Single market re-launch to see ‘Polish plumber’ comeback?

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Traders such as tour guides and plumbers should be able to ply their wares across member states by flashing professional ID cards under proposals designed to re-launch the Single Market Act this week.

Agreement by the European Parliament this week to resolutions on the Single Market Act has cleared the way for the European Commission to launch concrete proposals next Wednesday (13 April).

Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier's paper will consist of 12 key initiatives designed to act as levers for economic growth in the EU.

Some of the initiatives represent proposals already agreed, such as plans to introduce a common system for registering patents – a proposal that will go ahead without Spain and Italy, which objected to the proposed linguistic regime.

Professional ID cards

Other initiatives will attempt to revive old ideas. 2005's Professional Qualifications Directive mooted the introduction of professional identity cards, but the idea never caught on.

A consultation paper launched in January this year asked stakeholders for their opinion on a European professional card. At the same time a steering group made up of 32 experts representing different professions – including mountain guides, midwives and pharmacists – was set up to consider the issue of a European professional card.

In its paper this week, the European Commission will push for this group to produce meaningful ideas so that it can finally transform them into reality.

The professional ID card proposal is likely to revive old fears among West European countries about immigration. During the 2005 referendum campaign on the European Constitution in France, the 'Polish plumber' figure embodied popular fears about East European workers wreaking wage havoc on the labour market. 

Those fears actually stemmed from the Services Directive, which was subsequently watered down to address labour market concerns.

"The Services Directive was a significant step forward but it must be the start of a process of deepening the internal market rather than the end of it," said Malcolm Harbour MEP (Conservatives; UK), chair of the European Parliament's internal market committee. "Now we need to tear down significant barriers relating to professional qualification recognition, intellectual property and public procurement," he said.

Carbon and corporate taxes

For its key proposal on tax, the Commission has chosen to push its bid for EU-wide carbon taxes, which will be presented by Taxation and Customs Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta on the same day as the Single Market Act re-launch on Wednesday.

He will outline proposals calling for separate carbon dioxide and consumption taxes on fuel, to help Europe meet its climate-change targets and bring more "fiscal coherence" to the internal market.

The Commission had already considered a carbon tax last year but the proposals were delayed due to concerns in the member states on its potential economic impact.

Although the Commission launched separate plans for a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCTB) in March, that controversial proposal will only be mentioned as a subordinate issue in the Single Market paper.

The CCCTB – which envisages companies filing one single European tax return to avoid unnecessary administrative burdens – is deemed by the Irish government and businesses is an affront to Ireland's low corporate tax. 

The proposals are designed to create a concrete re-launch of cornerstone EU legislation which will be put in place in advance of the 20th anniversary of Jacques Delors' original 1992 Single Market Act next year.

The Commission is keen to push as key initiatives only those items on which it believes it can achieve real legislative progress in advance of the anniversary. The CCCTB is not one of them.

"We need to complete the single market which is the lifeblood of Europe's economy. We must fill gaps in services, public procurement, and the other 150 bottlenecks which still exist. The new Single Market Act should help make our economies more competitive and create growth and jobs," commented European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek

Speaking after the parliamentary votes were carried, MEP Malcolm Harbour (European Conservatives and Reformists; UK), the chair of the Parliament's committee on the internal market and consumer protection, said: "We need to be single-minded about the single market. It is the EU's greatest asset and we must bring all of our political will to bear on making it relevant to a digital and global age. It also has the potential to drive growth and create the jobs that Europe needs."

He added: "The Services Directive was a significant step forward but it must be the start of a process of deepening the internal market rather than the end of it. Now we need to tear down significant barriers relating to professional qualification recognition, intellectual property and public procurement. Small businesses need to be given confidence to offer their products and services to 500 million people in a competitive environment."

But he also sounded a cautious note, saying: "I do not agree with everything in the Parliament's reports, such as proposals for a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base, but it was important that we secured a broad political agreement for the general principles contained in these reports."

"We will discuss details at a later date but we now clearly have the political will from all of the EU's major institutions and governments to make the revitalisation of the Single Market a top priority in our economic recovery plans. My committee will now move forward with these plans with great enthusiasm," Harbour concluded.

Gerhard Huemer, who represents the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (UEAPME), said: "We welcome the enhanced co-operation mechanism to resolve the patent issue, amongst other initiatives within the paper. However we believe that the key message to be reinforced by the Commission – more important than their 12 headline issues – is enforcement of the existing single market regulations. There remain so many outstanding cases of infringement of governance."

Carl Cederschiöld, president of the European Centre for Employers and Enterprises (CEEP), said that the proposals on services of general interest in the Commission's draft paper did not go far enough.

He said: "Services  of  general  interest  are  indispensable  for  a  successful  re-launch  of  the  single market and growth, but the measures proposed are not sufficient to reach the goals  that  are  being  aimed at.  CEEP  has  therefore  taken  the  initiative  and  put  forward  additional  propositions, called 'Acquis+ for Services of General Interest', designed to tackle legal uncertainties in the proposals."

The Single Market and its four freedoms for circulation of goods, services, people and capital is one of Europe's main competitive advantages. However, progress on the single market has stalled in recent times and business leaders have pressed for its completion in order to tap into the EU's full potential.

The Commission laid down plans for a new Single Market Act in October, offering a list of 50 proposals that could be put into action in the next two years.

The proposals ranged from making it easier to register a car in another country to creating an EU professional ID card to help people do business across borders. Following a four-month public debate and discussion of the 50-point list in the European Parliament, Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier is now expected to make concrete legislative proposals.

  • 13 April: Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier will present the paper. He will then call for Parliament to push through any legislative measures proposed as soon as possible.
  • By Autumn 2012: Commissioner Barnier hopes new legislation required by his key proposals will have been pushed through.

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