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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Directive Bolkestein : les grandes manoeuvres

by Thomas Lemahieu

Bolkestein Directive: Extensive Manoeuvres

Translated Thursday 16 February 2006, by Steve McGiffen

Liberalisation of services: cosmetic changes to proposal

Changes agreed between social democrats and conservatives in European parliament make no real difference to Bolkestein Directive

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT. Socialists and conservatives maintain that, by withdrawing the country-of-origin principle, they have removed the proposal’s worst features before it comes under consideration on Tuesday. Unconvinced, a number of organisations called a demonstration on Saturday in Strasbourg.

A few days away from the European Parliament’s consideration in plenary of the Bolkestein Directive on the liberalisation of services in the European Union, on the eve of two major demonstrations in Strasbourg (the first, on Saturday 11th February, with a flavour of the ’alternative globalisation’ movement, will demand the directive’s ’withdrawal’, the second, on Tuesday 14th, will call for far-reaching modifications), extensive manoeuvres are beginning anew. In the face of the growing outcry throughout the Union since its unanimous adoption by President Romano Prodi’s European Commission two years ago, further amplified by the rejection last spring in France and the Netherlands of the European Constitutional Treaty, the neoliberals are walking on eggs, yet hope, despite everything, to save the heart of a system which will attack public services and expose the peoples of Europe to social and fiscal dumping.

Crossing out the offending words

On Wednesday afternoon in Brussels, during a meeting between Evelyn Gebhardt, the German social democrat who is the Parliament’s Rapporteur for the proposal, and Malcolm Harbour, the British Conservative shadow rapporteur, the Socialists (PES) and Christian Democrats (EPP, the group of the European Parliament’s right-wing majority) reached a ’consensus’ agreement erasing, purely and simply, the proposed Bolkestein Directive’s ’country-of-origin principle’. This amounted, according to Evelyn Gebhardt’s explanation, to an agreement no longer to mention in the directive the laws for service providers of either the “country of origin” or the “country of destination”, laws which if this were done would be placed in competition with each other, but instead only to define “the obstacles to free circulation of services, obstacles which the member states must remove.” For Francis Wurtz, President of the European Parliamentary Group GUE/NGL (European United Left/Nordic Green Left, that includes the French Communist Party), “the right and the PES, faced with growing discontent and mobilisation, believe they have found a clever little trick: they’ve crossed out the offending words (“country of origin principle”) but kept the substance. In this way almost all of the prohibitions formulated by the proposed directive with regard to the member states are maintained. Furthermore, the PES-EPP compromise confirms that the state of destination can intervene only in exceptional circumstances, under restrictive conditions set out in the directive, conditions strictly controlled by the European Court of Justice.”

We don’t want an ambiguous text

While, in Brussels, Socialist and conservative MEPs were reaching their deceptive consensus, the UNSA and the CFDT (trade union confederations) organised, on Wednesday evening at the Regional Council of the Ile-de-France, a debate on the subject of “The Services Directive: What’s at stake?”. In the presence of Euro-MPs Roselyne Bachelot (EPP) and Pierre Moscovici (PES) as well as Phillippe Herzog, president of Confrontations Europe, and Josef Niemec, Secretary of the European Trades Union Confederation (ETUC), the meeting, marked by expressions of rancour left over from the defeat of the ’Yes’ campaign in France on 29th May, would largely revolve around the need to validate the ’acceptable compromise’ at the European Parliament. And this, despite the serious danger in which the Bolkestein Directive, even under the new coat of paint given to it by the ’EPP-PES consensus’, continues to place the future of public services. “When you can mark down a result, you have to do it, or you’ll be pushed to the back,” urged Michel Grignard, national secretary of the CFDT. “If you try to win on three fronts at once, you risk being forced back across the board!”

For Josef Niemec (ETUC), “maybe the devil is in the detail, so it will be necessary to take a closer look, but even if we haven’t gained anything on the exclusion of services of general economic interest, it seems that the proposals on the table respond to many of our demands...And in that case, we have to support the compromise because the European Commission has promised to take amendments into account if a clear majority is in favour.” Somewhat isolated in this company, the French Socialist Pierre Moscovici was more circumspect. “I will probably vote to reject the Bolkestein Directive,” he said. “Not just because their intellectual terrorism has become unbearable, as hundreds of No-voters ask me every day by e-mail, but because I think that we have not yet reached the end of the process. Nothing is guaranteed because the services of general economic interest aren’t excluded from the directive’s scope.”

For the French organisers of the demonstration against the Bolkestein Directive this Saturday in Strasbourg, this misses the point. “Whatever happens, we will maintain our principled position, demanding the withdrawal of the directive,” said Yves Salesse, coordinator of the Collective 29th May, during a press conference which brought together, yesterday morning, representatives of all of the left of the No campaign (ATTAC, FSU [Trade Union confederation], CGT-Spectacle [Trade unionists in entertainment industries], PCF [Communist Party], PRS [Radical Socialists], MARS (Alternative Republican Social Movement], Alternatifs, MRC [Republican and Citizens’ Movement]) “We don’t want a vague and ambiguous text which would give all the power of interpretation to the European Court of Justice whose decisions always tend in a neoliberal direction.”

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