60,000 protest about ‘Bolkestein’ law
21 March 2005
BRUSSELS – European Trade Unions descended in their tens of thousands on Brussels at the weekend to protest about a European Commission plan to liberalise the service sector.
Around 60,000 trade unionists took to the streets on Saturday afternoon to demonstrate against the so-called ‘Bolkestein’ directive which aims to remove EU internal trade barriers for service providers.
Named after its creator, former Dutch Commissioner Frits Bolkestein, the draft directive would cut red tape abroad for services ranging from architects and plumbers to hairdressers.
The move, according to one European Commission study, could create up to 600,000 new jobs in the EU.
But opponents of the draft EU law are outraged by the ‘country of origin’ principle that would allow businesses and professionals to offer services in another EU country while initially paying domestic social security charges and other labour taxes.
This has sparked fears that the plan would create what critics call ‘social dumping’, where service providers from EU countries with low labour costs could undercut competitors registered in member states where statutory charges are far higher.
Saturday’s march set the scene for a growing stand-off between the European
Commission and France and Germany at this week’s EU economic summit in Brussels.
Both French and German leaders have shunned what the Commission argues could be a lifeline for their flagging economies, publicly denouncing the services
directive over the past few weeks.
The issue has now been linked to a slump in French support for the EU constitution ahead of the country’s crucial referendum on 29 May.
Despite the efforts of the demonstration’s organisers to separate the two issues, placards rejecting the EU constitution were in abundance at the weekend march, next to anti-Bolkestein and anti-Bush banners and Che Guevara T-shirts.
“It’s a pity that we have to reject the EU Constitution,” said Tito Cornejo, a Chilean exile who has lived in Brussels since 1973.
“It’s a good opportunity to bring the peoples of Europe together but it is just too
[economically] liberal,” he said.
The protest drew trade unionists mainly from Belgium, France, Portugal, Germany, Spain and Britain, but a sizeable number of Poles and Romanians were also present.
Frits Bolkestein, the object of the protestors’ wrath, gave a scathing reaction to the protest, condemning the marchers as “short-sighted” and for using the issue “for party political reasons.”
“Linking the services directive so clearly to my name points to certain xenophobic feelings,” he told Le Figaro.
“It is only in France that they are consciously stressing the Germanic feel of my name,” he said.
[Copyright Expatica 2005]
Subject: Belgian news