Services Directive a heavy blow for hopes of a 'social Europe'

16 February 2006

Services Directive a heavy blow for hopes of a 'social Europe'

The European Parliament today voted by 391 votes to 213 in favour of the Services Directive, a vote which represents a new low-point in European history. Even the somewhat diluted proposal which today found the support of a majority will set in motion a downwards spiral. Reacting to the vote, SP Euro-MP Kartika Liotard said, “Not for the first time those who are supposed to represent the peoples of Europe have failed to do so. But the fight goes on, and in the Netherlands we must put the government under pressure not to accept this liberalisation.”

“The vote has led to total chaos,” Ms Liotard added, “as no-one yet knows precisely how the new text looks following the various amendments. Not that this stopped most members from giving it their approval. There was a proposal to suspend proceedings for five minutes to give people the chance to consider the consequences of all of the amendments, but even that was rejected. Evidently Euro-MPs think it's more important not to add five minutes to a meeting that was already hours long than to ensure that the meeting takes a decision which is well-considered, even on such a crucial proposal. What is in any case clear is that the country of origin principle remains intact. Repackaged in new terms, but simply old wine in new bottles, the main aim being to fool the trade union movement. I hope and expect that they won't allow themselves to fall into this trap.”

Kartika Liotard discusses  the Services Directive with European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy
Kartika Liotard discusses the Services Directive with European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy when the proposal first arrived at the Parliament last year. Ms Liotard was the Rapporteur for the Environment and Public Health Committee, which produced a highly critical report.

The SP voted for all amendments tending to weaken Bolkestein’s original proposal. “But what came out of the compromise remained a completely irresponsible liberalisation which would be carried through at the cost of consumers, workers, the environment and, in the end, of any possibility of building a social Europe,” Ms Liotard said, explaining why “we still voted against the proposal.” The exact count on each point has not yet been published, but the most ‘progressive’ amendments were rejected while most of the Christian Democrat's proposals were accepted.

StrasbourgThis is nevertheless far from the end of the matter, Liotard insists. “Now it's the member states' turn to express their views. Our fight will therefore continue, but with new targets – for us that means from Brussels and Strasbourg to The Hague. The cabinet and more importantly the people's representatives in Parliament must be left in no doubt as to what will be the consequences of this Services Directive and we must persuade them that these developments would be absolutely undesirable. Unnecessary bureaucracy in cross-border service provision must be tackled, as everyone agrees. But with this directive you'd be creating more problems than you'd solve. The medicine is worse than the illness.”

The European Commission and the EU Council of Ministers will now try to agree a compromise. Kartika Liotard explains that “the Services Directive will then come back to the Parliament for a so-called Second Reading. This vote was not an end but a beginning, and just as was the case with the European Constitution I'm convinced that ordinary people all over Europe will have a very different view of this matter than that held by their representatives. It's time to mobilise these people.”

The SP group of Euro-MPs lodged the following official explanation of vote: "Former Commissioner Bolkestein's starting point was that good laws and good collective work agreements, such as exist in some member states of the EU, must enter into permanent competition with the poor regulations in other member states. Existing differences will become a factor in competition, with the aim that the worst will gradually win. This extreme neo-liberal measure would destroy all of the gains which the workers' movement has achieved in a century of struggle. Thanks to the mass action of the labour movement and other organisations the directive will not be enacted in this form. Instead we now see a vague compromise between the two biggest parliamentary groups. Because this parliament is making no clear decisions much of this will soon be left to the European Court of Justice, which can simply decide in favour of the extremely controversial country-of-origin principle. We, representatives of the Socialist Party in the Netherlands, are not party to this compromise. We are in favour of complete rejection, but as long as the directive is not withdrawn we will support all proposals for amendment which the labour movement considers improvements. In the meantime the struggle continues, and together with the labour movement we will resist any attempt by the employers to inflict lower wages on people.”

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