McCreevy urges MEPs to act fast on services bill

13.06.05 @ 18:04

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The European Parliament must reach agreement on the services directive quickly or risk aggravating Europe's economic problems, internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy told MEPs on Monday (13 June).

  • The European services sector needs a shot in the arm, but MEPs can't agree if the bill should cover medical services or not (Photo: www.freeimages.co.uk)

His remarks came after members finished submitting their amendments to the bill last week, with 936 separate suggestions covering almost all 20 official languages of the EU currently on the table.

The text is set to take around a month to translate and would require over four hours of voting time in plenary if all the changes stay in the final draft of the report.

"Without preparedness to compromise, it is unlikely that we will have a services directive any time soon", Mr McCreevy said, adding that an impasse would be "irresponsible" in the current economic climate of high unemployment and low growth.

He noted that Europe is facing a "crisis of confidence" that expressed itself in the French and Dutch no votes but stems from the economic malaise.

"We're not going to get the European economy into a higher gear if we do not tackle the obstacles in the services sector", he indicated, urging MEPs to "bite the bullet" on difficult issues, such as fears that the directive could damage Europe's so-called social model.

The directive aims to remove legal obstacles for builders, travel agents and other service providers from one member state to do business in other EU countries.

But the bill has attracted controversy, with some critics claiming that safety standards would erode in the name of competitiveness and others fearful that cheap eastern European workers will drive western Europeans out of their jobs.

The Polish plumber became a figurehead of French opposition to the services directive and perceived Ango-Saxon economic liberalism during the recent French referendum on the EU Constitution.

EPP-ED unveils new compromise deal

The centre-right faction's shadow rapporteur on the services directive, Malcolm Harbour, noted that 20 EPP-ED members have put forward a new package of 167 amendments that might form the basis of a compromise.

"There will be socialists who will accept this as well as a reasonable core among the EPP-ED and the liberals", he told EUobserver.

Mr Harbour's package hinges on an "internal market principle" that would see service providers' orginating countries share the burden of legislative control with destination states in a middle way between socialist "protectionism" and the European Commission's "radicalist" plans to let orginating countries call the shots.

The 167 amendments would also allow liberalisation of private sector health services.

The socialist rapporteur on the services bill, Germany's Evelyn Gebhardt, drew her line in the sand during Monday's meeting however.

She said that a plurality of legal regimes covering services would confuse consumers and risks damaging established standards on social protection, health and environmental standards and the minimum wage.

"I am not going to enter into any compromise that doesn't state clearly that the European social model is of the utmost importance", she noted, adding that health, consumer and environmental protection are "fundamental preconditions" of any services deal.

Ms Gebhardt pointed out that the EPP-ED is unlikely to be the driving force behind a parliamentary consensus, with 416 of the 936 amendments to the commission's proposals coming from centre-right MEPs compared to 255 from socialist members.

She also noted that many socialist MEPs feel she herself has made too many concessions to the Brussels executive's free market model already.

Meanwhile, a source within the liberal group said that Mr Harbour's new package sounds like an ALDE idea, which was originally put forward by liberal MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis in April.

The parliament is set to vote on the first reading of the directive in September or October, paving the way for final adoption of the bill one or two years down the line if all goes well.

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