Social Services of General Interest – Commission consults Member States

In its White Paper on Services of General Interest (SGI) the Commission announced a special Communication on social SGI. Therefore the Commission is currently consulting the High level group on health services and medical care as well as the Member States. Social Services of General Interest, according to the Commission working paper include, among others, statutory social protection schemes, health and social care services as well as education and training. A questionnaire was drawn up to collect input.
The whole process takes place against the background of ongoing work on Services of General Interest and the Proposal for a Directive on Services in the Internal Market (see EP Hearing 11.11.2004). Member States are due to reply by 15 December 2004.
Questions which need answering include:
- Is there at national level a notion or definition of social SGI or social services generally?
- It has been argued that social SGI are different to other SGI – Do you agree with this? Is a more detailed analysis of these possible differences –especially in relation to networks industries
- In case you feel that social SGI are different to other SGI please indicate what could then be the elements for a description at European level of these specificities of social SGI's, taking into account the diversity of general interest missions related to social services in the Member States and the general principles
- Please describe experiences concerning the influence of these EC rules on social SGI (may be “good” or “bad” examples; e.g. have these rules enabled the efficient provision of certain services or have they limited the freedom to realise national social policy goals)?
- Should the work to be carried on only concern social services of general economic interest and concentrate on e.g. competition rules and certain internal market rules or should social SGI both of an economic or non-economic nature be subject for further work?
- What should be the concrete aim (especially concerning further steps) of the Communication of the Commission on social SGI including health services?
- Should there be legally defined criteria, e.g. criteria concerning quality, affordability, accessibility or solidarity at European level?

A “Background Document – Legal Framework” was sent out together with the questionnaire. This document describes the different legal aspects of EC rules which might affect social SGI or could affect these in future following evolutions in the organisation of service provision. The Secretariat of the Commission recalls the basic elements regarding social services such as Article 86 (2) of the Treaty which ensures the freedom of the Member States to define what they regard as a mission of general interest as long as the public service mission is “clearly defined and explicitly entrusted through an act of public authority”.
Regarding the health care sector the paper distinguishes between the ‘provision of health services’, “which is to be considered as an economic activity” and on the other hand, ‘bodies financing and organising the health service provision’. Moreover, the authors recall several rulings of the Court confirming the status of health services as economic activities, even if the institution providing the service is not an enterprise in the sense of EC competition rules.
Another important item in the background document is the so-called “Altmark-criteria”. In this case the Court established four criteria to justify State aid as public service compensation. These include a clear public service obligation and a transparent compensation.
Finally the Commission refers to the “Proposal for a directive on services in the internal market” (directive Bolkestein) and concludes that “the discussions have so far shown a need for clarification of the possible impact of the application of certain provisions in the proposed directive to certain social services of general interest”.

Europe’s healthcare workers at risk
Health First Europe organises special event in the European Parliament event, calling for more protection of healthcare workers from sharps’ injuries

Today, on World AIDS day, Health First Europe (HFE) held a special event in the European Parliament to raise awareness amongst decision makers and the public about the risks of sharps’ injuries to healthcare workers and the risk of infection with HIV, Hepatitis or other fatal infections. HFE urgently calls for supplementary safety requirements to address this public health issue.
Nurses, doctors and other medical staff in the EU are exposed to highly elevated levels of risk, a fact which is all too often ignored. It is estimated that 1 million injuries from needles or other sharp medical devices are suffered by healthcare workers across the European Union each year. More than 20 dangerous blood-borne pathogens are transmitted by contaminated needles, including Hepatitis and HIV. If injured by a contaminated needle, the chances of becoming infected are as high as 1 in 3 for Hepatitis B, 1 in 30 for Hepatitis C and 1 in 300 for HIV.
At invitation from Health First Europe (HFE), nurses from eight European countries today met with MEPs at the European Parliament to discuss the risk of needlestick injuries and the threat that they face at the workplace every day. Existing European worker safety legislation has effectively done little to protect healthcare workers from needlesticks and other medical sharps and from accidental infection. Yet, more than 80% of such injuries can be prevented through a combination of training, safer working practices and the use of medical devices incorporating needlestick protection technology, as independent studies show .
“The fact that one million sharps’ injuries occur in the EU every year, not counting an estimated 60-80% of unreported incidents, is a clear sign that not enough is being done to protect our healthcare workers from injuries”, said Ria von Bönninghausen of the Standing Committee of Nurses to the EU and associate member of Health First Europe. “We want European worker safety and health directives amended and we want national authorities to be stricter in the implementation of these directives, across the EU.”
Health First Europe (HFE) fully supports recommendations made by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work that aim at implementing the use of devices with safety features, modifying work practices and training workers in the safe use and disposal of needles . However, HFE also calls on the European Commission to work towards amending existing legislation, to include specific requirements to protect healthcare workers from sharps’ injuries. “We specifically suggest the inclusion of an additional annex to Directive 2000/54/EC, concerning biological agents. Given the seriousness of the situation, we believe that we need additional legal requirements for the management of risk in the healthcare context”, commented Imelda Read, Honorary Chairperson of HFE.
But where the European Commission has a decisive role to play in developing the legal framework for a better protection of healthcare workers, EU Member States are equally called upon to consistently apply and enforce the highest standards of safety. Where sharps’ injuries are concerned, the level of protection provided for healthcare workers across the EU varies greatly. The adoption in recent years of specific protection measures in countries such as France, Germany or Spain has been an encouraging development. However, Health First Europe (HFE) warns that sufficient protection measures are not being implemented, or are not even being considered, by the majority of healthcare providers across the EU.
“Action must be taken now to reduce the risks of sharp’s injuries to healthcare workers across the EU”, says Bert Van Caelenberg, Secretary General of Eurofedop, the European Federation of Public Service Employees, and member of Health First Europe. “It is the responsibility of the EU Member States but also of the European Commission to ensure that no disparity exists in the protection provided to our workers, anywhere in the EU.”


About Health First Europe:
Health First Europe was established in March 2004 as a platform by and for patient groups, healthcare workers, academics, experts and the medical technology industry to encourage reflection and dialogue on the future of healthcare in Europe at a time of demographic and technological revolution. It calls for a truly patient-centred healthcare; every European citizen should benefit from the best and most appropriate medical treatments available. Healthcare is regarded as vital investment in the future of Europe. The European federation of employees in public services is a founding-member of Health First Europe.
More info: www.healthfirsteurope.org

EP – Public Hearing on the proposal for a Directive on services in the internal market
Brussels, 11.11.2004

The fact that even three large conference rooms in the EP building in Brussels could barely house hundreds of interested parties wishing to participate in this hearing, indicated the enormous impact of the draft directive on services, that the European Commission had submitted to the European Parliament.
Before MEPs will decide their positions on this extremely complex issue, the Internal Market and Social Affairs Committees of the EP decided to seek the views of experts at a public hearing held on 11 November in Brussels.


The directive is intended to give a legal framework to the services sector and thus facilitate the free movement of services and the right for service providers to set up in different Member States, while also providing legal certainty for providers and customers.
However, services cannot all be treated the same, for various political and legal reasons. Firstly, for some services, legislation already exists or is in the pipeline, e.g. competitiveness, posting of workers and refunding of healthcare costs. Secondly, each country has its own traditions and political sensitivities, for example on services of general interest. Nevertheless, the directive is not proposing to place services in different categories. On the contrary, the Commission says it should adopt a single, standard approach and that the way to accommodate differences is by means of exemptions and derogations. But on this occasion, the view of the Commission was only shared by a minority of the participants.

The experts invited by the MEPs, as well as the rapporteurs, E. Gebhardt (Committee on the Internal market and consumer protection) and A. Van Lancker (Committee on Employment and Social Affairs) raised a number of defaults in the draft directive. Paul Beaumont, professor of international private law (University of Aberdeen) pointed out the legal flaws in the directive and thus attacked its very legal basis. Others questioned the consequences of the ‘country of origin’ principle, for example regarding the protection of workers.
During the 30 minutes reserved for discussing the interaction of the directive with public service delivery, both speakers and MEPs expressed their concern for a risk of weakening social services or public healthcare. Prof. Dr. Peter Huber (Universität Munchen) argued that priority should be given to a framework directive on services of general interest. Although it is denied that the Bolkestein proposal will affect public services, the speakers feared that the liberty of member states to organise these services could be subject to Commission interference. The possibility of ‘derogations’ by member states will be further curtailed and this will infringe the provision of services of general interest.
Furthermore, the experts recalled that the Commission, in its White paper on Services of General Interest, had stressed the necessity for a framework directive in this field, but at the same time no progress whatsoever has been made.
Ms. Baeten (Observatoire Social Européen), who commented on the affects on health services, underlined that especially the Health Care sector needed regulation in order to prevent the imperfectness of the markets. She also opposed those who downplay the consequences and said that the directive will lead to serious problems. And although an MEP specifically asked to clear the confusion on this matter, the representative of the Commission could not provide a satisfactory answer.
Eurofedop sees this hearing as a confirmation of its belief that the proposal for a directive on services in the internal market will damage the provision of public services in general, and health services in particular. Since the impact of the directive cannot be assessed properly at present, we demand that priority is given to the adoption of a framework directive on services of general interest. Moreover, this hearing has proved that the Commission failed to address basic concerns of many parties and that a broader consultation is indispensable.

All speeches can be found at:
http://www.europarl.eu.int/hearings/20041111/imco/contributions_en.htm

UGL Delegation visited Eurofedop and EU Economic and Social Committee

Report EIPA seminar “European Social Dialogue and Public Administration”
Maastricht, 20-21 September 2004

The European Social Dialogue, based on Articles 138 and 139 of the EC Treaty, has led to the adoption of several directives based on framework agreements concluded by the social partners. These directives have been incorporated into European legislation that has consequences for staff employed by the various states.
This impact on public administration is made without the relevant bodies in charge of employment conditions being involved in the negotiations leading to the agreements and directives.
The ongoing debate raises issues concerning the representative role of trade unions in the public administration sector, the creation of a specific public administration sector for this European social dialogue and the structuring of a platform representing the member states in such a dialogue.
This conference wanted to clarify the debate by means of a clear presentation of the legal basis for the European social dialogue and its modus operandi, the role of the European Commission in this respect, the manner in which employees and employers are or are not represented in the negotiating forum, and the strategies adopted by some EU member states to influence the process before legislative acts are passed.
Eurofedop was not only represented by its Secretary General, Bert Van Caelenberg, but also by Vice-President Luc Hamelinck (CCOD/CCSP) and by a number of representatives from member organisations.
In his introductory speech, François Ziegler (DG employment and social affairs, directorate social dialogue and social rights) began with a description of the institutional context of European social dialogue. In addition, he gave a survey of the Commission’s communications in this respect, in particular COM(2004)557 final on “Partnership for change in an enlarged Europe - Enhancing the contribution of European social dialogue”. He also referred to the importance of the representativity studies and announced that a continuation study would be carried out on the public administration in the 10 new member states.
In a second part, the focus was on the creation of the new social dialogue committee “Local and Regional Government”. Speeches were made on the part of the employers and the trade unions, after which the results and expectations regarding this committee were discussed. It showed that probably due to the only recent creation of this committee (beginning 2004), not many results had been produced so far. The EIPA official responsible for the organisation of the seminar, Mr Robert Polet, spoke then of “The importance of the social dialogue for central administrations and its added value at European level”.
The seminar went on by giving national trade unions and employers the opportunity to present their views. On behalf of the trade unions, the Eurofedop colleagues Marcela Gatciova (SLOVES), Willy Russ (DBB), Leodolfo Bettencourt (STE) and Geza Agg (KSS) gave explanation about their national practices. On the part of the employers, an interesting speech was held by Dominique Lacambre from France. He joined the STE in its position that employees of the public service are already being affected by a number of European regulations, which makes it necessary to react quickly. The Ministers of the Civil Service, and their regular informal sessions, play a major role in this respect. If we have faith in the Civil Service, we should use all the instruments available. Therefore, a European social dialogue that would be more than just a talking group, would be useful and desirable, according to this French employer.

The Dutch Presidency, represented by Nico van Dam (Council for Public Sector Personnel Policy), gave a survey of the way in which the present regulations regarding social dialogue in the public services come about in the Netherlands.
Then the question of the organisation of the employers was discussed. It was suggested that employers would organise themselves through the CEEP. However, it showed that the majority rejected this as a non-realistic scenario. The final decision lies with the Ministers of the Civil Service who could mandate their directors general to this end.
Mr Pochet (European Social Observatory) had been asked to draw his conclusions from the different interventions. The definition of a “perimeter” within which a committee can operate, will, according to him, always have borders somewhere. As regards the public services, the principle of subsidiarity plays an important role. A positive element may be, thus Mr Pochet, that there is still an employer everywhere, also after the enlargement. The themes to be dealt with must have a European dimension and new themes could be dealt with (e.g. stress). As regards the representativity, Pochet concluded that the problem is mainly a problem of representation. He put emphasis on the difference between “representativity” and “representation” and underlined that to ask for a mandate is one thing, to know what to do with it is the next thing. There is little sense in looking for direct results. The aim should be to build up skills and trust during the ride in a dynamic process. Maybe an appeal could be made to external experts (EIPA) to develop a real vision. Mr Pochet was very critical of the results of the European Social Dialogue. Most of the “agreements” remain stuck in generalities. It appears from a recent study that the existing European committees mainly focus on issues such as legislation, modernisation and competition.
On behalf of the EIPA, Mr Polet ended the session with the following conclusions :
- employers in public services are also legislators, which is unique in the consultation structure of social dialogue,
- if we see workers in the public service as workers in the private sector, the trade union rights should also be linked with this,
- the European Commission has not kept aloof (e.g. the enlargement) and imposed rules also on the public administrations,
- through contacts in the Troika and the workshops, the new member states can make a lot of new experiences.

Dutch Presidency
HRM Meeting, 21.09.2004

Lifelong learning is both a right and duty to the worker. but it seems that the proper balance hasn’t been found yet between the individual’s need for broad development and the organisation’s need to deliver and continue to deliver a high-standing service.
The problems are often:
- lack of time and money
- lack of support by management
- lack of a tradition and culture of lifelong learning
It was said by Rolf Weber who explained the position of Eurofedop on life long learning in a Meeting of the HRM group 21. of September.
The meeting was made by the Dutch Presidency and people from almost all of the 25 countries of the European Union participated.

Signature of Declaration of Intent for a European Gendarmerie Force
Noordwijk (NL), 16-17.09.2004

The Ministers of Defence of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands signed a Declaration of Intent this morning concerning the establishment of a European Gendarmerie Force (EGF).  The declaration was signed during the informal meeting of Ministers of Defence of the European Union in Noordwijk, The Netherlands.

The European Gendarmerie Force is a police force with military status. Although the EGF can conduct tasks throughout the spectrum of police missions, it is excellently suited to deployment during or immediately after a military operation for maintaining public order and safety and in situations where local police forces are not (sufficiently) deployable. It should also be possible for the rapidly-deployable EGF to conduct operations in support of the fight against organised crime and the protection of participants in civil missions. The EGF is a multinational unit that is not only allocated to the EU, but also to the UN, the OSCE and NATO. The initiative for establishing the EGF was taken in 2003 by the Minister of Defence of France, Mrs Alliot-Marie. The force headquarters in Vicenza (Italy) should be established in early 2005. The plan is for the EGF to become operational at the end of 2005.

Dutch Defence Minister Henk Kamp,
Secretary-General Javier Solana,
French Defence Minister Michle Alliot-Marie,
German Defence Minister Peter Struck.

 

The Dutch minister of Defence, Henk Kamp, who holds the chair of the EU, said that he was pleased, 'that we could reach this milestone here in Noordwijk. I am certain that this force will become an important capability, bridging the gap between military forces and civil police forces'.

 

European Parliament (21-09-2004)
Counter-terrorism measures well in hand but more cooperation needed between governments, says EU anti-terror coordinator

"The risk of terror attacks in Europe remains serious" Gijs DE VRIES, the EU counter-terrorism coordinator, warned at a meeting with MEPs and Members of national parliaments on Tuesday. He said closer cooperation between EU Member States was essential in the fight against terrorism and he agreed with MEPs that attention should focus on implementing the decisions taken. Another security expert, Peter SCHAAR, commented on concerns about the protection of personal data.
Mr DE VRIES set out the main points of an EU anti-terrorism action plan at a hearing organised by the Civil Liberties Committee to exchange views on combating terrorism, data protection, biometrics and police cooperation. "Terrorism is a major security threat to the EU", said Mr De Vries, which was why Javier Solana had drawn up a European security strategy and the Council had established a Joint Intelligence Centre. He urged the EU to help third countries combat terrorism and added "terrorism is a global phenomenon that must be fought at international level. But the Member States bear the primary responsibility for doing so".
MEPs pointed to the problems in cooperation with the US on issues such as data protection standards. They also stressed the problem of implementation. Mr De Vries agreed that the implementation of some decisions such as the one on money laundering had been slow. Turning to the Beslan massacre, Mr De Vries said terrorists were becoming more brutal. "No one had anticipated the brutality we now see," he claimed but at the same time he sought to reassure the audience that the issue of terrorism was on the agenda of every European Council meeting.

He emphasised again, however, that combating terrorism was not only a European responsibility but also a national one. Lastly, Mr De Vries described as largely unjustified the fear that fundamental rights would be violated in the fight against terrorism, saying "Human rights are a core European value, that guide us in our decisions and in our relations with third countries".
Peter SCHAAR, who chairs the EU advisory body on data protection and privacy known as the Article 29 Working Party, then took the floor. He identified three issues of concern today in connection with the protection of personal data: the transfer of airline passenger data to the US, the storage of telecommunications data and the inclusion of biometric data in visas and passports. On this last point, Mr Schaar explained that statements by the US Department of Homeland Security indicated that passports with a computer chip containing personal information could be read from a distance of up to 20 metres - without the passport holder being aware of it. This was clearly a serious problem from a data protection point of view.
21.09.2004 Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
In the chair: Jean-Louis BOURLANGES (ALDE, FR)

European Security on a Crossroads
16-17.09.2004, Luxembourg (Jean Monnet Centre)

In the context of the European integration it is really important to trade unionists to have an insight in and knowledge of legal, organisational and future relations. This is particularly true for trade union delegates in security services.

Guaranteeing internal and external security is a task that national and European politics cannot possibly shun. It really should make available the necessary resources and, in case of cross-border police cooperation, provide a clear legal protection of the intervening police officers.

Hermann Feiner, Chairman of the Trade Council Police (Germany)
Dr. H. Pirker, European expert immigration and asylum policy (Austria)
Pim Gooijers, Chairman of the Trade Council Defence (The Netherlands)

Eventually, the fact of ensuring the security of the citizens depends in the first place on a sufficient staff, on adequate social and professional prospect for the entire staff and on the available technical support. The trade councils Police/European Police Union (EPU) and Defence of EUROFEDOP call on the political world to renounce future cuts in the field of security and to extend massively the current resources.

Efficient and successful trade union action requires a strong commitment to social matters and an extensive knowledge of international relations. This conference of experts has been no doubt conducive to a sizeable extension of that knowledge. It is important for the participants that this knowledge and the necessity of European trade union action penetrate into the national trade union action and contribute to a better understanding of the way the European Union functions.

Bert Van Caelenberg, Secretary General of Eurofedop

Jérôme Glorie, Director General, Prevention, Ministry of the Interior (Belgium)
Pim Gooijers, Chairman of the Trade Council Defence (The Netherlands)

Mag. Peter Gridling - EUROPOL Den Haag (The Netherlands)

Extra Info:

- Signature of declaration of intent for a European gendarmerie force

- Gijs de Vries reports on terrorism to EP