MEPs raise fears of Services Directive delay

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Members of the European Parliament this week urged EU member states to step up their efforts to ensure the Services Directive is implemented into national law within the agreed deadline of 31 December 2009, but more importantly, that they implement it correctly.

A debate in the European Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee (IMCO) saw a number of MEPs express doubt over the directive’s implementation in EU member states, not merely in terms of timing but also concerning the methods used by individual countries. 

Committee chair Malcolm Harbour MEP (ECR, UK) said that, based on what he had seen, “much more needs to be done by member states to ensure the directive will be implemented” by the end of the year, adding: “I would urge the other governments to get behind this directive and make a single market for services a reality.”

“SMEs will be some of the key beneficiaries of the proposal,” Harbour said, recalling that services account for about 70% of GDP but only 20% of cross-border trade in the EU. “The Services Directive will remove burdensome barriers and make accessing European markets much easier,” Harbour stressed.

One MEP’s office indicated that more than half the EU 27 will not meet the deadline.

A European Commission spokesperson said Brussels would not engage in any “naming and shaming” of member states until the deadline had expired but that the EU executive was nevertheless monitoring the situation closely.

Timing less important than method, say socialists

However, MEPs argued that while respecting the implementation deadline is important, the means by which member states implement it in practice is even more so. 

There are widespread concerns among Socialist MEPs that centre-right governments are failing to implement the directive in a socially responsible way.

In France, Socialist MEPs argued that the transposition of the directive into national law does not sufficiently respect clauses on social and health services. IMCO vice-chair Bernadette Vergnaud MEP said that the Socialists had worked hard to have a number of social guarantees included in the text, but that these were being ignored by the French government. 

In Sweden, likewise, socialists argued that the centre-right coalition government was using their “incorrect” interpretation of the directive as an excuse to remove existing laws obliging companies to have at least one member of their team act as a contact point for state bodies and trade unions.

A Commission representative told EURACTIV that while the EU executive will allow member states a certain grace period for implementation if they are broadly on track, it is obliged to initiate procedures against countries that are not fulfilling their responsibilities.

The Services Directive was adopted in 2006 and is seen as a key tool to removing barriers to operating in Europe's internal market. Currently, only 5-10% of EU GDP is generated by providing cross-border services. 

The deadline for member states to fully implement the directive into national law is 31 December 2009. 

However, a survey last year showed that business federations in eight countries doubted their governments would implement the text on time. In the first half of 2009, the Czech EU Presidency voiced similar fears (EURACTIV 18/05/09). 

  • 31 Dec. 2009: Deadline for implementation of the Services Directive.

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