French stand on services shake-up 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.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country currently holds the European Union (EU)'s rotating residency, insisted that the proposals should not lead to "social dumping".

He reiterated that the EU was committed to liberalising the sector, notably to boost cross-border competition "but it is obvious that this opening up must occur without social dumping.

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

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 fuelling 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.

"The Commission ... is available for a constructive dialogue with the Council (of EU governments) and the (European) Parliament to find a solution that yields a strong consensus," he said.

"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 added.

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."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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