Trade unions want public services protected

European trade unions have launched a Europe-wide petition calling on the Commission to establish rules to protect public services that are vital to the health and well-being of citizens.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), on 28 November 2006, launched a campaign to collect one million signatures to put pressure on the Commission to present a framework directive for the safeguard of services of general interest (SGI). Services such as schools and hospitals, clean water and safe public transport systems, are being undermined by liberalisation, privatisation and the introduction of free market rules, ETUC argues. 

According to General Secretary John Monks, the Commission’s focus on spreading the single market neglects the importance of public services: “Not everything must be run for profit: some services are too important for that,” he said, stressing the need for member states to be able to define a number of SGI that are not subject to market rules. 

SGI were excluded from the scope of the final version of the controversial Services Directive (see EURACTIV 15 Nov. 2006) and in October Parliament adopted a report on the Commission’s White Paper on SGI, which calls on the Commission to adopt “appropriate legislative initiatives” to guarantee the high quality and affordability of public services (see EURACTIV 27 Sept. 2006). 

However, the approach advocated by ETUC of a framework directive establishing common safety, consumer protection and environmental standards for all SGI, was dropped in the EP report in favour of a sector-specific approach, following pressure from liberals and democrats which believe that the market is capable of providing excellent services – as they say is the case for telecoms, electricity and gas – and that a “one-size-fits-all solution for Europe” goes against the principle of subsidiarity. 

Belgian trade union representatives Claude Rolin and Anne Demelenne stressed that both workers and consumers have suffered from the liberalisation of public services, generally accompanied by large job cuts and causing isolated citizens to lose out on quality and price. This, they say, will also be the case if the Commission’s planned postal liberalisation goes ahead (see EURACTIV 17 Oct. 2006). 

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