Vote on the Services Directive: Death knell for Social Europe?

22 November 2005

Vote on the Services Directive: Death knell for Social Europe?

Today the European Parliament's Internal Market Committee voted on the controversial Services directive. SP Euro-MP Kartika Liotard was horrified and not a little surprised to see a compromise which had taken much difficult negotiation to achieve thrown out. Particularly disturbing was the fact that the most problematic point in the directive, the so-called country of origin principle, was preserved. As Ms Liotard said, “Only a mass mobilisation from progressive parties and trades unions can now prevent the idea of a social Europe from meeting its end.”

Kartika LiotardThe Services directive lays down rules for the liberalisation of trade in services in Europe. Far-reaching freedom of establishment for foreign companies, and above all the country of origin principle, have convulsed Europe since the proposal's introduction by former European Commissioner Frits Bolkestein. Liotard: “Trade unions were foremost in the mass resistance against the undermining of workers' rights, and rightly so. This directive would lead unavoidably to a race-to-the-bottom in which countries with the weakest regulation would become ports of refuge for major corporations which could from these bases cover the whole of Europe without concerning themselves with much of the legislation in countries such as the Netherlands.”

Proposed amendments, many of them the result of difficult negotiations, were defeated in this evening's vote. Even the Rapporteur – the Member charged with guiding the Parliamentary Committee's response to the Commission's proposal, in this case German social democrat Eveline Gebhardt – abstained on the final report on what she described as her now 'mutilated' report.

The only silver lining on the evening's cloud was that the health care sector was exempted from the country of origin principle, an amendment proposed in the report from Kartika Liotard to the Committee on the Environment and Public Health. Having won that Committee's support, the amendment had to be approved by the Internal Market Committee before it could proceed to the plenary where the whole of the Parliament will vote on the final text. As Ms Liotard said, “Happily enough this was carried, because yet more market-working in this sector is really the last thing the public wants or expects.”

Liotard issued a call to arms: “It's a very dark day for the idea of a social Europe, but not yet the final end. In January the European Parliament plenary will vote on the measure. Numerous trade unions are already busy mobilising their members for a major demonstration. The fact that a number of political groups, including the social democratic PES, are divided over the proposal means that this mobilisation is not only urgently needed but also quite hopeful. Only heavy pressure from outside the Parliament can prevent this disastrous directive from being accepted. The two major Dutch trade union federations, the FNV and the CNV, must make it known that, together with their colleagues from other parts of Europe, they are not going to take this lying down.”

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