In the informal atmosphere of the Austrian town of Graz, European Union competition ministers have been grappling with the fine print of an agreement on ways of opening up the bloc’s markets.
In a spirit of consensus, the 25 began work on a diluted deal agreed by EU leaders last month.
The original proposal, known as the Bolkestein Directive, included sweeping liberalisation of the services market but it met with opposition from many governments.
EU leaders found themselves split along so-called old and new European lines, with the older members fearing cheap competition from the bloc’s newcomers.
Agreement was reached to water down the proposals and today’s meeting has enabled competition ministers to begin filling in the details.
Martin Bartenstein, economy minister for Austria which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, described the move as still being very ambitious.
He said that states had agreed not to call into question the agreement’s core principals but to “fine tune” certain elements.
Following street protests by trade unions in countries such as France and Belgium, one key element was rejected – the so-called “country of origin” rule that would have enabled companies to provide services throughout the EU in line with their home country laws.
Despite that, the EU’s Commission hopes that even the more modest rules will foster competition in sectors ranging from hairdressing to computer software and plumbing.