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The joint texts adopted in this sector reflect a shared desire to defend the specific nature of the public services delivered by local and regional authorities, especially in the face of European liberalisation and competition policies.

The joint texts adopted in this sector reflect a shared desire to defend the specific nature of the public services delivered by local and regional authorities. In this respect, 2004 seems to have marked a turning-point in the social dialogue: whereas those in the sector had hoped to contribute their know-how in aid of local development and employment, the publication of the White Paper on services of general interest seems to have put them on the defensive.

While this White Paper was in its preparatory stages, the social partners adopted a joint opinion which reads like a warning to the Commission: “we believe that, in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity, proportionality, local self-government and proximity, decisions as to the organisation of public services and services of general interest of a local or regional nature should remain in the hands of local and regional authorities, where democratically elected representatives are in the best position to judge the merits of different options (…) on behalf of their citizens and electors. Democratic control and accountability, responsible use of scarce resources, the prevention of abuses of market power, long-term service delivery and security of supply of many services require public intervention and cannot be left to market forces only” (Joint statement on the role of local and regional public services and the Green Paper on services of general interest, COM(2003) 270 final).

This defensive stance on market forces was equally apparent in 2005 with regard to the development of the EES. The social partners expressed regret that the guidelines took a narrow view of the role of local public services/services of general interest. They asserted that “this demands a positive discussion on public services rather than an ideologically based ‘private good, public bad’ approach” (CEMR-EP / EPSU joint statement on EU employment policy, 15 May 2005).

In 2007, in their joint statement on the modernisation of labour law (Joint CEMR/EPSU response to the European Commission’s Green Paper COM (2006) 708, Modernising Labour Law to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century, 3 April 2007), the social partners point out that the Commission’s focus is mainly on “the personal scope of labour law rather than an issue of collective labour law. We see this as a general weakness in the overall analysis.” They believe that the Commission should above all “concentrate on preventing unfair competition and social dumping between Member States (…)”. Thus this sectoral social dialogue seems, since 2004, to have been adopting a rather defensive stance in respect of the EU’s “intrusions” in the area of public services, liberalisation and labour law.

ETUI and Observatoire Social Européen (2010) European Sectoral Social Dialogue Factsheets. Project coordinated by Christophe Degryse, online publication available at www.worker-participation.eu/EU-Social-Dialogue/Sectoral-ESD