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23rd Feb 2020

Bolkestein defends services directive in France

  • Former Commissioner Frits Bolkestein has explained his ideas to the French (Photo: European Commission)

The EU's proposal to liberalise the market in services is being used as a "scarecrow" in France, particularly by those opposing the EU Constitution, said the man responsible for the directive.

"It is possible and even certain" that it would not have been discussed as it is, was it not for the forthcoming referendum, said former EU Commissioner Frits Bolkestein on French television on Tuesday (5 April).

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Mr Bolkestein declined any responsibility for a possible rejection of the Constitution in France on 29 May, as the French referendum debate has become embroiled in popular fear about "his" directive.

He admitted, however, that it might influence the referendum.

"It may have a certain importance in the referendums", he said.

Misunderstood

The services directive has been strongly linked to the EU Constitution by the "no" supporters in France.

Those against the directive fear it will lead to a lowering of wages and social security across Europe - mainly due its central 'country of origin' principle allowing service providers to work in other member states according to their domestic rules.

Taking the initiative, Mr Bolkestein visited France to "explain a little what it is about, and to show to the French that I am not the werewolf that one talks so much about".

The former Commissioner explained that the directive was misunderstood, particularly the country of origin principle.

This principle will only concern "artisans" and "liberal professions", offering services in other countries without getting settled in them. It will not concern companies, he specified.

Moreover, public services will "remain protected against competition", and each state will have the right not to liberalise them.

"It (the directive) will facilitate free movement of services, which will result in an increase of growth and employment. Everybody would benefit from this, including France", Mr Bolkestein said.

He reminded France that it was rated as the fourth exporter of services world-wide, and would therefore have "everything to win" by an opening of the European services markets.

Improved but not re-started

Mr Bolkestein brought forward the controversial legislation towards the end of his term as internal market commissioner within the Prodi Commission.

Recently, it was judged "unacceptable as it is" by France, although it did not react when it was originally proposed.

Under pressure from the French government, EU leaders last month decided the services directive should be modified in order to protect the European social model.

"Nobody can sensibly dispute the fact that we need to open up the services sector in Europe ... but it must be done with respect for certain sensitivities and convictions", said Luxembourg prime minister and current head of the EU, Jean-Claude Juncker explaining the decision at the summit.

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