Anne-Marie Mineur: European tendering is a disaster for the Netherlands and the EU wants to make it even worse

11 May 2017

Anne-Marie Mineur: European tendering is a disaster for the Netherlands and the EU wants to make it even worse

In the national daily NRC on May 4th, councillors from Rotterdam’s ruling coalition sounded the alarm about the obligation to put local health care out to tender across the European Union. Their most important objection to the public procurement law is that private care-providers from other countries will lack local knowledge, and that the duty to tender across Europe is creating an enormous bureaucratic burden. Experienced people want to see the back of compulsory tendering. At the same time, however, the EU continues to work steadily towards a treaty on services that will only make the problems worse.

The intention behind public procurement is to prevent decision-makers from surreptitiously tendering jobs to friendly entrepreneurs. In practice, however, this worthy goal has slipped away. Hugo de Jonge, a member of the Rotterdam Council executive from the centre-right CDA, is right to ask himself “whose interests are we actually here to serve?” The interests of the public has long been out of the picture, while those of big corporations have in contrast become the only decisive factor.

Since 2012 the European Union has been negotiating a treaty on trade in services with twenty-two countries from across five continents, a treaty known as the Trade in Services Agreement, or TiSA. Negotiators are attempting to force almost all services to be put out to tender across not merely the twenty-eight EU member states, but to all of these twenty-two partner countries as well. That’s to say, for example, to veterinarian practices in Taiwan, banks in Iceland and – a brilliant idea! – tax advisors from Panama.

The only principled exception the negotiators have raised is for services relating to public security. So we won’t be seeing Japanese soldiers or Israeli police officers on our streets, but the list of services which will be thrown open to companies from other countries is long. It includes not only local health care, in relation to which the Rotterdam councillors were right to raise concerns, but also hospital care and the ambulance service. Note that the latter in many cases remains a semi-public service handled by the security region, which involves cooperation among different authorities responsible for dealing with fires, disasters and crisis management, medical aid, public order and security. What will happen in such a case should a foreign investor go bankrupt?

Aside from a great deal of health care, private education will also be put on to the market, opening the door to expensive Swiss or American firms offering education and training for rich kids. The post, water transport and even dental care must become true believers in the market, but also financial and legal service provision will be thrown open. And the worst of it is that the Netherlands, unlike many other countries, has failed in almost every case to negotiate an exception. If you want to pitch for health care services, you won’t need any qualifications or even to register as an officially recognised health worker. Executive councillors from Dutch local authorities had better gird up their loins.

Returning to Councillor De Jonge’s question as to whose interests we are actually supposed to be serving, the only reason why a foreign health care business or firm which runs ambulances is interested in providing their services outside their own country is because they believe that they’ll make a profit here. Compare such an entrepreneur to Jos de Blok of Buurtzorg, whose name translates as ‘neighbourhood care’. De Blok isn’t out to make a profit at all, but to provide a reliable service which is of real help to the patient, and where the health care worker can enjoy a satisfying job paying a decent wage.

I hope that Hugo de Jonge and his CDA colleagues, as well as Adriaan Visser of the centrist party D66 and their colleagues in the Rotterdam Council executive won’t fall into the trap of peddling the notion that more competition is good for us. If European tendering is already a disaster, TiSA is a catastrophe. It is one from which we must protect ourselves.

This opinion article first appeared, in the original Dutch, on Joop.nl.

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