Challenge for Europe

Until now, the responsibilities concerning services of general interest (SGI) within the European Commission have been divided – perhaps even diluted – between sectoral Commissioners and Directorate-Generals (Energy, Transport, Information Society, Social Affairs, Health). They have been linked with other issues (competition, interior market, consumers) in such a way that coordination is only taken up by the General Secretariat. This creates a host of divergences, delay, and contradiction.

Without taking away from the horizontal and sectoral competencies listed above, we should give SGI policy integrated strategic direction by explicitly committing this responsibility to one of the Vice Presidents of the Commission and an administrative entity (DG or other).

This would prove ideal because, until now, nobody within the Commission is officially in charge of the SGIs in a horizontal sense. The dominant approach is to link it thematically within either the competition or internal market sector because the responsibilities are dispersed under the different services of the Commission. This is caused by the general neglect and insufficient representation of the issues of social cohesion, quality of service, user rights, territorial cohesion, and even economic cohesion in the construction of the internal market as well as with respect to competition policy.

Some Sectoral Examples

Only one Directorate General – DG Transport – has an SGI unit. Public postal service comes from DG internal market, which does not have one, creating additional implications. It took great effort on behalf of the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of Regions, the European Trade Union Confederation and the body of civil society to exact a concise definition of universal postal service without actually having guaranteed funding at the community level. From then on, each State had to find its own solutions. This was the root cause of growing inequalities (social, territorial, etc;) in access to services, highlighting the need for the EU to reinforce solidarity at the human level. For telecommunications, universal service is limited to a minimum service, without public funding, and therefore without egalitarian access to information and computer technologies (ICT). In the electricity sector, the definition of universal service remains very general, and users see rising prices without recourse to the slightest of guarantees. Electricity is a necessity, yet we are not guaranteeing egalitarian access for everyone and we are leaving the major providers without public control or supervision.

SGI is a policy issue that is not merely technical or sectoral. For this reason the propositions of the European Liaison Committee on Services of General Interest are linked and inseparable.

Our proposal:

SGIs are guaranteed by a number of fundamental rights. They are tools of economic, social, and territorial cohesion, vectors of sustainable development and they fight against climate change. Henceforth, we need to make them an election issue in the European elections in June and all of the parties need to clearly define their position on the subject.

Knowing the essential role that the European Commission plays with respect to legislative proposals and the implementation of community decisions and guidelines (particularly in competition matters), the next President of the Commission must promise to provide real progress – sectoral and horizontal – on SGIs. This should be one of their top priorities and that they should organise their Commission accordingly. The European parliament should condition its endorsement of the next Commission and its President on the commitments they make in this domain.

In order to assure an integrated strategic direction that integrates this commitment, this horizontal responsibility needs to be explicitly entrusted to one of the vice-presidents of the Commission, with the creation of a dedicated administrative entity (DG or other) working in close collaboration with the other DGs concerned.

A Commission or, at bare minimum, a permanent intergroup needs to be created within the European Parliament with the goal of assuring continuous monitoring of SGIs in Parliament. This Commission will become the regular interface between the Commission and Council. It will be complimentary to, rather than in competition with, the existing Social Economy intergroup in Parliament.

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