The EU's single market for goods is well-established, but there are still many restrictions preventing people from exercising their profession in other member states. The EU services directive - also known as the Bolkestein directive after the Dutch commissioner who first proposed it - was designed to make this easier. The EP's internal market committee held a hearing on 20 February to discuss if the directive has managed to deliver after being in force for more than three years.
We talked to committee chair Malcolm Harbour, a British member of the ECR group, about the directive that proved controversial when it was first proposed. Opponents were worried it could lead to competition between workers in different parts of the EU, but supporters said it could boost business and help to improve services.
The services directive was supposed to remove barriers to cross-border provision of services. Did it succeed?
The requirement on member states was to examine all the internal legislation that was discriminating against service providers and remove that legislation. It has had a significant effect. There has been a lot of legislation repealed.
In many cases those restrictions also applied to services and businesses within the country itself. There’s been a change and improvement in regulatory policies for domestic providers.
But there are still some problems?
Member states are still retaining too much restrictive legislation. There is an entitlement under the directive to be able to restrict access to services from other countries on public interest grounds. That public interest defence has been used much too widely where actually it would be good for consumers have more competition.
The second thing is actually encouraging the businesses to take advantage of it. We have the instruments and information there. But we haven’t promoted them to prospective customers.
There is still plenty of room for improvement.
So the ball is now in the member states’ court. What’s the role of the EP in this?
We only have persuasive powers. The European Commission has some legislative instruments but they are very blunt weapons. The instruments we have are to put these things on a public platform. This is the role of politicians: to talk about it. So that’s why we had a hearing on 20 February.
We’ve done more reports on the implementation of services directive than on any other piece of legislation that I can think of. And that was because this directive itself is only here because of the advocacy of the Parliament. In fact, the Parliament was able to broker a compromise with the member states.