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New European commitment for services of general interest
The Commission presents a report on the new European commitment concerning services of general interest. It also presents the concrete actions to be implemented in order to consolidate the EU’s regulatory framework, following the adoption of a Protocol annexed to the Treaty of Lisbon.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, of 20 November 2007, accompanying the Communication on "A single market for 21st century Europe" - Services of general interest, including social services of general interest: a new European commitment [COM(2007) 725 final - not published in the Official Journal].
The Commission identifies the essential principles which may be applied to Services of General Interest (SGIs) (FR) throughout the whole European Union (EU). This Communication constitutes a reference framework for the governance of, and compliance with, the specificities of SGIs. This is the case before the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon and its Protocol on Services of General Interest.
Diversity of the Services of General Interest
SGIs are subject to public service obligations. It is for the public authorities at national, regional or local level to decide the nature and scope of the SGIs. Public authorities can provide these services themselves or they can entrust the responsibility of providing them to public or private entities.
For its part, the EU retains shared responsibility which enables it to regulate and define the conditions for the operation of SGIs with a European dimension.
The SGIs are divided into two categories and are governed by different European rules:
- services of general economic interest (SGEIs), which are provided for remuneration, are subject to European internal market and competition rules. However, derogations to these rules may be authorised in order to ensure that the general interest is respected. Certain SGIs have a European dimension, specifically the large network industries (postal services, telecommunications, transport services and the supply of electricity and gas) and are regulated by specific European rules. In addition, European rules relating to public procurement, environmental protection and consumer protection may be applied to them;
- non-economic services, such as police, justice and statutory social security schemes, are not subject to specific European legislation, nor to the internal market and competition rules.
In practice, the operation of these services often differs from one Member State to another. Furthermore, the distinction between economic and non-economic services requires case-by-case analysis of each activity.
Social services of general interest
The way in which Social Services of General Interest (SSGIs) are provided is generally personalised in order to meet the needs of vulnerable users, and is based on the principle of solidarity and equal access.
They may be of an economic or non-economic nature, including in the case of non-profit making organisations. The definition of economic activity depends essentially on the way in which the activity is provided, organised and financed, and not on the legal status of the service provider.
They are mainly:
- statutory and complementary social security schemes, covering the main risks of life (health, ageing, occupational accidents, unemployment, retirement and disability);
- other services provided directly to the person such as social assistance services, employment and training services, social housing or long-term care.
Modernising the European rules
The Commission commits to adopting a series of actions based on the Protocol on Services of General Interest annexed to the Treaty of Lisbon. These actions shall enable the European regulatory framework applicable to SGIs to be consolidated. The actions are based on the following objectives:
- improving access to information and developing communication tools, such as the creation of an interactive information service or a single market assistance service;
- adopting sectoral policies, specifically in the fields of energy, transport, e-communication, and postal, social and health services;
- monitoring actions to guarantee quality, transparency and good progress.
This Communication follows on from the 2004 Commission White Paper and the 2006 opinion of the Parliament which contributed to the debate and converging views on the role and approach of the EU with regard to SGIs. It also draws on the results of the public consultation on social services of general interest initiated in 2006.