French stand on services clouds EU summit

22nd March 2005, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, March 22 (AFP) - Plans to free up Europe's vast services sector cast a cloud over EU summit talks Tuesday, with EU leaders urging French voters not to vote down the EU's constitution due to concerns over the proposals.

BRUSSELS, March 22 (AFP) - Plans to free up Europe's vast services sector cast a cloud over EU summit talks Tuesday, with EU leaders urging French voters not to vote down the EU's constitution due to concerns over the proposals.

But pressure was also building to clip out the more controversial parts of the reforms with some EU leaders calling for a renegotiation.

The European Union (EU)'s Luxembourg presidency said the bloc is committed to liberalising the sector but insisted that this would not result in "social dumping."

"We can't make Europe against the interests of the workers," Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, ahead of the two-day summit clouded by protests in France and elsewhere against the services plans.

The plans aim to boost cross-border competition in the services sector, which generates 70 percent of the EU's gross domestic product and jobs.

But critics of the EU plans have been concerned about a "country-of-origin" clause which suggests that companies could provide services throughout the EU using the laws and regulations of their own country.

In France critics fear the plans will lead to the loss of jobs in rich, expensive western European countries at the expense of cheap labour from the ex-communist states of central Europe which joined the EU last year.

The protests are fueling campaigners for a "no" vote in an upcoming French referendum on the EU'S first-ever constitution.

Two recent polls indicated that a majority of French voters could oppose the historic document in a May 29 referendum, which most analysts say would be a devastating blow to the expanding European Union.

Juncker insisted on the difference between the two issues, hammering: "We say yes to liberalisation of services but we say no to social dumping."

"There are a certain number of changes which must be made to the (proposed services) text," he added.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso blamed the concerns about the services plans on "misunderstandings" and said that the EU's executive arm was open to changes in the proposals.

"We are available to accept certain modifications and improvements in order to have an internal services market which works, which generates growth and employment without causing social standards from sliding," he said.

Even the head of the European Trade Unions Confederation, John Monks, tried to send a message to French voters that the referendum was not about services liberalisation.

Speaking in French, he said that the services proposal and the constitution "are not the same thing" but called, in English, on the commission "to consider withdrawing the services directive and starting again".

EU leaders also voiced concerns about the upcoming referendum in France. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said: "I hope that French citizens will have the good sense to vote yes."

Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson suggested that the best way to clear up the controversy over the services reforms would be to bring it back to the drawing board.

"I think withdrawing (the plans) would be a good starting point for discussions," he said as he arrived here.

The European People's Party, which groups together the EU's conservative leaders, called for the plan to be renegotiated following a meeting.

"Negotiations on changing the services directive need to be undertaken," said former Belgian Prime Minister Wilfried Martens, who heads the party.

© AFP

Subject: French News

0 Comments To This Article