EP Approves Bolkestein
Last Wednesday, the European Commission passed the services directive with an overwhelming majority in favour. After a year of campaigning by ESIB and other educational NGOs, education has been predominantly left out of the directive.
A little history – earlier in the year, the European Parliament threw out the old services directive. This led to a number of steps:
- On 04-04-2006 the Commission published a modified legislative proposal, taking on board the comments made during the EP sessions
- On 24-07-2006 the Council reached a Common Position on the document, making a few marginal changes
- The next day the Commission released a communication saying it was happy with the changes
- On 23-10-2006, the Parliament’s responsible committee voted by 26 in favour, 4 against, 6 abstensions to support the Council’s Common position
- On 15-10-2006, the EP ratified this recommendation
It is however important to note that while education is not mentioned in the directive anymore per se, it isn’t specifically excluded either. Rather, the directive now makes a distinction between Services of General Interest and Services of General Economic Interest. The services of a general interest (which one would assume would include education) will not fall under the scope of the directive. However, Member States will be free to define what they consider to be a service of general economic interest, meaning that theoretically, a member state might decide to move education under this heading.
The position of education was further strengthened by the Council amendments, by the addition of two amendments:
- The re-definition of services of general interest to services of non-economic general interest
- A new sentence stating that the directive will not affect the principle of universal service, an amendment meant to protect social services.
So, in summary, a government would have to declare it considers education NOT to be a social service, and to be primarily an economic as opposed to a non-economic service to bring it under Bolkestein.