Services Directive not what it seemed

By Geoffrey Van OrdenONE of the few attractive aspects of the EU is its potential for opening up a single market of half a billion people and stripping away unnecessary rules and practices that throttle growth, competitiveness and jobs across 25 countries.

By Geoffrey Van Orden

ONE of the few attractive aspects of the EU is its potential for opening up a single market of half a billion people and stripping away unnecessary rules and practices that throttle growth, competitiveness and jobs across 25 countries. The Conservatives' complaint has been that the EU talks about all this, then does the opposite.

Usually, therefore, I am opposed to additional regulations from Brussels. But last week there was an exceptional opportunity to move in the desired direction and dismantle barriers and restrictive practices in the biggest sector of the European economies - the service sector. This includes areas such as management consultancy, IT services, estate agencies, construction, advertising, trade fairs, car rental, tourism, recruitment services, sport centres and much else. Britain already has a very liberalised services sector and we wanted to open up the same opportunities for our businesses in the rest of Europe.

The so-called 'Services Directive' was therefore one of the most important pieces of legislation to come out of the EU. Conservatives wanted to give the service and small business sector in East Anglia proper freedom to trade across borders. This is what we voted for with the support of the Essex and Suffolk Chambers of Commerce and other local business groups.


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Regrettably, when it came before Parliament at First Reading on February 16, some of its key elements, such as the country of origin principle, were hollowed out in an unholy deal between the two largest political groups in the Parliament - the EPP-ED (excluding the British Conservative delegation) and the Socialists (including Labour MEPs). No longer was it about economic liberalisation. “We managed to turn this directive upside down”, commented a German Socialist, “and focus on social protection”.

While many local businesses share my disappointment at this, there are still some benefits from the Directive, even in its present form. It is now down to the British Government, in Council, to reinforce the legislation. It will then return to Parliament for Second Reading.

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While all this has been going on, other matters do not stand still. Avian flu, sugar beet quotas, and cuts and delays in the payment of farm subsidies have been high on the agenda, and so I was delighted to host a group of East Anglian farmers in the Parliament a few days ago. On a rather different note, I also had the chance for what is politely termed a 'robust exchange of views' with the Iranian Foreign Minister. He refused to give an unequivocal assurance that Iran had no ambitions to develop nuclear weapons.

Geoffrey Van Orden is the Conservative MEP focusing on Essex and Suffolk. If you would like more information on the Services Directive or other issues, then please get in touch. He can be contacted at: 88 Rectory Lane, Chelmsford, CM1 1RF or email: gvanorden@europarl.eu.int

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