Fighting to liberalise services
By Andrew DuffIN January, the European Parliament threw out a directive on opening up access to port services. It was an ill-judged measure, and MEPs were right to defeat it.
By Andrew Duff
IN January, the European Parliament threw out a directive on opening up access to port services. It was an ill-judged measure, and MEPs were right to defeat it. But it is not the end of the matter, as many of us continue to believe that it is desirable to increase competition between Europe's ports, and many shippers and hauliers remain dissatisfied with the service they get.
This month the Parliament gets to grips with a more important piece of legislation whose aim is to extend the advantages of the European single market to the whole service sector. The new Services Directive will make it easier for people to work in EU countries other than their own.
A Czech builder would be able to work in the UK, for example, without having formally established his enterprise in this country. He would, of course, be subject to British planning, building, health and safety regulations, and his workers would benefit from the safeguards of British labour law, including the minimum wage.
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Needless to say, there is huge controversy in the Parliament about how liberal to make this measure. Many vested interests in the richer, older member states are trying to protect themselves from competition from the newer, cheaper and in some ways keener workers from Central Europe. Already services of 'general interest' are excluded from the scope of the law - such as education and the NHS.
But now bankers and lawyers, with much less justification, are also trying to win an exemption. In any case, the wide variety between EU member states in relation to forms of ownership and management of utilities like post, electricity, water and gas make the design of an EU-wide law rather complex. Another obstacle to be overcome is the obsession of many national civil services, backed up by public service trade unions, in imposing officious technical restrictions on foreign enterprises.
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Conservatives oppose the measure because it is too 'European'; the socialists because it is too 'liberal'. I and my Liberal colleagues will fight to lift the bureaucratic burden and to make the scope of the legislation as broad as possible.
It is ridiculous to seek to resist the spread of the single market to the fastest growing sector of the European economy. It is also wrong for the old member states to veto competition from the new ones, thereby negating one of the main purposes of enlargement.
Andrew Duff is the Liberal Democrat Euro MP for the East of England. www.andrewduffmep.org