ECONOMY

Failed attempt to strengthen job protectionism via amendment

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union president Finland rejected attempts on Wednesday by a senior lawmaker to alter a hard-won deal on opening up the bloc’s market in services to cross-border competition and weaken enforcement. EU ministers in May reached a finely balanced agreement intended to boost growth in the enlarged bloc, based on compromise struck by the European Parliament in first reading. That diluted a more sweeping liberalization proposed by the European Commission that sparked street protests and opposition from some old member states who feared unfettered competition. The issue pits wealthy West European states keen to protect their companies, against East European newcomers eager to break into their markets. The proposed rules make it easier for providers of services as diverse as catering, software and plumbing to ply their trade throughout the 25-nation bloc with fewer restrictions. Services account for 70 percent of EU economic activity. The bill is back in the assembly for a final reading and Evelyne Gebhardt, a German Socialist sponsoring the legislation, wants changes to the May agreement. Gebhardt said her amendments were virtually all technical but one key proposal would reduce the powers of the EU executive to prevent back-door protectionism by member states. Satu Makynen, speaking on behalf of the Finnish presidency, told Parliament’s internal market committee many of Gebhardt’s changes touched «no go» areas at the bill’s heart. «It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accept amendments of this nature in Council (of member states),» Makynen said. Maria Martin-Prat, speaking on behalf of the EU executive, said the amendments could reopen the May deal and make the text less clear. »The Commission fully shares the assessment of the Finnish presidency,» Martin-Prat said. Gebhardt wants to weaken the Commission’s role in screening national rules for potential barriers to services from one state operating in another. Under the May deal, states would have to tell Brussels how national laws comply with the new EU rules and the executive would give them «analysis and orientations.» That was key to winning support among new member states who feared that protective West European states would raise fresh barriers, but Gebhardt said it was for the European Court of Justice to interpret the law. «This morning the Polish trade minister was in my office. The compromise on that very issue, which is a political one, is one we must not see fail,» center-right lawmaker Andreas Schwab said. Gebhardt said she did not expect all her amendments to go through, though she faces an uphill task of winning support for any of them without backing from the center-right, the assembly’s biggest bloc, or from the liberals.