Do the interests of a few major corporations take priority over the needs of society? Recently, this has been a frequent question asked at the level of EU institutions. One of these occasions was yesterday when the Internal Market Committee in the European Parliament voted on the Directive on the award of concession contracts: this rather technical sounding title conceals another attempt by the European Commission to make public supply of water, healthcare services and other vital public services significantly more difficult. Ultimately, the new provisions could result in the privatisation of basic public services in some communities. Nevertheless, MEPs voted in favour of the Directive proposal by a large majority.
Right at the start of the discussion on the Service Concession Directive, in particular German and Austrian representatives of communities and municipalities as well as labour representatives warned of the consequences in the area of public services such as water, waste, energy or healthcare, as the proposal of the European Commission tightens the belt with regard to the provision of public services. If communities are unable to fulfil the conditions described in the Directive, services must be put out to tender – thereby opening the floodgates for international corporations. Large corporations winning contracts carries the risk that with regard to rendering services, supply is no longer the top priority, but the yield services can generate. There is also criticism in respect of the high complexity of the Directive proposal, which makes life difficult especially for smaller communities that do not enjoy the benefit of having large legal departments at their disposal.

However, the responsible conservative Commissioner Michel Barnier, who is in charge of the Directive proposal on service concessions, still disputes that the legal proposal would have a negative impact on the public sector.

In particular German and Austrian EU representatives were opposed – across all political groups – to the Directive proposal. Both countries have for many decades successfully and for the benefit of the population followed the principle of public supply and disposal of water, health care services, waste related or other public services.

Hence, yesterday’s voting result did not carry any surprises: in particular German and Austrian MEPs voted against the Directive proposal, as did the Greens and Left. Nevertheless, in the end 28 EU representatives voted for and 10 MEPs against the report on service concessions by the competent French MEP Philippe Juvin of the European People’s Party.

However, there is still a small hope that the vote planned for March cast by all 754 MEPs in the plenum of the European Parliament will prevent the Directive or at least succeed in exempting basic public services such as water, waste or healthcare from the Directive. However, this would require that some other countries would follow the protest of Germany and Austria.