Public services ‘safeguarded’ in draft EU Treaty

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A broad alliance of organisations, ranging from the Committee of the Regions to trade unions, has welcomed provisions on public services in the draft mandate for the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), which will negotiate a new EU Treaty.

Harlem Désir, vice-president of the Parliament's PSE group and chairman of an informal network on the future of public services, said: "The mandate adopted by the European Council for the Intergovernmental Conference includes two pieces of good news for the safeguarding of public services. 

"First, it introduces in the Treaty a provision for the adoption of European legislation to clarify these uncertainties without taking away the responsibility of member states to define, organise and finance public services. 

"Second, it introduces a new Protocol that recognises the diversity of public services and the primary authority of member states for setting their operational framework. The Protocol also establishes a number of fundamental principles, such as quality, safety and affordability, which should guide the provision of public services. 

"High-quality public services, accessible to all, are a vital element in the European social model, both for our prosperity and for the quality of life of our citizens. It is now up to all member states to ensure that the IGC respects the mandate it has been given, and it is up to the Commission to begin work on legislation that will give full legal effect to the mandate." 

Michel Delebarre, mayor of Dunkirk and president of the Committee of Regions, said: "By recognising explicitly the importance of national diversity and member-state competence in this area, and also the special characteristics of public services, the European Council has sent an important signal about the kind of Europe we are building. The mandate for the new Reform Treaty, and the Directive on public services which it calls for, will ensure for the first time that the concepts of the public good and public service have a secure legal basis and that their relationship with European internal market and competition rules is clearly defined."

Trade-union confederation ETUC and public employers' organisation CEEP Secretaries-General John Monks and Rainer Plassmann  jointly declared: "High performance services of general interest are a key factor for sustainable growth in Europe, for a more competitive European economy, for more and better employment, for greater social and territorial cohesion in an enlarged Europe, for addressing the demographic challenges and for improving the quality of the environment. This means in short: Legal clarity for public service providers and users, thereby contributing to sustainable economic, social and environmental development in Europe." Monks added: "Public services are a pillar of the European Social Model. We launched our petition for high quality public services accessible to all to push the Commission in the right direction." 

Carola Fischbach-Pyttelsecretary-general of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), said: "It is now politically and legally urgent to clarify the rules applied to services of general economic interest in Europe, to guarantee that they will not be submitted to the sole logic of the internal market and competition. We ask the European Commission once more to stop launching largely non-committal, cosmetic and non-legislative initiatives in this respect. We need a concrete EU horizontal legislative proposal on public services."  

The Draft IGC mandate (see German Presidency conclusions, following page 15), says in paragraph 18: 

"The innovations as agreed in the 2004 IGC will be inserted into the Treaty by way of specific modifications in the usual manner. They concern...the distinction between legislative and non legislative acts, provisions inter alia on...specific provisions such as public services." 

The mandate also annexes a Protocol on services of general interest to the Treaties, Article 1 of which states: 

"The shared values of the Union in respect of services of general economic interest within the meaning of Article 16 EC Treaty include in particular: 

  • The essential role and the wide discretion of national, regional and local authorities in providing, commissioning and organising services of general economic interest as closely as possible to the needs of the users; 
  • the diversity between various services of general economic interest and the differences in the needs and preferences of users that may result from different geographical, social or cultural situations, and; 
  • a high level of quality, safety and affordability, equal treatment and the promotion of universal access and of user rights."  

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