and to adopt legal rules accordingly.
Guaranteeing high-quality public services such as good schools and hospitals, clean water, safe public transport systems and reliable energy supplies is not only essential for improving EU citizens’ quality of life, it is also an essential component of the EU’s Lisbon strategy.
Indeed, good public services can help to overcome social exclusion, strengthen territorial cohesion and improve the functioning of Europe’s internal market, thereby reinforcing our competitiveness.
Sceptics of a more open approach to public services believe that relying on market forces alone will not suffice to guarantee services that are high-quality and accessible to all. They fear that subjecting public services to public procurement rules will lead to a race to the bottom with private providers seeking to cut costs, rather than invest in quality.
The idea behind the report, initiated by Socialist MEP Bernhard Rapkay, is that a strict regulatory framework – defining common safety, consumer protection and environmental standards for all SGIs – is necessary in order to ensure that the public interest is safeguarded.
Up to now, the Commission has resisted calls for cross-sectoral legislation on SGIs because it says that traditions and sensitive areas vary in each member state.
The compromise report adopted by the Parliament’s Economic Committee also goes in this direction, rejecting Rapkay’s idea of establishing common rules for all SGIs, saying this is an issue for national, regional and local authorities.
The report nevertheless called on the Commission to adopt “appropriate legislative initiatives” and requests specific directives on social services and healthcare.
Finally, the report also clarifies funding rules for public services.