Services Directive likely to be delayed across EU

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Eight EU member states are unlikely to transpose the Services Directive into national law by the deadline of 28 December 2009, according to a new survey published this week.

Business federations in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Slovenia and Spain said they doubted that their governments would implement the text on time, revealed the study, presented by BusinessEurope on Monday (24 November). 

“Some member states have a serious effort to make to catch up” on this “monstrous piece of work,” said Emer Daly of the European Commission’s internal market directorate, which drafted the directive aimed at removing obstacles to cross-border services (see EURACTIV Links Dossier). 

Since it was unveiled in 2001, the Services Directive has become one of the most hotly-disputed pieces of EU legislation, with proponents arguing that it will boost European competitiveness and critics attacking it for producing ‘social dumping’. 

“The directive actually proposes very little,” commented Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, who sits on the European Parliament’s internal market committee. She was originally a strong supporter of the law, but eventually voted against it in Parliament in November 2006, criticising member states for having “considerably watered down” the text, which now “harbours considerable risks of protectionism and anti-competitive behaviour”. 

“Basically it says that the member states should live up to what is in the [EU] treaty. So they should have done so even without the directive. We might have achieved the same results with companies going to court,” the MEP went on. 

However, it would still be better to have a directive than not have one, she argued, stating that the internal market “benefits the people and the economy”. 

“It is an absolute disgrace that some member states are lagging so far behind,” she said, expressing concern that in the “current climate of nationalism and protectionism,” governments might be even less enthusiastic to implement the directive. 

Businesses’ main criticism of the implementation process is the lack of information from national authorities about the legislative procedure, particularly regarding cutting red tape and changes to existing national rules. 

Anna-Lena Bohm, a businesswoman from Sweden, told the audience that 90% of SMEs – which should be the main beneficiaries of the legislation – were not even aware of the directive. She joined her colleagues in calling upon EU governments and the Commission to organise a wide communication campaign targeting citizens and companies, particularly SMEs, to explain the opportunities created by the directive. 

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