The suspense is nearly over: the European Parliament's final vote on the services directive will take place as expected in November. By approving the Council's second-reading text on Monday night, the EP's Internal Market Committee paved the way for adoption of the text by the full Parliament. Apart from a few details, the Council text reflects the one adopted by Parliament at first reading.
What happened on Monday night does not happen every day: all the second-reading amendments to the draft services directive, including those tabled or supported by Evelyne Gebhardt (PES, DE), author of the Internal Market Committee's report, were rejected by the committee. Ms Gebhardt and some members of her political group nevertheless gave their backing to the overall text "as amended", which was thus approved by 26 votes to 4 with 6 abstentions.
This means that the committee finally supported the Council's common position without amending it. Those who voted in favour were seeking to preserve the delicate balance reached between the Member States as well as the compromise drafted by Parliament in February. But for the authors of the rejected amendments, including Evelyne Gebhardt, not everything is done and dusted.
The European Commission has promised to deliver a written declaration to provide answers to what Ms Gebhardt regards as key questions: the legal scope and the nature of the guidelines to be presented by the Commission to the Member States, the possibility of future harmonisation of legislation governing the provision of services, the neutrality of the services directive vis-à-vis labour legislation and the influence of the directive on the provision of social services. The Commission will also include a reference to the impact of the directive on criminal law, regarded as important by the EPP-ED group and its British shadow rapporteur Malcolm Harbour.
Evelyne Gebhardt heard the details of the Commission's planned declaration at an informal meeting ahead of the vote. While she welcomed it, she reserved the right to retable her amendments in plenary depending on the final text of the declaration, which must be submitted to her before then by Commissioner Charlie McCreevy. The Finnish presidency representative, Nina Vaskunlahti, also backed the Commission's draft text but only in her own name. She still has to consult Coreper before the text can be supported by the Council at the plenary.
The final chapter of the story will be written when Parliament votes on the draft directive, together with the Commission declaration, at the Strasbourg plenary session in November.