Procedure : 2006/2137(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0272/2006

Texts tabled :

A6-0272/2006

Debates :

PV 11/10/2006 - 20
CRE 11/10/2006 - 20

Votes :

PV 12/10/2006 - 7.26
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2006)0418

REPORT     
PDF 144kWORD 93k
14 September 2006
PE 374.348v02-00 A6-0272/2006

on Follow-up to the Report on Competition in Professional Services

(2006/2137(INI))

Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs

Rapporteur: Jan Christian Ehler

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION
 EXPLANATORY STATEMENT
 PROCEDURE

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

on Follow-up to the Report on Competition in Professional Services

(2006/2137(INI))

The European Parliament,

–   having regard to the Commission communication, ‘Report on Competition in Professional Services’ (COM(2004)0083),

–   having regard to the Commission communication, ‘Professional Services - Scope for more Reform - Follow-up to the Report on Competition in Professional Services’ (COM(2005)0405),

–   having regard to Articles 6, 43, 45, 49 and 81 of the EC Treaty,

–   having regard to its resolution of 18 January 1994 on the state and organisation of the profession of notary in the twelve Member States of the Community(1),

–   having regard to its resolution of 5 April 2001 on scale fees and compulsory tariffs for certain liberal professions, in particular lawyers, and on the particular role and position of the liberal professions in modern society(2),

–   having regard to its resolution of 16 December 2003 on market regulations and competition rules for the liberal professions(3),

–   having regard to its resolution of 23 March 2006 on the legal professions and the general interest in the functioning of legal systems(4),

–   having regard to Council Directive 77/249/EEC of 22 Mach 1977 to facilitate the effective exercise by lawyers of freedom to provide services(5),

–   having regard to Directive 98/5/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 February 1998 to facilitate practice of the profession of lawyer on a permanent basis in a Member State other than that in which the qualification was obtained(6),

–   having regard to Council Directive 2002/8/EC of 27 January 2003 to improve access to justice in cross-border disputes by establishing minimum common rules relating to legal aid for such disputes(7),

–   having regard to Directive 2005/36/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 September 2005 on the recognition of professional qualifications(8),

–   having regard to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice on competition law and freedom of services in the Community, with particular regard to national provisions on minimum fees,

- having regard to Directive 2005/29/EC(9) of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2005 concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market,

–   having regard to the Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS) report on behalf of the Commission, ‘Economic Impact of Regulation in the field of Liberal Professions in Different Member States’, of January 2003,

–   having regard to Rule 45 of its Rules of Procedure,

–   having regard to the report of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (A6-0272/2006),

A. whereas in March 2000 the Lisbon European Council adopted a programme of reform aimed at making the EU the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, and respect for the environment (Lisbon agenda),

B.  whereas the Kok report of November 2004 stressed the importance of deregulating all markets and removing unnecessary red tape in order to boost competition,

C. whereas the mid-term review of the Lisbon agenda established the need to give it fresh impetus and to focus on growth and employment and urged the Member States to submit national reform programmes to promote growth and employment,

D. whereas services, which are the main motor for growth in the EU, have an important role to play in improving the competitiveness of the economy of Europe,

E.  whereas professional services must be included in the reform efforts, since they are a key sector of the economy of Europe,

F.  whereas, by virtue of the subsidiarity principle, it is up to Member States to decide whether they wish to regulate the professions directly by means of national rules or to allow self-regulation by professional bodies,

G. whereas for the last few years the Commission has been conducting a dialogue with Member States and professional bodies on the dismantling of barriers to competition, which has led to deregulation measures and new reform initiatives,

H. whereas, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, Member States and national professional bodies for service providers have a prominent role to play in pursuing reform efforts,

I.   whereas professional organisations, other professional bodies, consumer and user organisations and all relevant stakeholders need to be involved in the process in a balanced manner,

J.   whereas specific regulations are legitimate owing to the asymmetry of information between customers and service providers, the fact that certain professional services are deemed to provide public goods and the fact that the provision of professional services may be linked to externalities,

K. whereas the stocktaking exercise of professional services ordered by the Commission in 2002/2003 no longer reflects the current state of regulation in the individual Member States and therefore stands in the way of an assessment of reform endeavours,

L.  whereas the Commission has failed to address the consequences of a systematic pro-competitive reform of the sector of professional services as regards job creation and additional growth,

M. whereas clear objectives and markers based on scientific evidence will help convince all those involved in the reform process of the need for reform efforts,

N. whereas the fundamental priority of the reform should be wider and easier access for consumers, while at the same time ensuring the quality and cost-efficiency of these services,

O. whereas there are still substantial differences in the extent to which the various professional categories have succeeded in opening up the market,

P.  whereas Directive 2005/36/EC establishes rules according to which host Member States make access to or the pursuit of a regulated profession in its territory contingent upon the possession of specific professional qualifications,

1.  Welcomes the dialogue between the Commission, the Member States and the professional bodies of professional services providers aimed at dismantling barriers to competition which are unjustified or harmful to the pursuit of the general interest and rules which are against the interests of consumers and ultimately of the providers themselves;

2.  Calls on all those involved in the reform process to pursue it in a constructive manner;

3.  Considers that the traditional right to issue regulations based on traditional, geographic and demographic specificities should be reduced and ultimately eliminated; emphasises in this connection that the rules should be non-discriminatory on the basis of gender, ethnicity or nationality and should restrict competition to the least extent possible in order to help attain the Lisbon targets;

4.  Encourages Member States constructively to examine the practical experience of other Member States in the process of reforming professional services so as to derive the maximum possible benefit for their own reform endeavours;

5.  Calls on the Commission to ensure that treaty provisions on the protection of competition and the internal market are properly observed in the liberal professions sector;

6.  Takes the view that the effective and transparent self-regulation or regulation of service providers which anticipates the consequences of intervention, monitors their impact and fine-tunes them, where necessary, is an appropriate means of meeting the requirements of the Lisbon Strategy; considers that the Member States should be responsible for monitoring the scope of national self-regulation to prevent it damaging consumer interests or the pursuit of the general interest;

7.  Calls on the Member States to ensure access and mobility with regard to professional services and to ease transition from university and post-graduate education to professions;

8.  Considers it necessary, in order to strengthen small and medium-sized enterprises and increase the capacity for innovation and competitiveness of professional services, that restrictions on the scope for cooperation be eliminated and the setting up of inter-professional service providers be facilitated;

9.  Considers it important to improve ethical standards and consumer protection in the field of professional services and supports the adoption of codes of conduct by professional service providers to be drawn up with the involvement of all relevant stakeholders;

10. Points out that special regulations in the field of advertising can be largely dispensed with and that such regulations should in future be limited to duly justified exceptional cases; also points out that the continuity of special regulations in the field of advertising should be limited to duly justified exceptional cases and that the reduction of regulation should be aimed at enabling professionals to inform users of the services they offer via advertising, providing consumers with information on their professional qualifications and specialisations, and on the nature and cost of the services offered;

11. Calls on the Commission to show which effects in terms of new jobs and additional growth can be expected from a systemic pro-competitive reform of the sector;

12. Urges the Commission to examine more carefully the differences in the extent to which the various professional categories in each Member State have opened up the market and the expected impact of the full removal of unnecessary obstacles to competition, including an assessment of the expected impacts on professional sectors that have limited resources or that are restricted to certain regions;

13. Encourages the Commission to broaden the scope of its analysis as regards the subdivision of regulatory protection by category of consumer group by looking more closely at small and medium-sized undertakings and taking into account the fact that demand for professional services from public authorities is not homogenous, but comes from many small units acting independently and at different levels of intensity, an aspect which should be studied more closely;

14. Points out that the subdivision of regulatory protection according to individual categories of consumer overlooks the fact that rules derive their legitimacy from the fact that externalities may appear in the provision of professional services and that certain professional services may be deemed to be public goods;

15. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

(1)

OJ C 44, 14.2.1994, p. 36.

(2)

OJ C 21 E, 24.1.2002, p. 364.

(3)

OJ C 91 E, 15.4.2004, p. 126.

(4)

Texts Adopted, P6_TA(2006)0108.

(5)

OJ L 78, 26.3.1977, p. 17.

(6)

OJ L 77, 14.3.1998, p. 36.

(7)

OJ L 26, 31.1.2003, p. 41.

(8)

OJ L 255, 30.9.2005, p. 22.

(9)

OJ L 149, 11.6.2005, p. 22.


EXPLANATORY STATEMENT

In March 2000 the Lisbon European Council adopted a reform programme aimed at making the EU the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010. The Kok report submitted in November 2004 then highlighted the importance of deregulating all markets and eliminating unnecessary red tape in order to boost competition. The mid-term review of the Lisbon Agenda and the Council conclusions established the need to give fresh impetus to the Agenda and to focus it on growth and employment. Member States were urged to submit national reform programmes to promote growth and employment.

In view of the economic importance of the liberal professions in Europe, they must be involved in the process of reform. As the current Commission communication ‘Professional Services - Scope for More Reform’ of 5.9.2005 for the year 2001 shows, ‘business services’ generate turnover in excess of EUR 1 281 billion, or approximately 8% of total turnover of the EU. This generated added value of EUR 660 billion. Approximately one third of this can be attributed to ‘professional services’.

Before the Commission’s present communication ‘Professional Services - Scope for More Reform’ of 5.9.2005 the Commission had previously drawn up a communication in 2004 (Report on Competition in Professional Services of 9.2.2004). This communication followed a stocktaking exercise conducted in 2002/2003 on regulatory practice in the field of liberal professions (IHS study). The new communication of 2005 for the first time evaluates all Member States.

In its actions, the Commission has focused mainly on six professions: lawyers, notaries, engineers, architects, pharmacists and accountants (including the profession of tax consultant) and essentially considered five restrictions on competition (fixed prices, recommended prices, advertising rules, entry restrictions and regulations governing business structure and multi-disciplinary practices.

In 2004 the Commission initiated a structured dialogue with European professional bodies. It noted that a willingness to accept reform depended on the extent to which individual professions had opened up and been regulated. It found that most progress over the last few years has been achieved in countries which had a structured programme of pro-competitive regulatory reform. The Commission considered it encouraging that over a third of Member States had reported that analyses were under way. In the other seven countries the reform process was very slow to get off the ground.

In its current communication the Commission makes clear that the need for more reform had been established in all Member States and that it is expected that existing rules at national level will also be dismantled.

The Commission insists that special regulatory protection for consumers is still necessary in the field of professional services. The reasons given are: the asymmetry of information, the possibility of ‘externalities’ appearing and the fact that professional services were sometimes deemed to qualify as ‘public goods’.

The Commission also urges Member States to carry out an analytical evaluation of existing restrictions and sees the possibility of lifting restrictions in the short term, particularly in the field of advertising law or fixed prices.

A number of specific innovations in the Commission communication under review deserve special mention: the market analyses and the conclusion that regulations should vary according to categories of consumer. The Commission therefore sees very little need for regulation in public administrations and large enterprises. For small and medium-sized undertakings, the Commission has not adopted a final position, while for ordinary consumers it acknowledges a greater need for regulation.

For the further reform process the Commission has proposed that it should continue acting as intermediary.

Parliament expressed its views in a number of decisions on the liberal professions and new regulation in this sphere, most recently its resolution of 23 March 2006 on the legal professions and the general interest in the functioning of legal systems’ of 23 March 2006.

This own-initiative report seeks to help set out objectively the issues involved in the ongoing debate on the contribution of the liberal professions to the Lisbon Strategy and calls for the reform process to be pursued in a constructive manner. The objective is above all to identify the advantages of reforms in the current systems for consumers and members of the liberal professions themselves and to propose that they be included in the dialogue. Parliament should also make clear in its resolution that it looks to the liberal professions to make a contribution to attaining the Lisbon objectives.

In drawing up this report it was found that up-to-date data, as a basis for well-founded statements on the economic importance of the liberal professions in the EU, and economic objectives for the reform process were lacking. Europe-wide data are based on estimates derived from surveys which are a few years old or the so-called IHS study. While the estimates are problematic owing to the changed competitive environment, the IHS study lacks comprehensive validity because it is limited to the States and professions examined and was drawn up three and a half years ago. The absence of objectives (expected growth and employment consequences) for the systematic pro-competitive reform of the sector - this is what the Commission calls for, and rightly so - makes it difficult to create the necessary positive reform climate. Future Commission surveys should take this problem into account and look for remedies. It must be possible to strike a clear economic balance between risks and opportunities for deregulation, particularly of price systems (binding fixed prices, price systems and market prices).

This draft report also proposes that the scope of the Commission analysis be broadened to accommodate the different regulatory requirements of individual consumer groups. The fact that the Commission cannot yet provide any estimate for small and medium-sized enterprises and 99% of EU enterprises in the EU are considered SMEs lessens the impact of this communication. The Commission’s decision to treat the public sector as a homogenous unit is also problematic. In Germany for instance 50% of public spending at communal level is undertaken in part by very small regional units which do not need the same regulatory protection as a ministry.

The report also seeks to highlight the fact that Parliament recognises the self-regulation of the liberal professions which is traditional in many Member States. However, this self-regulation must be transparent, efficient, anticipate consequences and carry out controls. Member States where there is no self-regulation of the liberal professions should specifically not be called upon to change their system.

Parliament should recognise the right to issue certain regulations based on traditional (consumer protection which has developed over time), geographical and demographic specificities: at the same time the report should make clear that these rules are seen as ‘exceptions’ and should therefore be limited and chosen in such a way as to restrict competition as little as possible.

The report also seeks to encourage Member States to take advantage of the practical experience of other Member States in the process of reforming professional services. The fact that the pace of reform in the field of the liberal professions varies from one Member State to another and experience to date can help offset the delays that have occurred so far.

As regards the fields of advertising and interdisciplinary cooperation (scope for cooperation), there are still considerable restrictions in many Member States. In general, the reason given for restricting the scope of cooperation is the need to ensure professional ethical standards. In the specific case of cooperation in the professional services sector, this argument is difficult to accept since they are all subject to professional ethical standards. There are other instruments for safeguarding the standards which have less impact on competition than banning cooperation. Parliament should make clear that reform at this level is particularly important for strengthening small and medium-sized enterprises. As regards advertising, various Member States have experience in dismantling regulations. Parliament should make clear that it expects that the effects of a loosening of restrictions on advertising be discussed very shortly. The experiences of Member States with the relaxation of such restrictions indicate that other Member States could lift most of their restrictions in the field of advertising.

The European Parliament is confident that the proposed measures will revive and drive forward the systematic process of reform.


PROCEDURE

Title

Follow-up to the Report on Competition in Professional Services

Procedure number

2006/2137(INI)

Committee responsible
  Date authorisation announced in plenary

ECON

15.6.2006

Committee(s) asked for opinion(s)
  Date announced in plenary

IMCO

15.6.2006

JURI

15.6.2006

 

 

 

Not delivering opinion(s)
  Date of decision

IMCO

12.7.2006

JURI

30.1.2006

 

 

 

Enhanced cooperation
  Date announced in plenary

 

 

 

 

 

Rapporteur(s)
  Date appointed

Jan Christian Ehler

25.10.2005

 

Previous rapporteur(s)

 

 

Discussed in committee

30.5.2006

20.6.2006

11.9.2006

 

 

Date adopted

12.9.2006

Result of final vote

+

-

0

28

1

1

Members present for the final vote

Zsolt László Becsey, Pervenche Berès, Sharon Bowles, Udo Bullmann, Ieke van den Burg, Jan Christian Ehler, Elisa Ferreira, José Manuel García-Margallo y Marfil, Donata Gottardi, Gunnar Hökmark, Karsten Friedrich Hoppenstedt, Sophia in 't Veld, Othmar Karas, Piia-Noora Kauppi, Kurt Joachim Lauk, Astrid Lulling, Cristobal Montoro Romero, Joseph Muscat, John Purvis, Alexander Radwan, Bernhard Rapkay, Dariusz Rosati, Manuel António dos Santos, Margarita Starkevičiūtė, Sahra Wagenknecht

Substitute(s) present for the final vote

Harald Ettl, Satu Hassi, Vladimír Maňka, Thomas Mann, Giovanni Pittella

Substitute(s) under Rule 178(2) present for the final vote

 

Date tabled

14.9.2006

Comments
(available in one language only)

 

Last updated: 14 September 2006Legal notice