Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Profound Confusion in EPP-ED


There is bound to be controversy inside the big EPP-ED centre-right group in the European Parliament over the decision to seek a compromise with the Socialists over the service directive.

News reports speak about a minor rebellion by members both from Central Europe as well as from Sweden and Finland. They simply fear that the compromise will legitimize a hidden protectionism under which trade union interests will try to limit competition and openness in the important service sector.

Socialists of all sorts have been campaigning against the service directive with all means for months by now.

They - in particular the French version of the breed - have been presenting it as some sort of evil neo-liberal attempt to rob everyone of everything in terms of their social rights. For them, everything that is liberal is wrong - although for most people it's the other way around.

But this is highly bizarre.

It should not be forgotten that the directive was proposed by the European Commission under Romano Prodi. He's now the candidate of the united centre-left for Prime Minister in the Italian parliamentary elections April 9 and 10. And there was no dissent in the entire Commission - including not a few prominent Socialists - when the original proposal was presented.

Since then we have seen the neo-protectionist wave that made the fear of the Polish plumber a symbol of the French referendum campaign on the constitutional treaty and that lead Swedish trade-unions into their disgraceful anti-foreigner behavious against Latvian construction workers in Vaxholm.

But we have also seen the success of those countries that fully opened up their labour markets to persons coming from the new member states. After the very positive assessment published last week I understand that at the least Finland will lift its remaining restrictions.

What we are seeing is a neo-protectionists offensive that evidently wants to roll back what's been achieved in Europe - and that want to build new barriers inside our new and larger Union.

Why this neo-protectionist offensive by the illiberal forces has lead the EPP-ED to go into a dubious compromise is beyond me.

But there is unhappiness. Both inside the EPP-ED and from business representatives of different sorts.

They are deeply unhappy about the watering down of the directive, and especially a plan to scrap the country-of-origin principle. This provision – which formed the core of the proposal by the Commission two years ago – would have allowed service providers to operate across the 25 EU member states according to the rules of their home country.

But under the deal the EPP-ED has now done it seems to disappear, to be replaced by a vague clause that guarantees the “freedom to provide services” but offers governments wide scope to place curbs on foreign service providers.

The big question that is there after this maneuvers is obvious:

What's the purpose of a centre-right majority in the European Parliament, coming out of the European-wide elections, if their is a fear of using it? Posted by Picasa