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

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

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PV 12/10/2006 - 7.26
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Thursday, 12 October 2006 - Brussels
Follow-up to the report on competition in professional services

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 March 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 2003/8/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 Court of Justice of the European Communities in the areas of 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 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2005 concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market(9),

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

–   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 (the Lisbon Strategy),

B.   whereas the report from the High Level Group of November 2004, chaired by Wim Kok, "Facing the challenge - The Lisbon Strategy for growth and employment", stressed the importance of deregulating all markets and removing unnecessary red tape in order to boost competition,

C.   whereas in March 2005, in its mid-term review of the Lisbon Strategy, the European Council 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 Europe's economy,

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

F.   whereas, by virtue of the principle of subsidiarity, it is up to Member States to decide whether they wish to regulate the professions directly through 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 the adoption of 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 benchmarks based on scientific evidence will strengthen the conviction of all those involved in the reform process of the need for reform efforts,

N.   whereas the fundamental priority of the reform should be to provide broader and easier access for consumers, while at the same time ensuring the quality and cost-efficiency of the 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.  Acknowledges the right to issue regulations based on traditional, geographic and demographic specificities; emphasises in this connection that rules should be chosenwhich restrict competition as little as possible and that, within the existing system, substantive reform processes must be pursued 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.  Considers that the mandatory nature of fixed or minimum rates and the ban on negotiating fees based on the result achieved might be detrimental to the quality of service to the public and to competition; calls on the Member States to overcome these constraints with measures which are less restrictive and more likely to comply with the principles of non-discrimination, necessity and proportionality, by setting up mechanisms to consult all the interested parties;

6.  Calls on the Commission to ensure that treaty provisions on the protection of competition and the internal market are properly observed in the liberal profession sectors;

7.  Takes the view that effective and transparent self-regulation or regulation of service providers, which evaluates in advance the impact of the measures taken and monitors and fine-tunes them if appropriate, 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 self-regulation to ensure that it does not impact negatively on consumer interests or the general interest;

8.  Calls on the Member States to ensure access to and the mobility of professional services and to ease transition from university and post-graduate education into the professions;

9.  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;

10.  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;

11.  Points out that special regulations in the field of advertising can be largely dispensed with, that the continuity of such regulations 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;

12.  Calls on the Commission to show the extent of new jobs and additional growth that can be expected from a systematic pro-competitive reform of the sector;

13.  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 impact on professional sectors that have limited resources or that are restricted to certain regions;

14.  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 to address and study more closely the fact that demand for professional services from public authorities is not homogenous, but derives from the independent action of many small units acting at different levels of intensity;

15.  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;

16.  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.

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