‘Nightmare’ reads a headline in Paris, the main hotbed of opposition to the Bolkestein services directive.
Pressures have been building steadily for the European Union to withdraw or rewrite it, amid fears that protests against job losses could derail the EU constitution — coming up for a May 29 referendum in France. The battle is over how far to open cross-border competition. Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda is in favour: “Generally speaking, I am on the side of liberalisation of markets. I am for a policy which offers opening of markets, not only for goods but also for services.” The big fear is the ‘country of origin principle’. This says that service providers could temporarily be subject only to the law of the country in which the company is registered, rather than the law in the country they are operating in. One clear example of objection to this is in Sweden, where unions froze work on a new building during the winter because a Latvian contractor was not adhering to Swedish practice: higher pay scales and general conditions. Belgium’s minister of the economy, Didier Reynders, is clearly in favour of harmonisation. “If we develop social protection and rules on the way companies operate throughout the EU, that would remove difficulties; We would be able to compete with comparable legislation.” The directive covers services offered to individual consumers, companies or both — a sector accounting for 70 percent of the EU economy. Believing that opening it up is the key to rekindling economic growth, the European Commission has so far refused to drop it.