MEPs stress importance of social services over market rules

The European Parliament has adopted a report on social services of general interest, which criticises the Commission for failing to properly define them and calls for their exclusion from competition, state-aid and internal-market rules. 

Following a Commission Communication on social services of general interest (SSGI), the Parliament started an own-initiative report on the matter. The report, adopted on 14 March 2007, is critical of the Commission Communication in that the latter “does not provide sufficient clarification about the classification and definition of SSGIs, and defers any decision on the legal framework which should apply to them”. 

PPE-ED MEP Iles Braghetto explained: “Social services of general interest are the key component of the European social model and one of the main targets of the Lisbon strategy. Asking what they are, how they are organised in modern societies, which role they play in building a Europe of freedom and solidarity, is of utmost importance.”

The report goes on to implicitly criticise the Commission’s approach by saying that “it would be a mistake to adopt an approach to SSGI which sets up a false opposition between rules on competition, public aid and the market on the one hand, and concepts of public service, general interest and social cohesion on the other”. The Parliament adds that “on the contrary…it is necessary to reconcile them by promoting positive synergies between the economic and social aspects”. It warns, however, that “in the case of SSGIs, the rules on competition, public aid and the internal market must be compatible with public service requirements, and not the other way round”.  

The Parliament also criticised the Commission for failing to include certain kinds of services from its Communication: “Health services, which are excluded from the Commission communication on SSGIs, are also SSGIs, and share the same characteristics and objectives”. 

The Commission Communication was a reaction to the exclusion of SSGI from the scope of the Services Directive when it was adopted in Spring 2006 (EURACTIV 26/04/2006). The paper defined what the Commission understands by the term and, stopping short from any policy initiatives, outlined its position.

The Parliament had taken the lead in redefining the scope of the Services Directive and was in charge of excluding SSGI, for reasons that Green MEP Jean Lambert explained on 12 March 2007 in the plenary: “Many of the users of social services are people in particular social need and therefore, that is why we look at social services as having a different mission, and possibly a different organisation, to general consumption. It is one of the reasons why we took these services out of the Services Directive, because we did not consider that they operated to the same market rules as travel agencies, construction companies or anything else in the general services sector.” 

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