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by Francis Wurtz, MEP (1)

2008 in the Line of Fire, Francis Wurtz, MEP (1)

Translated Saturday 23 December 2006, by Steve McGiffen

I return, as promised, to the question of the adoption of the Bolkestein Directive by the European Parliament, in order to present certain details useful in our reflections on what happens next. In order to have a good understanding of what happened – and what risks happening again in relation to other subjects if we let it pass without reacting – it’s necessary to go over the different stages in the adoption of a directive, a European law.

One: the European Commission develops a proposed text.

Two: the European Parliament examines it and brings forward such amendments as it wishes to see, or rejects it as a whole. This is the First Reading.

Three: the Council (which consists of the representatives of the twenty-five member state governments) examines the Commission’s text in its turn, as well as the Parliament’s amendments, then brings forward its own changes to the proposal. In principle, it takes the Parliament’s opinion into the fullest account.

Four: the Parliament re-examines the text as modified by the Council, amends it – or rejects it. This is the Second Reading.

If, at the conclusion of this to-and-fro (the ’co-decision’ procedure) the two institutions (the Parliament and Council) agree on the text, the directive is adopted. If not, negotiations take place (the ’conciliation’ procedure) which can last for up to six weeks. Either this leads to a compromise, or the directive is dropped. In the case of the directive on services (’Bolkestein’), the whole of this process lasted three years. Interventions from citizens and social movements at every stage of this struggle obviously weighed heavily, in that they were conveyed to the Parliament as a whole – and where possible to governments – by those MEPs who took the side of the people and those who fought back.

In the case of the Bolkestein directive, the right and the social democrats of the ’Socialist’ group (PES) voluntarily deprived themselves of the right to amend the Council’s text and to open negotiations with it with a view to ameliorating the directive, or to rejecting it. Our group of the United European Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL) together with the Greens, therefore presented an amendment to reject the text in its entirety. It is interesting to note that the vast majority of French Socialist Party (PS) MEPs voted with us to reject, despite the instructions of their own group and of the Rapporteur (2), a German social democrat. This phenomenon has been borne out, since the 29th May (29th May 2005, the date of the French referendum which rejected the European Constitution), every time that the matter concerned is one which has has been the object of the increasing sensitivity of public opinion in France. This is the first lesson to consider.

The GUE-NGL amendments, which called for the complete exclusion of public services in the social sphere (notably social housing) from the scope of the directive, won the approval of almost a quarter of MEPs voting – once again, against the instructions of their own groups! This is important for the coming battles. European trade union organisations have, moreover, expressed their thanks to the GUE-NGL for our action. For my part, I was careful, in the debate which preceded the vote, as we were during the whole of this period, to remember the urgent appeal of these organisations to amend the directive, in particular as regards services in the social sphere, as well as labour rights, which henceforth will be subordinated to “respect for Community law”, a vague formula which refers to competition rules. The importance of constantly linking our actions as elected representatives of the left with those of trade unions and other social organisations is another lesson to be drawn from this experience.

More generally even than that of services, the question is posed of the conception of the way in which Europe is being constructed. Do we want to harmonise by law protective rules and improve them, or do we accept harmonisation of standards by ’the market’ and through competition, which would mean their being dragged critically downwards? These questions on the very direction of the construction of Europe are posed more and more sharply throughout Europe. They must be brought into the debate which will be opened in January, on the scale of the entire Union, and which must lead to a new European treaty by the second half of 2008, when France will hold the presidency of ’the Europe of the Twenty-Seven’. The place of these high social stakes in the electoral campaigns to come in our country is the third conclusion which I would draw from these events.

Translator’s notes

(1)President of the GUE-NGL (United European Left/Nordic Green Left)
(2)MEP responsible for organising the Parliament’s work on a particular measure.


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