Services row revisited over general interest directive

The Parliament’s 26 September 2006 debate on the White Paper dealing with Services of General Interest showed a split along party lines, but also divisions within the larger groups on the need of a framework directive.

Services of General Interest (SGI) are defined as “market and non-market services which the public authorities class as being of general interest and subject to specific public service obligations”. They include road and rail transport, electricity, water and gas supply, hospitals and other important public services. 

The Parliament voted, on 16 February 2006, to exclude SGI from the scope of the Services Directive. According to the vote in first reading, member states can decide which services this concerns. This could entail wide differences in regulatory regimes across borders, increasing pressure on institutions to ensure that market mechanisms and public-service missions work smoothly together. 

It led, on 26 September, to a more heated debate on the Parliament’s own-initiative report on the Commission’s White Paper on Services of General Interest than would otherwise have been the case, the bone of contention being whether the White Paper should be followed up by a framework directive. This is what trade unions as well as MEPs from the PES, Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL groups favour. Rapporteur Bernhard Rapkay (PES, Germany) said: “It is important to take legislative action to ensure legal security.The Commission’s right of inititative is rather an obligation of initiative.”

He was attacked by MEPs from the EPP-DE, ALDE and IND-DEM groups. Sophie in ‘t Veld, speaking on behalf of the ALDE group, said: “We do not want a framework directive, which is no universal solution for Europe. We want subsidiarity, which means manoeuvering space for local authorities to define their services.” Gunnar Hökmark (EPP-DE, Sweden) said: “We are not calling for a framework directive but for legal certainty. We are asking for sectoral directives.” Other conservative MEPS, such as Werner Langen (Germany), spoke in favour of a directive, citing the need for legal clarity and saying the Commission’s “lurching from Communication to Communication” must come to an end. 

The vote on the white paper is scheduled for 27 September 2006, between 12:00 and 13:00. 

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