Democrat - October 2006 (Number 98)
The Services Directive
A race to the bottom
Review by Tony Benn
Brian Denny: The EU Services Directive – a race to the bottom: Foreword by RMT General Secretary Bob Crow 28 pp illustrated: ISBN 1 904260 07 1 *
This pamphlet sets out clearly how these proposals threaten the very concept of decent public services as we know them.
It explains how this deeply undemocratic directive seeks to erase any national laws that get in the way of large private companies taking over service provision across all member states.
Under this system all public services are treated as “economic activity,” or tradable commodities like any other business.
The first chapter deals with healthcare and how it remains under threat despite the fact that it was removed from the provisions of the services directive. The European Commission has got round this knotty little problem by simply drawing up a new directive along the same lines to cover healthcare.
This is not surprising as healthcare amounts to about 10 per cent of the EU’s GDP and therefore the potential for profit is huge.
Just days after this excellent pamphlet was published the Department of Health invited private companies to bid to spend vast sums of the multi-billion pound NHS budget.
A six-page advert in the Official Journal of European Union asked health privateers to apply to run key roles in Primary Care Trusts which control 80 per cent of the annual £80 billion NHS budget, funding GP surgeries, hospital operations and drugs.
Only firms with experience of managing £300 million-plus health budgets were invited to bid - meaning only US giants, virtual monopolies, such as United Healthcare and Kaiser Permanente could be eligible.
As my old friend and former Health Secretary Frank Dobson said, this represented healthcare privatisation by stealth and was ‘about putting multinational companies in the driving seat of the NHS’.
Following a public outcry, the adverts were removed, allegedly due to ‘drafting errors’, revealing just how unpopular these plans are.
The creeping privatisation of the NHS began, of course, under the previous Tory government which introduced Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) in 1992 as an alternative to direct funding from central taxation for new investment.
These measures, which have proved vastly more expensive, were designed to meet the requirements of the just-signed Maastricht Treaty, which demanded a massive tightening of public spending across Europe in order to bring in the single currency.
Brian goes on to look at the origins of the services directive which can be traced to the signing of the Single European Act back in 1986 by Margaret Thatcher.
He reveals that it was the Tory government’s close relationship with big business groups like the European Roundtable of Industrialists which put the EU on this road to the ‘Thatcherisation’ of Europe, as one Tory MP put it.
As this pamphlet shows, the services directive and the ‘internal market’ principles behind it also represent a threat to jobs, decent wage levels and trade union rights.
It outlines one ongoing case in the EU’s own European Court of Justice, the Vaxholm case, which threatens to outlaw Swedish labour law and the right of Swedish unions to enter into collective bargaining agreements with its elected government.
The argument being put by the commission and their court is that nothing can be allowed to get in the way of the free movement of ‘services, labour and capital’ in this new Europe.
However, giving the right of big business to what the hell it likes, where it likes and when it likes, does not represent freedom but rather the enslavement of human beings and a mortal threat to representative democracy itself.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this pamphlet as it puts sometimes confusing events into sharp focus. It will prove invaluable for anyone seeking to understand the origins and purpose of not only the services directive but the whole direction of the EU and the threat this poses to jobs, pension, democracy, our public services and our civil rights
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* Sorry - this pamphlet is now out of print