(31 January 2012) The EC published in December 2011 a Communication [A Quality Framework for Services of General Interest in Europe COM (2011) 900->http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/president/news/speeches-statements/pdf/20111220_1_en.pdf]. This accompanies proposals on public procurement, concessions and State aid.
While the introduction recognizes the ‘fundamental role’ of public services (services of general interest – SGI) in terms of social cohesion, providing a safety net, supporting the knowledge economy, the Communication falls short on practical proposals to achieve this. Indeed, given the economic and social crisis in Europe, the Communication can be seen as a setback, as it does not even reaffirm that “in case of conflict with competition rules the general interest shall prevail” (2004 White Paper on Services of General Interest (SGI). This is what EPSU reiterated in its [contributions to the drafting process of the EP report on the future of social services->art7804] (2009/2222(INI)), voted 5 July 2011 : It is essential that EU legislation should underpin the objectives of social, health, employment and housing policies. In case of conflict the achievement of these policy objectives have to prevail over the application of EU rules and procedures. It is important for EPSU to recall that social services are public services, not to be delivered on market principles.
The EC continues however to argue that competition makes public services more efficient and of higher quality, while not drawing any lessons from failures or shortcomings of liberalised sectors in Europe or indeed elsewhere – e.g. the US healthcare system which is inefficient by any measure.
Missing from the Communication is the clear recognition that public authorities have the freedom to provide public services directly and indeed that this can be a valid and responsible option (i.e., through in-house and direct provision). Broader exclusions from EU competition rules for social services, while helpful, are not the answer – also needed are positive measures, e.g. an EU action programme in the field of long-term/elderly care, underpinned with realistic targets in view of [improving the quality of services and jobs to support the activities of local and regional authorities->art7452]. Another key point in this context is our demand to make use of the European Voluntary Quality Framework on SSGI adopted in October 2010 by the Social Protection Committee that recognises the importance of achieving good employment conditions and quality jobs.
A [resolution adopted by EPSU’s Executive Committee in November 2011->rub589] spells out EPSU’s main concerns and demands in relation to the EU policies impacting on public services (public procurement, concessions, State aid, trade policy).
For EPSU a positive EU social agenda includes an ‘enabling framework’ for public services – a framework that supports Member States to meet citizens needs and to implement fundamental rights (including as set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights). Evaluation is a central part of this.
On 11 January EPSU’s General Secretary took part in the [European Parliament’ intergroup on public services meeting->http://services-publics-europe.eu/index.php] which debated the EC Communication. Debate in the intergroup was generally critical of the EC’s quality framework.