President. The next item is the report (A6-0275/2006) by Mr Rapkay, on behalf of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, on the Commission White Paper on services of general interest (2005/2101(INI)).
Bernhard Rapkay (PSE), rapporteur. – (DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, Mr President of the Commission, having the President of the Commission present for a debate on an own-initiative report is not an everyday occurrence, for an own-initiative report is not exactly an outstanding event when what we are actually meant to be doing is making laws – although I shall turn to that in a moment. What your presence here demonstrates is that the Commission is clear in its own mind about how important this issue is in the eyes of the public, and hence, too, in those of the citizens’ representatives here in this House.
It is for that reason that I would like to refer back to a previous President of the Commission, and not just any old President, but Jacques Delors, who, a few months ago, addressing a meeting of the Committee of the Regions, attempted to place services of general interest in the context of the project of European integration. He told the Committee of the Regions that the work of European integration took three principles as its frame of reference: solidarity, which brings people together and has social, economic and territorial cohesion as its objectives; cooperation, whereby it is intended that the transnational and European aspirations of the EU’s treaties and programmes be fulfilled, and competition, which is meant to make possible the completion of the internal market on the secure basis of the rules of the social market economy and governed by democratic competition law aimed primarily at limiting the misuse of economic power and guaranteeing consumers the protection of the law.
Although these three principles refer to services of general interest and to services of general economic interest, there are always tensions inherent in the relationships of the corners of this sort of triangle, and, where services of general interest and services of general economic interest are concerned, it is obvious where they lie.
Public services have an essential part to play in the quality of life enjoyed by individual citizens; they also have a key role in the European Union’s Lisbon Strategy. Good public services can help overcome economic stagnation, social exclusion and isolation, to reinforce social and territorial cohesion, to improve, both internally and externally, the European single market’s functioning, and to enable it to compete better. Even so, whenever I am in the region from which I come or visiting others, and sit down with local politicians and the providers of services of general interest to discuss these, I have to deal with their complaints to the effect that we are interfering in their remits, making their jobs more difficult, and failing to make clear under what conditions they can operate. Their claim is that they do not, where the law is concerned, actually know where they stand.
It is for that reason that appropriate legal initiatives to afford them that legal certainty would appear to be necessary. There will be those who, in the course of this debate, will ask what we are actually after – after all, they will say, do we not have the Commission to issue communications and enact guidelines, and the Court of Justice to lay down the law? – and to them I have to say that that is evidently not enough, and, moreover, it does indeed contribute to the prevailing legal uncertainty, for the Commission, with its communications and guidelines, does nothing to create legal certainty. It may well suggest that it does, but the fact is that a communication is not the sort of black-and-white law on which one can rely.
We really must take the initiative in matters of law, and we are also making proposals as to how we can do this, not all of which I want to discuss, but the point I would make to you, Mr President of the Commission, is that the right of initiative that you possess is also a duty of initiative, and I urge you to make use of it. The building blocks for such legal initiatives are to be found in the resolution on which we will be voting tomorrow, as well as in the resolutions we have already adopted, in, for example, the Langen and Herzog reports. We are not prescribing a specific instrument; that is for you to do. Our allotted task is to give our own assessment – each group for itself – of the Commission legislative thinking, and we will, after further debate, give our own assessment of the proposal for a framework directive that our group has put forward. Others must do the same with their own proposals; then we, working together in this House, must move the legislative process forward, and for that, the codecision procedure is an absolute requirement. It is within that procedure that we need legal initiatives, for it is not you and your fellow Commissioner, together with the highly qualified and well motivated staff of the Commission, nor indeed the national governments, but we, the Members of the European Parliament, who enjoy the legitimacy conferred by election. It is we who have to get down to the grass roots and discuss these things with the local politicians to whom we are accountable; it is we who bear responsibility for what is done. It is for that reason that the codecision procedure must apply, and for that reason that this House must exercise its prerogatives in full.
José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission. (FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, services of general interest are at the very heart of our European social model. They cover a vast gamut of activities, ranging from the major network services – the energy, telecommunications, transport and postal services – to health and social services and water and waste-management services.
What we call network services, namely transport, energy, telecommunications and postal services, account for about 7% of our collective GDP and 5% of total employment in the European Union. They therefore constitute an essential element of the everyday lives of all European citizens and of Europe’s businesses too. The success of the European growth and employment strategy – the Lisbon Strategy – which is vital to our prosperity, also depends on the quality and efficiency of these services.
Since the Commission published its White Paper on services of general interest, an intense debate has ensued on the role that the European Union might play with regard to these services. I am pleased that this debate is taking place. I wish to thank Mr Rapkay, the rapporteur, and his colleagues in the committees for having moved the debate forward with this excellent report.
The reality of services of general interest is complex. Moreover, it is changing all the time. Technical progress, new expectations on the part of society and consumers, financial pressures and the modernisation of public administration have all profoundly transformed the way in which these services are provided. In these times of rapid economic and technological change, services of general interest need a useful and effective legal framework that enables providers of these services to achieve their prescribed aims and to keep adapting to a changing environment.
The Commission is willing to cooperate in the creation of such a legal framework on the basis of four essential principles. Firstly, the framework for services of general interest provided nationally, regionally and locally must remain the responsibility of Member States so that we can uphold the important principle of subsidiarity. There is quite simply no alternative. I am firmly convinced that the European Union must respect the diversity of conditions and practices that exists among the Member States. This diversity reflects different histories and cultures of state intervention. I subscribe to the view expressed in your report that it would be absolutely inappropriate to adopt uniform definitions at the Community level. Member States must remain free to define their services of general interest on the basis of their varied needs, structures and traditions.
The second principle is this: the promotion and protection of universally accessible services of general interest that represent good value for money are compatible with open competitive markets. For evidence, we need only observe sectors such as telecommunications or air transport, where public-service activities have been successfully entrusted to private operators while the interests of consumers have been fully safeguarded. It should, however, be emphasised that, in the event of an irreconcilable conflict between the rules of the internal market or of competition and a service of general interest, the service of general interest must take precedence. This is what the Treaty prescribes and what the Court has confirmed. The Commission is willing to provide any advice or information that may be necessary in this matter.
The third principle is that any EU framework applicable to services of general interest must be responsive to divergences and conducive to modernisation. It must be based on the aims of high quality, good value for money and universal access. It is, in fact, a matter of meeting the expectations of people and businesses but also of preventing social and territorial exclusion.
Moving on to the fourth principle, legal certainty is essential, as I have said, not only for consumers and operators but also for the public authorities. It is incumbent on the public authorities at every level to define clearly the rules that apply to services of general interest. At the European level, given the diversity of situations and sectors, it remains to be established whether a single legislative instrument or a sector-by-sector approach would be the better means to the desired end. I noted that you asked this question in your report.
The four principles I have just outlined serve as a guide for Community action. Such action is essentially pragmatic. We are in the process of formulating sectoral policies at the level of the European Union for those sectors where the need for such a policy is clearly felt and where it can bring real additional benefits. Problems affecting more than one sector are tackled as they arise.
The Commission has been very active in this area along with this House and the Council, and I think I can say that we have made good progress in several areas. We used the Altmark package to simplify and clarify the rules on state aid relating to services of general interest. We are currently checking the application of the new rules on public procurement which came into force in January. We have engaged in extremely broad consultations on the issue of public-private partnerships, and we have announced new initiatives for 2007. We have arrived at an agreement on public transport services. We have adopted a Communication on social services, and we are now initiating consultations on health services. We have launched a broad consultation process on the energy sector, and we shall be presenting other proposals – including, let me stress, legislative proposals, not just communications. In fact, at the present time we are revising the regulatory framework that applies to electronic communications, and we shall be proposing a new directive on postal services before the end of the year.
These recent advances show that the European Union is displaying initiative and ambition with regard to services of general interest. They also illustrate the important role played by Parliament and the Council. After the adoption of the Rapkay report, which we shall analyse carefully, the Commission is firmly resolved to go further. We shall present a communication on this subject before the end of the year.
Ladies and gentlemen, the main message I picked up from your report was a twofold call to action: firstly for the creation of greater legal certainty as regards the EU rules governing services of general interest, and secondly for recognition of the wide diversity of sectors and situations throughout Europe. I believe the time has come for us to consolidate the regulatory framework that applies to services of general interest in the European Union. That is what our fellow citizens expect. The Commission will take full account of your report when it examines this issue between now and the end of this year.
Gunnar Hökmark, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Madam President, it is important to state one thing in this debate: there is no better way to ensure high quality, accessibility and low prices than a broad range of competition and entrepreneurship in the European economy. We have all seen the results and achievements in a number of sectors that 10 or 20 years ago were looked upon as monopolies on typical services of general interest. We have seen achievements in telecom and airlines and we will see achievements in new areas, because we are talking about services that are by nature dynamic and convergent. They are a huge and important part of the future knowledge economy. We have to open up and, at the same time, respect the specific solutions each Member State needs for what it defines as services of general interest.
I should like to underline in this debate that there is no call in the report for a framework directive or a horizontal framework of any kind, but there is an emphasis on legal clarity based on a sectoral approach and a call for sector-specific directives where they are needed.
Mr Barroso, you mentioned healthcare. We can look back and see how the sector-specific approach has been quite successful in recent years. So we are calling for legal clarity, based upon the sector-specific approach, and we look forward to seeing future sectoral directives. We underline that there is no legal basis in the Treaties for a proposal that would interfere with the internal market, competition rules or public procurement. We stress that this is an area in which there must be respect for Member States and for the principle of subsidiarity.
In the coming decades, we will see opportunities arising for more and more cross-border activities in new areas. I believe that there will be fantastic opportunities for patients to get better healthcare in different countries and that could also create vitality for the European economy. But we agree on the need to respect the internal market, at the same time as we respect subsidiarity.
I hope, Mr Barroso, that you will read this report and see the need to go further on sector-specific directives and the sector-specific approach, in order to create the legal clarity that also respects the principle of subsidiarity.
Martin Schulz, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (DE) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the Socialist Group in the European Parliament has put my colleague Mr Rapkay’s report, and the issue of services of general interest, at the heart of what it is trying to do during this Parliament. We have made so bold – and it was an extraordinary achievement on our part – as to put together our own draft directive, which includes the essentials of what Mr Rapkay has set out in his report, and which I presented to you, Mr President of the Commission, and to the then President of the Council, Mr Schüssel. What we see as important in the services debate – certain essential individual elements of which I shall shortly address – is that our strategy should strike a balance between the demands of the internal market, which we social democrats are aware of and acknowledge, and the need to protect the public by reinforcing local and regional institutions, which are still best suited to maintaining the subsidiarity principle in the provision of services.
The essential message that must be carried by this debate is ‘flexibility where it is needed, protection where it is possible’. After all the Councils we have had – in Barcelona, Laeken, Nice – and after all the debates we have had, we see your coming here today, Mr President of the Commission, as the Commission’s underlining of the importance of this debate, and something for which we are grateful to you. That is also the reason why I, as chairman of our group, am speaking in this debate.
The main thing I have to do is to underline on behalf of our group what Mr Rapkay has, in his role as rapporteur, said about this report, but there are two other things I should like to say as well. I listened to what Mr Hökmark said with a great deal of attention. It is interesting when a convinced liberal tries to take the curve on this issue. To be sure, we are all in favour of the internal market, and we all want it to do all it can to spark off economic dynamism; on that we agree with you, but it becomes more difficult when it comes to the subsidiarity principle, which free-marketeers otherwise insist on as a matter of principle, yet, when it is used to guarantee certain indispensable social standards, it suddenly becomes a hindrance. That is not on!
I do not know whether requiring all health services to actually be subject to the free market is something that is worth striving for, nor do I know whether we have to sit back and watch until the day comes when every last municipal graveyard is run on commercial lines. I do not think that makes sense. We certainly still need strengthened local and regional authorities to enable us, within the framework of subsidiarity, to provide high-quality services that respond directly to what the public needs and demands. That is at the heart of social democratic policy, and we will not abandon it, but we also want the chance for local and regional authorities to enhance quality by means of greater flexibility and opening-up to the internal market, thereby, by their own free choice, being able to ensure flexibility in the provision of good and affordable services, for both are possible.
It was with a great deal of attention that we heard you, Mr President, saying that you wanted to consolidate the legal framework as a whole, for your acknowledgement of the need for a legal framework marks a great step forward, and your wanting now to consolidate it is an indication of your desire for a broad-based rather than sector-by-sector approach. If that is how you want to proceed, then I can imagine us making common cause quite soon.
I would like to say, on behalf of our group, that our venture in writing a draft directive of our own, combined with what Mr Rapkay has had to say, and with the President’s remarks, will convince you too, Madam Vice-President, that we are on the right track.
Sophia in ‘t Veld, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Madam President, I wish to begin by paying tribute to the rapporteur for a magnificent job. Even if we did not always agree, he was extremely patient and open to cooperation, for which I am very grateful.
It is very important that we make our position clear once and for all. I am concerned that the report we adopted in committee has been interpreted in so many different ways. There have been jubilant press releases stating that the European Parliament has finally called for a framework directive, whereas others state that the European Parliament has finally rejected the framework directive once and for all. We need to get away from a situation in which we have watered-down compromises that can be interpreted in various ways.
I can state, on behalf of my group, that we do not want a framework directive. We do not want a one-size-fits-all solution for Europe, precisely because we want subsidiarity. But what is subsidiarity? Subsidiarity means that the national and local authorities can define their services of general interest and decide on how they are organised and financed. Subsidiarity does not mean automatic exemption from the market rules. We are therefore talking about two kinds of subsidiarity here.
I listened very carefully to what Mr Barroso said and again he left some room for interpretation. I would like to interpret his remarks as meaning that he also wants targeted and concrete solutions for real problems. Because another recommendation I should like to make to this House is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! In that case, it is not legislation we need, but solutions to real problems. I have worked for a local authority, so I know what the real problems are. Local authorities have very legitimate concerns. However, we have to acknowledge that there is also a tendency towards protectionism. We will have to find the right balance here.
We also need to get away from the ideological debate, or at least be honest and admit that there is a certain degree of ideology involved. Some people very legitimately feel that the public authority should also be the provider of services. I agree with my colleague, Mr Hökmark, that the market can provide excellent services. Some sectors have been liberalised and that did not mean that more people were excluded from access to those services, but quite the contrary: many services have come within reach of many more people, which is extremely social.
A market is not a jungle; it has rules, because if there are no rules it is not a market. Any market – even the simplest market on the market square – has rules and that is exactly what we mean by the social market economy we have in Europe. We need to recognise the diversity of the Member States and allow them to decide for themselves what they call ‘services of general interest’.
Finally, we should not try to define what services of general interest and services of general economic interest are, because the word ‘economic’ applies not to the nature of the service itself but to the way in which it is provided. To take an example: everybody will recognise that water is of general interest, but it may be provided in a purely commercial way. So we must not lose ourselves in a senseless debate on the differences between ‘of general interest’ and ‘general economic interest’. The only interest we should be looking at here is the interest of our citizens and consumers.
Alain Lipietz, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (FR) Madam President, Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I very much appreciated the content of President Barroso’s speech. I appreciated the intention he announced to present one or more legislative drafts – I shall return to the question of one or more in a moment – for adoption by codecision as well as the four principles he invoked. I believe it was important to reiterate those principles.
The Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs rejected our proposal for a simple reference to the substance of Article 122 of the Constitutional Treaty and, what is worse, for a simple reference to Article 86 of the present Treaty. The latter article, as you pointed out, specifies that, in the event of a conflict between the market and public-service requirements in law or in practice, the public service must take precedence. I believe it is extremely important that the parliamentary draft reaffirms what we adopted at the time of the Constitutional Treaty, namely the text of Article 122, and confirms that at least we still believe in Article 86 of the present Treaty.
What we would like is to go much further in pinning down the precise implications of our forthcoming vote. If there is one point on which I agree with Mrs in't Veld, it is that Mr Rapkay’s diplomatic and very judiciously calculated statement about the need to legislate can be equally easily interpreted to mean one thing or the other. We will therefore ask you, in accordance with both the Treaty of Amsterdam and the interinstitutional agreement, to present us with a draft directive by virtue of the right of legislative initiative vested in this Parliament. We are also entirely in agreement with the four principles you outlined to us.
If we disagree with Mrs in't Veld, the precise bone of contention is subsidiarity. I regard it as a grave misjudgement to talk of strict subsidiarity when the Services Directive is actually the applicable instrument in the absence of a specific directive on services of general interest. The fact is that we have watched the substance and scope of the Services Directive vary incessantly from day to day and from week to week. At one point, subsidised housing was included. Then it was almost excluded, only to be reinstated again, though not fully. We need only compare our parliamentary draft with those of the Commission and the Council to see the lack of agreement on the public services that fall within the ambit of the Services Directive. We need to legislate today to set these matters straight.
Francis Wurtz, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (FR) Madam President, Mr President of the Commission, the general interest, the public good, the common good, public services: these are all key reference points which, as the President of the Commission has said, are at the heart of the debate on the concept of the European social model.
We are touching here upon people’s daily lives, on their perception of the future and on our conception of society. Fundamental values, such as equality, solidarity and democracy, are at stake. The issues are too important for us to deal with by means of fuzzy definitions or unsatisfactory compromises.
My group wishes to emphasise three aspects that require clarification. The first is the relationship between public services and the rules governing the internal market, in other words the provisions on competition, public procurement and state aid, not to mention the powers of the Commission and the Court to monitor and sanction perceived abuses.
In our view, we need a radically new legal basis that will allow public services to exist in Europe outside the logic of the market. It is true, as Mr Barroso and Mr Lipietz have reminded us, that the Treaty gives precedence to the provision of public services in cases where such provision conflicts with the rules of competition. It also recognises that national governments have the right to define general interest, but it is the Commission and, in the final analysis, the Court that determine the extent to which derogations may be made. Consequently, a country that is not considered to be anti-liberal, namely the Netherlands, has been brought to book for having committed, and I quote, ‘a manifest public-service error, because the subsidised social housing cooperatives counted among their tenants households that were not socially disadvantaged’. The truth is that this exemption regime is effectively tending to whittle away at public services.
This brings me to the second point I wish to make, namely the extent of our ambitions in the realm of public services. In our view, these services should quite simply cover the fundamental rights that everyone has in equal measure in this twenty-first century, namely education, health care, housing and decent living conditions, child care, information, culture, transport, telecommunications, postal services, energy and water supply, sewage and waste disposal and other needs that have become compelling, such as access to credit. Services in these areas must therefore be governed by the imperative of socially effective delivery without being subjected to the pressure of competition.
One third and final aspect needs to be highlighted, and that is the link between subsidiarity and the European integration project. As has been said, experiences of public-service management, of property structures and of funding methods vary from one country to another. It must be the sovereign right of each country to make these choices, with all their implications.
So do we or do we not need a framework directive? The debate on this issue has begun in our group, and I, for my part, would say ‘Let’s go for it!’ Let the Commission prepare such an instrument on the basis of the principles I have just restated. Some might object that this approach is incompatible with the rules of the Treaty. That, in fact, is exactly why we want to change those rules.
I propose, Madam President, that we put this question at the top of the agenda for the great debate that has been announced on the future of Europe, and we shall see what Europeans really think about this matter.
John Whittaker, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – Madam President, one can understand the desire to define the scope of EU interference in the provision of public services. It helps if you are running a business or a public service to know what the rules are, but I am appalled that this should hinge on defining the distinction between services of economic general interest and services of non-economic general interest. Surely, all services are economic in the proper sense that they have an economic value, otherwise they presumably would not be provided. I fear that attempts at such a definition will merely cause more confusion, less efficiency and more scope for ambiguous judgments from the European Court of Justice.
At root, the problem is that national and local authorities must have sovereignty over the management of public services, because public services are paid for by national governments on behalf of their electors. Yet here we are trying to make public services obey a common set of EU rules. Has anyone spotted the inherent contradiction? Mr Barroso has outlined an ambitious programme of work for the Commission. I say to him: please just leave it alone. Please let national governments do their own thing.
Françoise Castex (PSE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on International Trade. – (FR) Madam President, Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, you have emphasised, Mr President, that every country of the Union has its own history and its own conception of public services. The construction of Europe should indeed be undertaken with due deference to this diversity but should also be rooted in a set of common values centred on social justice, equality and solidarity. We can formulate a framework for a European public service. Such a service cannot be defined from the perspective of competition, for we know that the benefits derived by society from public services are measured in terms of education, health, security and cohesion among Member States and among their peoples.
As has been mentioned, we shall shortly adopt a directive opening up the market in services within the Community. We are familiar with the issues relating to the market in services at the WTO negotiations. In the Community, as at the global level, it is imperative that we should be able to draw a legal distinction between commercial and non-commercial services and to establish freedom to provide the former and rules to regulate the latter. Is it right that health, education, social housing and even water supply should be subject only to the law of profitability? Of course not! There is but one valid imperative – that of the general public interest and social progress for everyone. And the public authority, at whatever tier of government, is the sole guarantor of that general interest.
The people of our countries rightly fear that the European project is being eroded by liberalisation and globalisation. We must meet their needs for quality, accessibility, social responsibility and respect for the environment. What better guarantee can we offer to our concerned fellow citizens, Mr President of the Commission, than a European legal framework for public services?
Proinsias De Rossa (PSE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. – Madam President, I should like to thank Mr Rapkay for the enormous amount of work he has done on this report. Indeed I welcome the presence this morning of President Barroso on this important issue. It is a signal of the importance that the Commission attaches to this issue.
There is a broad consensus in Parliament about the role of services of general interest, economic interest, and of their importance. There are divisions largely on questions of strategy and, in some cases, tactics. There is a commitment here – and also on the part of the Commission – to ensure that any legislation or moves in that area will be by codecision. That is enormously important for the credibility of what we do in that area and for our legitimacy with our citizens in what we do in that area.
I favour a framework directive. That was one of the decisions of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs in its opinion on the report. However, two weeks ago Parliament said ‘no’ to a framework directive. I believe it would be a mistake to try to push that through again.
We need to find a pragmatic way of moving forward to ensure that we get clarity and an assertion of the principle you have outlined here today: that when it comes to a conflict between the right of the citizen to public services and the market, that is set down in legislation. We should not leave that issue to a decision by the courts on a case-by-case basis; otherwise we would end up with all kinds of conflicting results. It is in that context that I favour a framework directive. Perhaps that can be found in another way. We need to search for that.
I welcome your commitment to take action in the social services and health area. That is also an urgent matter.
Werner Langen (PPE-DE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. – (DE) Madam President, I want to put before the House the Committee’s resolution rather than my own opinion, although the two overlap to a large degree.
The committee adopted, and by a large majority, a total of 18 points, the essence of which has been incorporated into the Rapkay report, and so we have been able to adopt this resolution by a large majority, having been able to adopt a joint strategy on the basis of what this House has resolved on previous occasions.
I am very glad indeed that the President of the Commission is able to be here with us, but I am very far from happy at the prospect of yet another new communication towards the end of the years, for, from the year 2000 onwards, we have covered a circuitous route from one communication to another, from interpretation to summit document, without the clarification of the legal uncertainties that we needed being forthcoming. The Commission really must overcome the competition Commissioner’s antipathy – and yes, I know that will be quite a feat – and sort out once and for all a number of things that will otherwise have to be left to the European Court of Justice.
That does not mean that we favour a framework directive, and the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy has said as much, for there is no legal basis for one, not even in the draft constitution. While it is self-evident that we want to see codecision in as many areas as possible, it is not right that we should adopt resolutions that go beyond our remit.
We have laid down several principles that are in line with what the President of the Commission has said today, and, while the subsidiarity principle means that every level must take decisions for itself, they must also abide by the rules of competition, with subsidies being transparent and the Commission having a watching brief to look out for abuses.
Within those limits, we can, today, on the basis of the Rapkay report, adopt a good position with advice to the Commission as to how it should proceed. Now, all that is needed is for the Commission to act.
József Szájer (PPE-DE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection. – (HU) Madam President, Mr Schulz has very good eyes, because he sees things in this resolution that are not there.
I would like to indicate that the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection agreed in large part with the White Paper which the Commission presented to Parliament. In this regard, we also agreed with the point that there is no need for a framework directive at Community level. At the same time, with respect to these questions, there are, in my view, three essential fundamental principles.
The first and most important principle is that of subsidiarity. We have in Europe a great diversity of systems for providing public services. This diversity cannot be reduced to uniformity. As a consequence, if Europe does not want to take over responsibility for public service provision, then it cannot make these perspectives uniform. That is to say, these questions have to remain within the competence of local authorities.
The second principle is the question of a gradual approach. The European Union and the European Commission are moving in the right direction in deciding in favour of gradual regulation, and this leads to the third point, the matter of a sectoral approach. We have already been very successful in regulating various sectors in the field of telecommunications among others. We should strive to follow this example and to monitor it on a continual basis.
I agree, and so did our committee, that greater legal certainty is, of course, necessary. And as the representative of a new Member State, I would like to say as well that in view of the principle of equal access, the European Union does indeed have to guarantee a common basis with the help of the harmonisation and cohesion funds. In the new Member States, the tools for enforcing competition and for consumer protection are in many cases very weak. It is essential that these be strengthened, precisely in order that both equal access and competition be realised in these territories.
I consider the report on services of general interest to be a good report, and believe that Mr Rapkay and his colleagues have done outstanding work. But I would like to ask everyone not to misunderstand it and not to see elements in this report which are not there. That is to say, we cannot speak in this regard of a framework directive or of a communication on a framework directive.
It is also very important that the question of a general directive on services is closely related to this question. Here, too, we need to see things clearly. The directive on services has, on many points, set down the framework within which we can work in this regard.
Emanuel Jardim Fernandes (PSE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Transport and Tourism. – (PT) Mr Barroso, ladies and gentlemen, as draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Transport and Tourism on the White Paper on services of general interest, my position, and that of the committee, has been to advocate the complete exclusion of services of general interest (SGIs) from the scope of the directive on internal market services, in accordance with the idea that each Member State has the exclusive competence to define, fund, evaluate and monitor these services, as confirmed by Parliament. This will be conducive to the functioning of the market, to solidarity with the citizens and to respect for the competence of the national, regional and local authorities.
Secondly, we believe that SGIs must be described and defined, and the distinction between services of general economic interest (SGEIs) and services of non-economic general interest (SNEGIs) clarified as regards their legal certainty. Thirdly, a framework legislation for SGIs, SGEIs and SNEGIs, a general legal framework, as Mr Barroso mentioned earlier, or a framework directive, according to preference, must be adopted. Minimum requirements must be set for carrying out these activities, along with general criteria for the Member States and the national, regional and local authorities to implement, organise, assess and monitor them.
The fact that this legislation will encompass SGEIs does not preclude the possibility of specific legislation on certain individual sectors such as transport. Most of the ideas we put forward are contained in the Rapkay report, hence my support for the report, although I may lend my backing to some necessary amendments.
Lastly, Madam President, I should like to express my disappointment that there has been no reference to the outermost regions, given that SGIs, which do not currently, and may never, exist, are needed in those regions. I hope that the Commission and its President focus not only on the report but also on the points that I have raised.
Markus Pieper (PPE-DE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Regional Development. – (DE) Madam President, Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, we all agree that such things as public local transport, refuse disposal, social services and the water supply are things that should be managed on a regional basis, and that is largely the line taken, in principle, by Mr Rapkay’s report, which I welcome, and which has taken on board much of what is in the Regional Development Committee’s opinion.
While demanding a commitment to subsidiarity, we also call for greater legal certainty where services of general interest are in conflict with European competition law, namely with regard to the law on subsidies, public-private partnerships, and, indeed, the definition of terms.
A Frenchman, for example, has a different concept of what services of general interest are from a Pole, a Swede or a German, and that is why there must be no single European framework directive on them of the kind that the Socialists want. We do not want the same standards enforced right across the EU. It makes no sense to dictate to the regions of Greece or the Czech Republic what they are to understand by services of general or public interest. It is unfortunate that the Left in this House have managed to get various references inserted into the text of the report that could be taken as pointing the way to that sort of framework directive, and I wonder just what they are driving at. Do you want an overarching framework directive that will make the areas of legal uncertainty more complicated than they already are, or do you want an insidious backdoor attack on the substance of European competition law as a means of forcing your socialist ideas about public services on Europe’s regions? Whichever of the two may be the case, we say a firm ‘no’ to it. Where there are legal uncertainties, they must be eradicated, issue by issue and sector by sector.
That, of course, means a lot more work, but I am sure in my own mind that only the sector-by-sector approach can do justice to the European ideal of subsidiarity in the single market in which we all share. This is not an area where Europe should lay down criteria of cost or quality. Defining services of general interest, funding them and organising them, must continue to be in the hands of the regions, for it is they that have political responsibility for them.
Robert Goebbels (PSE). – (DE) Madam President, what I wanted to ask was whether the Committee on Regional Development is firmly in the grip of the European People’s Party, for what we heard from Mr Pieper was nothing more than the PPE line, and not the position taken by the Committee on Regional Development.
President. I am sure that we, as this Parliament moves into the second half of its term, will again have to give some thought to the need for rapporteurs for lead committees, and also the draftsmen of opinions for others, to do that to which Mr Langen has just referred. Irrespective of the group to which they belong, they reflect the mind and the voting behaviour of the committee. I am convinced that all of them have done so today, and anyone who is in any doubt about that can re-read the reports. I have to say that I, as an outsider unfamiliar with the subject-matter, did wonder when I heard some of the speeches, but this is something we will be able to return to during the life of the next Parliament – perhaps as part of a reform of this House.
Mrs Stauner will now have the opportunity to be the last to put her committee’s point of view.
Gabriele Stauner (PPE-DE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market. – (DE) Madam President, Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, even though it has been enshrined in the European Communities Treaty ever since Maastricht, the subsidiarity principle leads a shadowy existence, yet subsidiarity must always apply except where power resides solely at the European level.
Such is indisputably not the case as regards the services we are discussing today, so any European regulation in this field would be a flagrant breach of the subsidiarity principle, and, moreover, of the principles – integral to the rule of law – of necessity and proportionality if there was any interference in the functioning structures that the Member States have developed over the years.
If, though, the EU has no powers in this area, it follows that there can be no Europe-wide definition of these services either, and that only those who enact national or regional laws can define what they are. Quite apart from that, the White Paper’s attempted definitions of them – which I regard as artificial and cumbersome – reveal themselves as impractical and incomprehensible by the public.
No strategy – be it of Lisbon or of anywhere else – is capable of being a substitute for a legal basis, whether one is dealing with principles and targets such as competition, or with economic and social cooperation.
The only possible outcome of this debate, then, is a call to have nothing to do with any European regulation on services of general interest, quite simply because there is no European legal basis for one. I ask you to endorse the position of the Committee on Legal Affairs, which makes for a Europe that is close to its citizens, transparent and understandable.
Marianne Thyssen (PPE-DE). – (NL) Madam President, Mr President of the Commission, we know that we in this House invariably end up in politically sensitive waters if decisions are taken with the intention of correcting the market or have the effect of doing so. Very often, the same degree of sensitivity will kick in and the ideological bias is never far away when we want to apply the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality in specific situations. Despite this, Mr Rapkay has managed to compile a balanced report, for which I should like to offer him my sincere congratulations.
I am delighted with the knowledge that first of all, the importance of the availability of services of general interest is underlined and secondly, that the common position on the Services Directive has been confirmed, namely that it is up to the Member States to determine what services of general interest are. Thirdly, I welcome the fact that the question as to legal certainty is taking up a central position.
I have no problems with what some people here refer to as the rapporteur’s ambiguous wording. I would rather call it a wise, if not diplomatic, approach, but in any event one that can help us further in our quest for solutions. A framework directive is not specifically what we want. This report recognises the sectoral differences. If this report meets with approval, we will demonstrate beyond any doubt that we set greater store by essence in terms of substance than by the discussion as to the form it should take. That is what it should be about for us, after all.
Let us then stick closely to Mr Rapkay's report, since the Commission will then know where Parliament's broad majority lies and where there are still differences, and then we, pending what will emerge from the Commission communication, will be able to take further steps towards the balanced approach that the public can expect from us.
Harlem Désir (PSE). – (FR) Madam President, Mr President of the Commission, I believe that the time has come for legal and political clarification of this issue of services of general interest.
On the political front, because the debate on public services overshadowed the rest of the European debate, it poisoned the debate on the Constitutional Treaty, and it was blighted by the initial proposal for a directive on services in the internal market, since that proposal included a vast range of social services and services of general economic interest within its scope.
The distrust generated by the risk posed to public services by the actions of the Commission or the interventions of the European Union has a long history. It is warranted in many respects, one reason being the failure to strike a fair balance between the rules of the internal market and the preservation of the general public interest; another is the impact of a number of single-sector directives that have not delivered the promised or expected results. I am thinking, for example, of energy-price trends and of certain fears that have been confirmed with regard to postal services.
Clarification is also required on the legal side. You emphasised this point yourself a short time ago, Mr President of the Commission, when you listed the legislative initiatives that the Commission has taken recently to try to stabilise the interpretation of the law and the treaties with regard to public funding and the regulation of state aid, passenger transport, financing and compensation, etc.
I therefore believe it is wrong to set the need for sectoral initiatives against the need for a general framework in today’s debate. Single-sector initiatives are needed – you referred to some of these yourself – in areas such as health services or social services of general interest, and cross-cutting initiatives are needed too. Why? Because, as you said, one of the principles on which we must base our actions is respect for the right of each Member State and its local authorities to continue to define what they understand by services of general interest and by services of general economic interest. The interpretation of these concepts certainly varies from one Member State to another. The ways in which these services are organised and funded as well as the contours, the delineation, of public service are not the same in all our countries and sometimes even differ between regions within our countries or between local communities.
In the absence of legislation, it has fallen to the Court of Justice, and sometimes to the Commission, to interpret the Treaties. The fact is that these interpretations have generated an inconsistent and fluctuating body of case law, which has created legal uncertainty for local authorities, service providers and users. It has also kindled fears that the provision of services of general interest will be jeopardised by a kind of predominance of the forces of the internal market, competition and private operators. That is why we have taken this rather unusual step for a group in the European Parliament of proposing, as a symbolic gesture but also as a political measure, an initiative for the drafting of a framework directive designed to safeguard services of general economic interest.
We wanted to demonstrate that, given the necessary political will, a basis could be found in the Treaties and a directive could be formulated to answer the questions that now confront us. From this point of view, may I say the following to Mrs in't Veld: I believe this is precisely the legal framework we need if we are to protect subsidiarity, and that is what we have demonstrated with this draft framework directive. I invite Mrs in't Veld to familiarise herself with this initiative, which is intended to define and protect public services and services of general interest and to guarantee their long-term future.
I believe it is up to the legislature to establish the rules at this juncture. It is normal that the European Parliament, representing the people, and the national governments, representing the Member States, should be able to state openly, on the basis of a public debate, how Article 86 of the EC Treaty is to be interpreted and to draw the demarcation line that safeguards the general public interest from the forces of the internal market and competition. Public services, as you said, Mr President of the Commission, are at the heart of the European social model. People are attached to them because they not only enhance their quality of life, enable them to enjoy their fundamental rights and contribute to economic and social cohesion but also make our continent and its territories more competitive.
It is therefore a legal as well as a political imperative to show today that the European Union is not hostile to public services, that it is not trying to stifle them, but that it seeks, on the contrary, to preserve, encourage and develop them.
IN THE CHAIR: MR MAURO Vice-President
Bernard Lehideux (ALDE). – (FR) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, during the debate on the social model, I pointed out that our fellow citizens want a Europe responsive to their urgent and practical concerns. The guarantee of the existence and quality of services of general interest is one of these concerns. In Europe today, the legal status of these services is much too fragile. It is not healthy that services that are crucial for the social cohesion of our societies should be entirely dependent on the case law of the European Court of Justice. Judges, as we are all aware, never have this much power unless politicians fail to take responsibility. It is therefore our duty to develop a legal framework at Community level, setting out the procedures and objectives for the organisation of services of general interest.
Mr Barroso, if not everyone is convinced, that does not prevent us from being more specific about things, quite the contrary. I am among those who are asking the Commission to propose a framework directive on services of general interest as soon as possible. Allow me to reply frankly to those who oppose this and defend the choice of a sectoral approach. This is not an alternative. It is a trap. Our fellow citizens are not blind. They understand full well that to favour this approach would in reality mean delaying the establishment of the legal certainty that they so earnestly desire for services of general interest and for social services of general interest in particular.
What is more, it is clear that a legal framework does not prevent us from taking account of the particular features of certain sectors, quite the contrary. Clearly, defining a framework does not mean standardisation. Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, let us not evade our responsibilities. A legislative project awaits us and it will prove that the Union is the best guarantor of a high level of solidarity and social cohesion.
Pierre Jonckheer (Verts/ALE). – (FR) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, may I too say how delighted I am to see you and thank you, Mr Barroso, for attending this debate.
For many years now we have been discussing transsectoral European legislation in the field of services of general economic interest. The European Parliament pronounced itself in favour of such legislation in 2001 and 2004, and the European Commission – which at the time was the Prodi Commission – did not take the matter further, putting forward the legal argument of the lack of legal basis and the political argument of the lack of the political majority in the Council needed to make progress. On this last point, the reference to Article 322 of the draft Constitutional Treaty illustrates at the very least, unquestionably, that there was a political agreement within the European Council to move forward.
Today, we are faced with a proposal for a directive on the internal market in services which partly covers services of general economic interest, a directive which many experts predict will not prevent numerous appeals to the European Court of Justice and which we have reason to fear will make it harder to achieve the aim of greater legal certainty in the field of the internal market in services.
Also today, as other fellow Members have pointed out, we are faced with a European Parliament resolution which will be voted on tomorrow and which does not in fact go as far as the resolutions of 2001 and 2004. For this reason we have incorporated a number of amendments aimed at clarifying things.
However, the real political development, I believe, is that in addition to the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, which has had legal experts draw up a proposal for a framework directive, the European Trade Union Confederation has also put together a proposed text. A number of associations – I am thinking in particular of the European Liaison Committee on Services of General Interest, which has an in-depth knowledge of these issues – have also drafted proposals of a legal nature which amount to saying: yes, a proposal for a framework directive is not unthinkable, and, moreover, must be consistent with the four principles that you mentioned in your introductory speech.
For this reason, Mr Barroso, on the basis of Article 192 of the current Treaty, we ask you clearly to move forward and not to content yourself with responding to us in a few months time with a new consultation paper or a new white paper.
I would like to finish on a more political point. I believe that we must not underestimate the genuine or imagined concerns of a number of our citizens who feel there is a flagrant imbalance between, on the one hand, the implementation of competition law which, in its general provisions, is a horizontal law, and on the other hand, the protection of services of general interest at European level. Also, as some Members have said, Mr President, the significance of a framework directive for the Council and the European Parliament is that it provides them with an opportunity to show the Commission and, ultimately, the European Court of Justice, what kind of general provisions they want for European services of general interest. I believe that this is in fact what is at stake politically in this whole debate. Though I wish the political majorities were different, they are what they are for the moment.
Sahra Wagenknecht (GUE/NGL), – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, crude and heedless deregulation has been the order of the day in Europe for a decade now, with fundamental services such as energy supply, great swathes of the transport sector, not to mention education, health, housing and hospitals being made subject to the rule of the markets and of profit, in part under the aegis of deregulatory legislation from Brussels, in part under pressure from the ECJ, and in part on the initiative of neo-liberal governments, the claims being made that it will bring more jobs, with competition bringing lower prices for consumers and inducing private investors moving their money around more efficiently. The record of deregulation over the past decade itself demonstrates how false these neo-liberal claims are; in the energy and postal sectors alone, hundreds of thousands of jobs have been wiped out, and those who still have a job generally find themselves working under worse conditions. You can rejoice in that and call it increased efficiency, or you can call it what it is – coercion and exploitation. Rarely have the consumers benefited from falling costs; in Germany, for example, electricity has never been as expensive as it is today.
That the report by the Social Democrat Mr Rapkay should transfigure this record into one of success and call for the deregulation of more sectors testifies ignorance of past experience and to an irresponsible attitude towards those who have to endure the consequences.
Those who call for services of general interest to be made subject to the rules of the internal market are seeking to turn health, education and mobility into saleable goods that only the affluent can afford, for capitalist markets, rather than meeting demand, respond only to those who not only have demands but also the ability to pay, that being the only way to turn a profit. That may be the sort of Europe that the rich and big business dream of, but the Left is dreaming of other things, and we, together with Europe’s social movements, shall not cease from resisting this sort of unfettered capitalism.
Jens-Peter Bonde (IND/DEM). – (DA) Mr President, there were no scholarly books in my childhood home. My family were farmers and craftsmen. Competent teachers in my state school and free book loans in a well-stocked public library opened up the world of books to me. In this report, book loans, education, care, nursing, water, security, hospital treatment and welfare are referred to as ‘services of general interest’ as opposed to the more specific ‘services of general economic interest’ involved in going to the hairdresser or buying a house. Teeth, glasses and personal care fall somewhere in between. The Court of Justice, through numerous judgments, has created an internal market for many services. At the very heart of representative government, however, is the idea of not merely voting with your pockets, like at the market, but also choosing, through one’s votes, what facilities society is to enjoy. Do we want private hospitals and expensive medical bills; do we want to pay for book loans; should the price of public transport be reduced; should grannies get their daily wash in their care homes; should our infants be taken care of by discount nursery schools, or should they be educated by trained teachers? The June Movement supports the internal market for goods and services and we oppose national discrimination, but we also want to allow voters in each Member State to define the boundaries between the market and society and to determine the level of quality and service, as well as consumer rights.
We also want to safeguard the Danish ‘agreement model’, whereby wages and working conditions are agreed in accords and then respected, and our social model, whereby we pay high taxes in order to provide social civil rights to all. This is a case where representative government should be able to control the market so that there are also services of general interest for those not born with silver spoons in their mouths. We wish to continue to be able to sing with Grundtvig ‘And thus in wealth we have progressed far, when few have too much and fewer too little’.
Leopold Józef Rutowicz (NI). – (PL) Mr President, the Commission’s White Paper on services of general interest is certainly necessary in order to create a common market. In the future, these services and the way in which they are provided should be more precisely defined. We should bear in mind that at the moment, the provision of these services is, to a large extent, based on solutions drawn up in individual states and national legislation. We can only include these services in common European regulations once we improve the system of services in the European Union. Further action should specify the legal status of services of general interest and of measures to protect consumer interests.
Mr Rapkay’s report, for which I would like to thank him, clearly describes the current legal situation and the scope for further action. We must make use of this report.
Alexander Radwan (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, it is a wide-ranging area that we are discussing today. Although it was of the municipal graveyard that Mr Schulz chose to remind us, municipal organisations can also reach the size of major corporations – such is the extent of this spectrum, and it is open to question whether such big structures are always right.
Why, though, are we actually discussing this? The reason is that we are balancing the rules of the market, on the one hand, against subsidiarity on the other. That can certainly be a thorny issue, and what comes out at the end is not always rigorous. I am very much in favour of subsidiarity, of locally-made rules, but a standardised definition in a Europe that may well – to pre-empt today's decision – end up with twenty-seven Member States would be a mess of standardised pottage, and that I reject. Europe, though, must always be asking itself what added value accrues from action at the European level, and in what way it benefits the public. Why, then, are we putting such effort into discussing the idea of a framework directive, when the rapporteur himself says that his report is not calling for one in this area? The impression I get from some speakers is that they are doing no more or less than attempting to use this debate as a means of creating competition-free zones that will have a derogation from the services directive. Quite apart from the abolition of market rules, the risk is that we end up with a European standard-issue concept of what services of general interest are, and Europe is too heterogeneous for that to be our goal.
What the public, communities, and local politicians need, though, is legal certainty. They want to know what is possible and what is not, and that is where there is great confusion. Take, for example, Munich, the city where I was born. There, at the moment, four major hospitals are being brought together in one company, and nobody knows what has to be submitted to the Commission and what does not. This is where the Commission must work together with Parliament, for what is very disturbing, not least to my own group, is that the Commission still retains a degree of ‘licence’, in the sense that it always takes decisions on the basis of what it thinks right and does not consult the voters or their representatives in the manner to which they are entitled. What is crucial with regard to the latter point – and this is where these debates in this House are actually long overdue – is that the public must understand why what we do is for their benefit. In this field in particular, that is not always clear to them, and what we do in this place is perceived in a quite different way. This is an area where the communications strategy might accomplish something.
Robert Goebbels (PSE). – (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Article 5 of the Treaty establishing the European Community says, and I quote: ‘Any action by the Community shall not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of this Treaty’. This is known as the principle of subsidiarity, the importance of which has just been highlighted by President Barroso.
Yet it is clear that the common objective of social cohesion in particular requires sustained political action if quality public services are to be offered to all citizens. It is local councils, local authorities, that are closest to citizens. It is local councillors who are best placed to judge the services needed for the well-being of their fellow citizens, and the weakest among them in particular.
Logically, for decades the Union has not concerned itself with these public services. However, with the implementation of the large internal market, there have been more and more court cases brought by private competitors against towns and local authorities. The judgments of the European Court of Justice have not always been pleasing and have sometimes even been contradictory. In the Court’s defence, it must be said that the concept of public service is not easy to define.
There are significant differences between national practices in the 25 Member States. President Barroso has just emphasised the need to respect the diversity of national, regional and local circumstances. It is for this reason that the Socialist Group in the European Parliament has been fighting for years for a clear legal framework allowing services of general interest to flourish.
This is all that the Socialist Group in the European Parliament wants. We want the greatest possible certainty for all operators of universal public services. The Luxembourg judges must not become the arbiters of the quality of public services to be provided. According to President Barroso, these services represent 7% of European GDP and 5% of jobs, which serves to highlight their efficiency. It is for voters, for citizens to decide the universal services they want. Former Commissioner Lord Cockfield, who was, together with President Jacques Delors, one of the architects of the internal market was fond of saying:
‘the Commission has to help governments to save taxpayers’ money.’
– (FR) He was wrong. It is not the Commission that should decide how public monies are used but, ultimately, the taxpayers themselves. It is for the sovereign voters to decide whether their local authority or region is making good use of their money or not. That is called democracy.
Those who believe in the unbridled free market will argue that the Treaties oblige the Commission to remove public aid that distorts competition, but Article 87 of the Treaty stipulates clearly that this aid is only prohibited, and I quote: ‘in so far as it affects trade between Member States’. Now, it is difficult to argue that public services supplied locally by public authorities distort trade between Member States.
Mr President, you have just announced that we will receive a communication before the end of the year. I share the opinion of my fellow Member from the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, Mr Langen, that we have had too many texts that have been well written but that have lacked real political significance. Please, President Barroso, submit a legislative proposal to us or as many such proposals as you wish, but finally allow Parliament to do its job as colegislator in a field that lies, in your own words, at the heart of the European social model.
Danutė Budreikaitė (ALDE). – (LT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, today we are discussing the White Paper on services of general interest, published by the European Commission more than two years ago. It is regrettable that liberalisation of the services market has so far been truly inadequate. The White Paper provides only a very abstract definition of services of general interest and services of general economic interest. The concept of public services has not been defined at all, and therefore it is not used in the Paper, which instead refers to ‘public service obligations’ covering air, railway, road transport and energy sectors, which are also designated services of general economic interest. Thus it is difficult to understand what we are actually talking about, while the principal result expected from the White Paper was to draft a legal act regulating and enabling the enforcement of one of the major freedoms of the EU internal market, that of free movement of services.
The situation regarding services of general interest is very close to the Services directive, which originally was meant to cover economic and common interest services, which currently, with a number of exceptions, excludes transport and postal services, and exempts electricity, gas and water supply from the principle of origin. Thus most of the services in the EU can hardly be considered compatible with the principles of the internal market, competitiveness, representation of consumer interests, and the free movement of services. Market protectionism will not only lessen the competitiveness of the economy but currently is preventing and will continue to prevent providing consumers with services of appropriate quality at the right time. This is evident when travelling through the countries of the European Union.
As to services of general interest, the prime task is to clearly define them; this is to avoid any ‘free interpretations’ in individual Member States in order to protect the markets. It is necessary to draw up a legal act governing such services, duly considering the principle of subsidiarity and opening services markets to competition for the benefit of each country's own citizens and enhancement of EU competitiveness. I do admit that regional local governance is an important factor in the provision of services; however, quite often this is used to disguise market protectionism, whereas services are basically ‘big business’.
Elisabeth Schroedter (Verts/ALE). – (DE) Mr President, services of general interest are at the heart of the European social model. Mr Barroso may well have said that in his first sentence, but he went on, in the same breath, to praise the efficiency of the market – rather than solidarity, universal access or fundamental entitlements – as the primary motive for such services.
What the public expect of the European Union, though, is the certainty that the services they need in order to live will be provided as a guaranteed and fundamental right, and universally, that is to say without regard to their social status or where they happen to live. We can gain people’s trust only if services of general interest are intrinsically protected against market interests and kept separate from them. I have to tell Mr Barroso that, if he tries to combine public services with the efficiency of the market, he will end up dissolving the core of the European social model. You, Mr Barroso, may well rejoice at the demands made in this House for a sector-by-sector approach that would give you all the power you need to deregulate basic services, but it is abundantly clear from the latest examples given in your communication that it redefines basic social services as economic activity, so what you are doing is reinterpreting the definitions given in European court rulings.
Your proposals on health services, in which patient mobility is to be treated as more important than basic care, have their own tale to tell; they show how illusory is the belief that the market can guarantee fundamental rights. The only way to guarantee these services of general interest is by means of an explicit framework directive, one that does not impose the rules of European competition law on basic services, these being the sort of services that ought, self-evidently, to be able to receive state subsidies, which exist in order to guarantee basic amenities and ought not to give priority to the demands of the market. Those services of general interest that are economic in nature can also meet basic needs, and universal access to them, too, must take precedence over the interests of the market.
It follows that any such framework directive must go hand in hand with the services directive, precisely in order to guarantee that protection. That, as things stand at present, is the only way to find a solution, for, as a consequence of the services directive, services are already on the market, and so this is a fictitious debate staged by the Right, who believe that one can only look backwards and that the matter would be resolved either by adopting a sector-by-sector approach or by not having a Europe-wide definition at all.
Kartika Tamara Liotard (GUE/NGL). – (NL) Mr President, we scented victory when services of general interest were excluded from the scope of the controversial Services Directive. The public sector was set to remain safe from Bolkestein, but that may have been no more than a Pyrrhic victory; after all, it is only now that services of general interest are being defined. When a directive on services of this kind is being hammered out, it is necessary to settle what belongs to the domain of the market and what does not, as also and above all, the question of who is best placed to decide on this.
We will fight tooth and nail for our interpretation of general interest and against liberalisation and market forces in such areas as education, health care and culture: we have experience of them and have had it with them! When areas that, strictly speaking, do not belong to the market, but to society are being liberalised, Europe comes across to us as a greedy little pig which, given the chance, will grab every opportunity with both hands.
This is already apparent in the Commission’s fresh attack on care. In our view, this directive will, above all, become an instrument for citizens, pupils, patients and consumers to stand up to this greedy little pig of an ever-liberalising Union. The directive must spell out the fact that it is the Member States and their citizens who determine what services of general interest are, for, if they do, it will bring politics closer to the public once more, where it should be.
Johannes Blokland (IND/DEM). – (NL) Mr President, in the nineteenth century, governments took over many tasks that originally did not fall within their remit, for example, education, access to health care and the regulation of working hours; that was necessary as a response to market failure, and indeed still is whenever the market fails.
The distinction between services of general interest and services of general economic interest is academic. To draw that distinction is therefore intended to make services public and to restrict government interference. To curb government interference is a commendable objective in areas where citizens can be expected to display self-sufficiency and responsibility. Drawing that distinction should not, however, mean that public access is restricted.
I would therefore call for caution in making services of general economic interest open to the market. Society is well served by a government that does justice to the weak and guarantees access to services that are essential to day-to-day life.
Othmar Karas (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, I think that we, in this debate, are indulging in too much shadow boxing and not showing enough respect to the law and the public.
Let us take our own laws seriously; according to the constitutional treaty, the European Union is united in diversity, and one expression of this diversity is to be found in the many forms that services of general interest take. We are united in the internal market, so let us not cause diversity and the single market to be mutually contradictory.
Secondly, in that we do not see the market as an end in itself, we are in favour of the social market economy. The market possesses sustainability and its own social responsibility; precisely where its boundaries lie is a matter for those with political responsibilities to decide. Where the market cannot do all the things that the common good requires, or guarantee that they will be done, services of general interest must be allowed to play their part. They do not operate in opposition to the market; many general interest organisations compete with one another and comply with market criteria.
Thirdly, we affirm our belief in subsidiarity. Far from running counter to the European Union, subsidiarity is an essential element of the model for it. The reason services of general interest are not included in the services directive is that the definition of them is delegated to others by subsidiarity, and now we are debating whether this issue is soluble only by saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a framework directive. We are in favour of social security, security of supply and quality being guaranteed to the public at affordable prices, and of policymakers shouldering responsibility for relations between the market and the private sphere, between which there needs to be a new partnership, expressed in the form of services of general interest.
Bernadette Vergnaud (PSE). – (FR) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to pay tribute to the work of our rapporteur, Mr Rapkay, which has helped to revive this debate on services of general interest. I support completely his proposals to create greater legal certainty for social services of general interest. I also support those on the provision of high quality services throughout the EU at optimal cost, respecting social balance and guaranteeing lasting security of supply.
I am however much more sceptical when it comes to asking the Commission for clarification on applying rules regulating competition and the internal market to public services. Mr Barroso, whom I would like to thank for attending the debate, has just confirmed for us the supposed benefit of this competition for consumers.
As the rapporteur has pointed out to you, since public services lack a clear legal framework, their funding and management are dependent on uncertain circumstances offered to us in turn by the Commission and the European Court of Justice, which change hats as they see fit and act interchangeably as judge, legislator and executive.
For at least 15 years now Parliament has been asking the Commission to legislate. What have we achieved? The Commission is proposing a choice between a simple communication to strengthen the legal certainty of these services and a multitude of sectoral directives.
Personally, I want a framework directive: a legal framework giving services of general interest a positive and not simply dispensatory status, and one that the market competition rules will then be bound to respect. Key sectors such as education, health and water must not be liberalised, and mixed circumstances must be allowed for where social, economic and environmental concerns are interlinked.
Services of general interest reinforce citizens' feeling of belonging to Europe. They are a key element of solidarity and play a part in pursuing social rights. I do not want a Europe in which the European model is based only on fiscal and social competition between states. With this framework directive, I want to take Europe beyond the mere market, towards a society in which all public services are guaranteed as key factors in social and territorial cohesion.
Ian Hudghton (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, before I was elected to this Parliament I was the leader of a Scottish local authority which was, if I may say so, a very successful one in terms of both value for money and meeting local aspirations for public service provision in the County of Angus.
It was then, and remains today, the predominant interest of local government to protect its right to local self-government. It is therefore vital that in any new EU initiative we put an end to uncertainty. Let us not be satisfied with woolly wording in relation to vital public service. Let us not interfere in any way with the principle of local self-government. Let us distinguish clearly between private enterprise, which is subject to EU competition law, and public service: services of a local nature provided for the public good, which have little or no cross-border effect and should be provided free of EU competition rules.
The setting of standards in general interest services should also be subject to local decision. Some local authorities are sceptical of the need for new EU legislation. I say that if we are to have a framework directive, let us have one that gives cast-iron guarantees of the rights of local authorities to define, organise and finance public services in the way they see fit.
I recognise that significant economic benefits to business will arise from removing barriers to commercial service provision, but let us not further alienate public opinion by interfering with or undermining the provision of essential local public services.
Roberto Musacchio (GUE/NGL). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, if there is one thing that points to the existence of a European social model, it is precisely services, which must be safeguarded since they represent elements of citizenship. We have been asked to say whether there should be services of general interest befitting all Europeans and, if so, how.
In the wake of the Bolkestein Directive, there was some confusion regarding the difference between commercial services and general services. Therefore, we must now clarify what comes under the heading of the market, on the one hand, and of rights, on the other. To do this, in a series of amendments we have taken on board proposals submitted by the ETUC, which maintain that all services of general interest, including economic ones, that is, those for which Europeans pay directly or indirectly – so, nearly all of them – should come within the public, government sphere, and be characterised by their universality, accessibility, collectability and quality. In other words, they should be services and not goods, that is, they should be Europe and not North America.
We call on you all to support these amendments, which uphold the trade unions’ position. We also ask you to support them in order to clarify what the aim of a possible framework directive is, that is, to understand what Europe thinks about its social model and what it is proposing to its Member States in relation to services of general interest, whether services of general economic interest or otherwise.
Patrick Louis (IND/DEM). – (FR) President Barroso, Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, this report refers, quite rightly, to the principle of subsidiarity as the legal basis for issues relating to services of general interest. It has been only vaguely defined. We have moved from a substitution principle to a principle of delegation. For this reason, services of general interest can only be defined at the expense of particular circumstances and national needs.
Once again, we have to lament the fact that the unmistakable warning sent to you by the French and Dutch people should be treated with such contempt. I would remind you that services of general interest are only of concern to the European Union from the very disputable point of view of competition. The freedom of Member States to define the duties they intend to entrust to public service, in accordance with the will of their people, is being seriously undermined in this instance.
No, it is not appropriate for countries that, historically, do not have a culture of public services to prevent those that do have such a culture from having public services when they have deemed them necessary. If you respected the principle of subsidiarity in its true sense, you would admit that public services, essential to the life of our societies, should be defined, organised and managed as close to citizens as possible at national level.
We believe that only a strong public power is capable of ensuring a future that is viewed not in terms of the mere quarterly profitability of shares, but over decades in the fields of education, health, transport, energy and the environment.
(The President asked the speaker to conclude)
The only rule we have need of is that of sovereignty, which means that each State should be free to decide on its public services and that public service obligations take precedence over Community competition law.
Malcolm Harbour (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I would like to get this debate back, as my colleague Mr Karas said, to the people who really matter in all of this: our citizens receiving public services. We know that in many cases those public services are not good enough, not efficient enough and are delivered at much too high a cost.
Mr Barroso, whom we are delighted to see here this morning, made an important point in his principles for the promotion of good-quality public-service delivery. He mentioned the crucial factor of how technology is now enabling those services to be transformed and new models of organisation and delivery to be sustained. Those are the things we should be talking about. We should be thinking about the diversity that is engaging the best minds, the best technology, the best people and the best managers involved in delivering those services.
However, the debate we have had, principally from that side of the House, has mainly been concerned with organisational models and protectionism. With the Services Directive in place, thanks to our efforts, more of those minds can be unleashed on delivery of services. We have work to do on public procurement from recent hearings in our committee. We have work to do on competition law. If those are included within Mr Barroso’s idea of consolidation, that is fine. However, we do not want a directive of the kind set out here, which is a naked political directive. They gave the game away in their interventions. Mrs Schroedter said that it would protect against liberalisation. That is what it is all about, Mr Barroso! Have nothing to do with it. Tell us today that you will take it off your agenda. I have asked in my committee, but with no reply, what problems for our citizens this directive is intended to solve. When those on the Left give us a comprehensive analysis of those problems, we might consider it, but we have far more important things to do today than to talk about their political declaration.
Ieke van den Burg (PSE). – Mr President, as the coordinator of the PSE Members of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs I asked to be the last speaker on the PSE Group side, precisely in order to remove some of the prejudices and misunderstandings about this debate. So I hope I can eliminate some of those misunderstandings.
Firstly, I want to thank Mr Barroso for his speech and to say that we in the PSE Group fully understand his four principles and his view that it is necessary to create more legal certainty for the service providers, whether they are public or private or something in between, for the Member States and the decentralised public authorities, and for the citizens. As Mr Harbour rightly said, that is the crucial element.
I think Mr Barroso has correctly interpreted the report that Mr Rapkay prepared on behalf of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and that we voted for by a large majority in the committee. We have not expressed a preference for any particular form of legal instrument, but have made it clear that legislative initiatives are needed and that we should have a full political process of decision-making on this, in which Parliament and the Council can participate fully. Codecision is the right way to deal with these political issues. That is the message of the report. The report does not say that there should be a horizontal instrument or sector-specific instruments only; it leaves the options open and says that both methods can be used in parallel.
It will be clear from the debates that preferences differ, but also that there are a lot of prejudices about the options and preferences we promote. In my political group, I chaired a group of legal experts who drafted a text. Unfortunately I have the impression that many did not read this text, because if Mr Harbour had read it he would see that it is not a political statement but a clear attempt to reconcile the rules of the market, of competition, the subsidiarity that we want to guarantee for local authorities, the quality aspects and the importance of public service and services of general interest and economic interest for the citizens of Europe. This is not ideological; it is a concrete attempt to reconcile these. The draft is open for debate and we hope you will participate in discussing it. But it is up to the Commission to come up with real proposals and then we can set to work on the legislative methods and formulations.
For the vote on this report, again I state that we have agreed to disagree on the issue of which instruments would be preferable. There are amendments now from both sides, from the ALDE Group and from the Verts/ALE Group, to try again to force a decision on the preference. I do not think that is wise. I agree fully with Mrs Thyssen that it is wiser to stick to the agreement that we had and to leave this issue open. It is the Commission that has to decide and if one of those amendments is adopted the only result will be that whole report would fall. That would be a pity because, as everyone has said, Mr Rapkay and the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs have produced a good report.
Jiří Maštálka (GUE/NGL). – (CS) I should like to thank Mr Rapkay for his report. I must say that, after reading a great deal of detail on the subject, and following the lengthy debate on this issue, I strongly back the idea of establishing a general directive on services of general economic interest (SGIs). I welcome the creation of this directive, which will guarantee SGIs as one of the main pillars of the European social model. The directive should also deliver legal certainty, through a legal basis established on general principles such as equality of access, high quality services, reasonable costs, universality and security. A balance has to be struck between the market on the one hand and the public authorities responsible for public services on the other. Furthermore, the report raises fresh questions. Will we actually be able to ensure that the framework directive will have sufficient substance to uphold the aforementioned principles? Will the directive actually protect services of general interest?
Karsten Friedrich Hoppenstedt (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, I will start by thanking the rapporteur for his good cooperation in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, which, I hope, will continue into tomorrow. I also have cause to be grateful for the way in which the significance of this report as one that determines the future of municipal services – or, to put it another way, of services of general interest – has been highlighted. That is also made clear by the amount of time allotted to the debate.
Those of us who have spent many years in local and regional politics will be aware that, as far as the public are concerned, politics begins at their own front door, and so subsidiarity requires that the right of communities to manage their own affairs, and hence the powers of local authorities, should not, despite the complexity of European structures, be tampered with. It follows from that that municipalities must play a major part in defining and organising services of general interest, and that, in essence, must involve, seeking by every avenue available to offer these services to the public at as reasonable a price as possible, and must, of course, also mean that public and private service providers must be brought in as partners together.
We should continue to urge all the interested parties to take the line that limited market activity within the remits of local authorities should not be required to be subject to all the European rules and regulations in order that local authorities should not be deterred from entering into public/private partnerships that are, in fact, beneficial to the public. What is needed is the sort of legal certainty that encourages municipal authorities to be creative in performing their services, that does not overburden them with bureaucracy and makes long-term forward planning possible. Creativity and the guaranteed right, founded upon legal certainty, for municipalities to govern themselves, can be crucial in facilitating locally-based contributions to Europe’s economic growth.
Corien Wortmann-Kool (PPE-DE). – (NL) Mr President, the text of the resolution manages to strike the right balance as regards the freedom that the Member States should retain in future in terms of, on the one hand, the organisation and definition of their public functions and, on the other, the observance of internal market rules. Europe’s focus – and the text of the resolution does not leave us in any doubt in that respect – must be on legal clarification and a sectoral approach where ambiguity creates problems.
We demand legal certainty, provided it does not get in the way of competition and protectionism. We also demand legal certainty to help local and regional authorities, but we should be acutely aware that those selfsame local authorities want to retain their freedom of choice and do not want additional rules imposed from above.
We must, above all, provide room for diversity, and refrain from freezing this diversity in a horizontal regulatory framework. If Europe is to be ready for battle, it must retain its dynamism. President Barroso, I very much appreciate your personal attendance in this debate. We demand clarity from you, but you can expect the same from us. The Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats will therefore vote against the Socialists’ amendment which requests framework legislation.
Mrs van den Burg mentioned the prejudices and misconceptions in respect of the intentions of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament. Your group chairman, Mr Schulz, however, is feeding those prejudices himself by saying that we must, at European level, guarantee social standards, quality standards and quality of services. That I regard as taking matters too far, and I will therefore be voting against framework legislation, and, for that matter, a horizontal regulatory framework.
Małgorzata Handzlik (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on his excellent report and to thank him for his considerable readiness to negotiate and discuss. It is thanks to the rapporteur’s approach that this report is a well-balanced compromise between various political alternatives. The report is a very important step towards defining the legal status of services of general interest.
It should be highlighted that, in terms of European Union legislation, a framework directive on services of general interest is unnecessary. These services should be dealt with by focusing on specific sectors and not on a general basis. We should allow Member States to define what they consider to be services of general interest, according to their regional characteristics. However, this right must not be used by the Member States to infringe the terms of the Treaty, especially in terms of free competition, state aid or public procurement.
Thus, the Member States should be able to define services of general interest within their territories but they should not be able to abuse this right, as they frequently tend to do. Services of general interest are often used as an argument for protecting the public interest from the principles of the internal market. In my opinion, a framework directive will not provide a satisfactory solution either for the European economy or for the consumers, namely the citizens of Europe. We should deal with the problem by using a sectoral approach.
Zita Pleštinská (PPE-DE). – (SK) Globalisation is confronting us with greater market openness, greater competition and ever more rapid innovation, all of which call for greater flexibility and adaptability. Public services, being part of the social model, therefore need to continually adapt to new developments in globalisation, to democratic changes and to advances in science.
The European Parliament approved the Services Directive on the first reading and defined its scope. Services of general economic interest were included in the scope of the Services Directive. The approved draft Directive does not apply to services in the public interest, healthcare services and transport services. In the 25 Member States of the European Union, services in the public interest have evolved in ways that reflect distinct regional traditions. For this reason I would like to emphasise that it is absolutely imperative to comply with the subsidiarity principle. In accordance with this principle, each and every Member State decides for itself which services will be provided by public institutions and which sectors will be liberalised.
In Slovakia, local and regional authorities elected and controlled by the public have done a good job in providing services for the common good and they are capable of continuing to secure rights relating to codecision, consumer protection and public welfare. The competent public authorities should have appropriate instruments made available to them so that they will be able both to foster competition and to ensure consumer protection. It is important to strengthen the powers of Member States to monitor the efficient fulfilment of public policy goals such as affordable prices and high-quality norms.
With a view to these considerations, I am convinced that it is not necessary to give the European Union additional powers in the area of services provided for the benefit of the public. My position is clear – there is no legal basis for a framework directive on services in the public interest. In conclusion, I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Rappkay, for his work.
Andreas Schwab (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Mr President of the Commission, ladies and gentlemen, I would just like to start with warm thanks to the Members whose input was crucial to the process of working through this issue, namely Mr Szájer from the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, Mr Rapkay as the House’s principal rapporteur, and our shadow rapporteur Mr Hökmark.
What you, Mr President of the Commission, said this morning struck me as a perfectly adequate response to the concerns to which the Socialist Group in this House is giving expression by bringing in its own draft for a framework directive. While we take – and continue to take – the view that this framework directive is not needed, it has to be said that it does address three areas in which there is conflict between the grass-roots interests of communities on the one hand and the interests of an effective European internal market on the other. Irrespective of how clear-cut Members of this House might want the demarcation lines of the internal market to be, it has to be said that it is, in certain areas – whether in the tendering for and award of contracts, or in the law on competition or subsidies for municipalities – not an unmitigatedly bad thing. What is needed, though, is to establish greater legal certainty in these areas. It remains to be seen whether the communication, the prospect of which you have held out, will be sufficient for this purpose, but I do in any case believe that a communication is a more adequate way of addressing the problem than a framework directive in terms of its effects.
The fact is – as Mr Radwan has already said – that we have to consider the market versus subsidiarity dilemma far more from the point of view of the citizen, and the European social model, too – although I always wonder how people can keep on invoking it without having anything to say about what it actually is – envisages citizens and consumers being offered the best possible value for services wherever they are in Europe; that is where Mr Hudghton is very definitely right when he speaks so highly of the Scottish local authorities that are able to offer their services at very reasonable prices in line with the market. If they want to carry on doing that in future, they will need to be given the legal certainty that will enable them to do so, but that does not mean that this is an area from which the market should be excluded.
Alexander Stubb (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I should like to make three points.
Firstly, I think services should be open to competition. That is why we are here and why we have European integration. It is clear that Member States cannot sustain their welfare systems without the help of the private sector. This whole debate is about having specific public services of general interest. It has happened in a country near my own, Finland, formerly the Soviet Union. It is absurd to think that services of general interest can be provided only by the public sector. I should therefore like to promote public-private partnerships. We should draw some lessons from the debate we had on the Services Directive.
My second point, then, is: no framework directive! There is no basis for it. I do not want the Commission to come up with anything, not even a consolidating document. It falls within the competence of the Member States. It adds no value whatsoever. Face the facts: the Commission’s study makes it clear that there are huge differences between what we consider to be a service of general interest in Finland, for instance, and what is considered to be a service of general interest in France. This debate is a smokescreen for monopolies and for protectionism. That to me is completely anti-European.
Finally, I wish to second what my Polish colleague Mrs Handzlik said. What is the right solution? It is clear that we must have a sector-specific approach. We have to go sector by sector, focus on cooperation and have clear priorities: healthcare, postal services, water and gas services and so on, but without a directive. Let us stay clear of it.
Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin (PPE-DE). – (FR) Mr President, fellow Members, you usefully referred, Mr Barroso, to the four basic principles that need to guide our thinking about services of general interest. Paradoxically, it might be thought that you have reopened the debate on the need either to have a framework directive on services of general economic interest or to choose sectoral initiatives in relation to social or health services.
The vote on the Services Directive altered the parameters in favour of the second solution since the real dividing line lies not between services of economic and non-economic general interest but – within services of general economic interest – between social and health services and other services. This development was reinforced by the detailed and legally painstaking work done by the rapporteur, Mr Rapkay, and our colleague, Mr Hökmark, who constructed a legal bridge between the Services Directive and the sectoral instruments.
Indeed, a framework directive on services of general economic interest raises three difficulties. Firstly, the Treaty on European Union offers no legal basis, as has been pointed out on many occasions. Next, this directive would be incompatible with the scope of the Services Directive, as voted on at first reading on 29 May. Finally, it in no respect meets the need for legal certainty expressed by the players and, at the same time, it threatens the subsidiarity called for by Member States and local authorities.
Whatever the instrument selected and the ideological choices that will help determine the option we choose, these are not what matter in the end. The work of legal clarification needs to be continued in the field of social and health services of general interest. That, Mr Barroso, is the practical problem faced by the actors on the ground.
Eoin Ryan (UEN). – Mr President, this is an extremely interesting debate. As you know, the Commission published a White Paper on the issue, recommending that a framework directive be put in place to cover services of general interest. However, I do not agree with that approach; I believe that we should support regulations governing specific economic sectors. I would certainly agree with the idea in principle, but I believe that an overarching directive would cause enormous confusion in the debate, especially in the debate in Member States. It could lead to hysteria if people do not understand exactly what it means. That is why I believe we have to be far more specific and look at the directive sector by sector, at the existing providers of services. What we are trying to do here is improve services for the citizens of Europe so they will understand exactly what has been proposed; so that consumers will not be frightened that a directive which comes from Europe could privatise or undermine existing services within their country. It is very important to approach this with clarity so people can understand exactly what has been proposed by both the Commission and Parliament.
The EU has competence over matters such as telecommunications, transport and energy, but it does not have competence under the EU Treaties to legislate in a broad capacity on matters governing the operation of social services, health and education within the different Member States. The debate boils down to the powers of the EU institutions versus the competence of Member States. We must be very careful with regard to that issue.
It surprises me that some Members are against that, whereas they are very much in favour of tax harmonisation between Member States. To my mind that seems to contradict what they are saying in this debate. I do not believe in tax harmonisation. I believe that Member States should control their own tax systems. That would encourage competition within the Union.
Jean-Claude Martinez (NI). – (FR) Mr President, Mr Barroso, fellow Members, education, health, postal services, water and transport are at the heart of a society’s life. What is essential to the management of public services designed to benefit the public is a public legal system.
It is in Europe that countries like France have invented this cooperative method of administering the shared dimensions of what is owned by society as a whole. This is precisely a time when this intelligent technique for making services generally, indeed universally, available could inspire audacious solutions to worldwide problems in relation to water, basic medicines, education and all the shared dimensions of what is owned by the world as a whole, yet the European Commission is reducing the scope of this tool for guiding human societies, if not actually destroying it.
This mess consists in the destruction of what had worked for a century, and behind it is the belief that the market is supreme, that knowledge is its prophet and that all services need to be privatised, as the World Trade Organisation wants to see happen. Such services include those in support of our own sittings – organised by ourselves in the European Parliament as a social squat in which 300 people work without social papers.
Mr Barroso, beyond the technical problems explained by our fellow Members, such as Mr Désir who spoke just now, the problem is a cultural problem and a problem of choice. Either we manage human societies according to the law of the market, which is to say the law of the jungle, or we manage them according to the law of reason.
Mr Barroso, do you want to continue in this haphazard manner, forever lauding the market while courting the International Monetary Fund one moment and the WTO the next, or do you want to sit down quietly and deal in reasonable terms with problems amenable to reason?
José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission. (FR) I should like firstly to say to you, Mr President, fellow Members, that I have greatly valued this debate. I have found it really very interesting and I believe that it will be extremely useful. We have not wasted our time, and I have been able to construct a much more specific idea both of your feelings on the subject and of the consequent difficulties in taking the matter forward.
In point of fact, the debate has confirmed the ambiguities that remain and to which a number of you have referred. The Rapkay report is obviously wise and intelligent and seeks to establish a balance. It is also the case, however, that it does not fully engage with a number of issues, and this ought, moreover, to give you a better understanding of the difficulties that the Commission has experienced for years in defining the matter and supplying more precise definitions. That is because this is a complex matter. Let us acknowledge the fact. Even considered in a specific spatio-temporal framework, the issue is a difficult one because it involves reconciling principles that sometimes appear contradictory. That is the way it is when it comes to the principles of the internal market and of competition – principles that are essential to our Community, that are inscribed in the Treaties and that the Commission is – let us be clear - absolutely obliged to respect, as it is obliged to respect the principles of state intervention and of the general interest.
If, however, the issue is already difficult in itself, it proves to be still more complex when placed in the developing context of space and time. As a number of you have emphasised, the fact is that time constantly moves on, what with structural changes to our markets, increased pressure from international competition and major technological change. In territorial terms, too, the situation varies a lot from one Member State to another, and there may indeed be big differences between levels of intervention at national, regional and even local level. The issue is therefore extremely complex, which is why it is so difficult, or even impossible, to come up with a standard response according to the ‘one size fits all’ principle.
Does that mean that nothing can be done at European level? I do not agree. On the contrary. How, though, are we to approach the matter? Let us look first at what must not be done. I believe that there are two extreme approaches that must be avoided at all costs. The first consists in saying that services of general interest fall completely outside Europe’s remit. They are none of its business. That is not the case. Services of general interest are, in fact, our business because they are at the heart of our social model, and we want to preserve them. Europe therefore has something to say about the matter.
The other radical approach consists in saying go ahead and regulate matters, as it will enable us – and people have been quite candid about this – to resist what is stated in the Treaties, the idea being that the Treaties tend rather to focus on liberalisation whereas the time has now come to question that perspective by enacting regulations opposed to the rules of the single market and of competition. That is something that we cannot accept. The single market is our great strength and one of the great successes of European integration.
If, however, we avoid these two extreme positions – which is to say that of absolutely minimum European intervention and that of a very high degree of intervention to offset the effects of the market - what can we do? Having followed this debate, I think that the principles that I stated at the beginning and to which, moreover, the Rapkay report refers provide us with the solution. I would therefore put the following suggestion to you, ladies and gentlemen. Instead of focusing on an abstruse debate on the usefulness or otherwise of a framework directive about which, as the debate has shown, there is obviously no consensus, why not focus on the substance, as the majority of Parliament seems to want to do? What is the agreement about? It is about subsidiarity, the desirability of which we all accept. I believe that the national and local levels should be respected where this subject is concerned. Compatibility between the internal market and the public interest must be ensured in every case where an apparent contradiction is noted.
Moreover – and this is, in my view, perhaps the most important point – there is the issue of what are the essential features of public services. We all want them to be of high quality, to have a good quality-price ratio and to be accessible to all. The need to modernise public services can therefore be accepted as a matter of principle, but without forgetting these essential factors. Finally, mention must be made of the need for increased legal certainty.
Having met the various groups and heard the speeches by Mr Rapkay, Mrs Thyssen and many others, I think I can say that, if we agree about these four points, we do have a basic consensus on this matter and prospects for compromise. I think it is possible to take this matter forward while sticking to those principles of ours that define our European model: those of the internal market, respect for the rules of competition and defence of the general interest. The communication we shall present will be along those lines, and I believe that the debate and my presence in this House today will help us fine-tune our ideas. We shall propose something that will demonstrate that we have made progress in our thinking and, I hope, in our decisions concerning such an important subject that is at the very heart of what matters to Europe and to our fellow citizens.
Robert Goebbels (PSE). – (FR) Mr President, I believe we are all more or less in agreement with what Mr Barroso has just said. He is promising us a communication. We are waiting impatiently for it. But can the President tell us whether he will be asking his services to propose legislative texts as well so that Parliament can at last debate them as co-legislator?
José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, what I can say at this stage, having listened to the various views expressed, is this.
As I said, we will by the end of the year be presenting a communication that will be an advance on previous thinking.
So far as legislative texts are concerned, it seems to me that the debate has made it clear that we are a long way from a consensus on a framework directive. Having said that, there will of course be legislative initiatives for different sectors. Having said that, too, I think we need to give some thought to what can be done on a more general level; I and my services will be doing so – after all, the Commission is not just a set of services, the College and the President have ideas too. I cannot at this stage say what our proposal will be, but – and now I am anticipating without committing the Commission, because it is a question I have to put to the College myself – it seems to me from the debate that it would be possible to adopt an approach combining the principles we have mentioned here, taking into account the need that many of you have voiced to avoid splitting Parliament and Europe today on the appropriateness of regulation, especially where the principle of subsidiarity is involved.
I believe that is possible and I would like to conclude with a comment of a political nature. I am speaking to you as the convinced Europeans you are. If we want to make progress on this dossier, it is essential that we avoid the polarisation we had with the services directive. Just as Parliament and the institutions managed to find a positive political balance on that directive, it seems to me that we need the same kind of approach for this question. If we become split between two extreme positions over whether or not there should be overall regulation of the issue, I think we will be heading towards a confrontation that will not be in the overall interests of Europe as we understand it.
Let us therefore concentrate on the substance. There is after all enough in the Rapkay report that we agree on. Then we will find a solution on the decision-making instruments.