The future of public services across the EU has been thrown into doubt after MEPs in Strasbourg voted to adopt a controversial Services Directive today.
The directive paves the way for commercial service providers from flower-arrangers to funeral directors to trade across borders within the EU - just as the single market legislation already allows for goods.
But the UK's Green MEPs voted against the proposals, warning they provided inadequate protection for public services - and could hit consumers hard.
Speaking after the vote the Vice President of the Green Group in the European Parliament, Jean Lambert MEP for London, said that the directive poses more questions than it answers: "This Directive does improve a disasterous Commission proposal, but it still lacks clarity.
"The Greens had offered a radical amendment of the legislation to make sure it could work for small businesses but still offer real protection of public services, however Parliament has chose a different route.
"Far too many doors have been left ajar for further liberalisation of public services and there are no assurances that the deeply controversial Country of Origin Principle is gone. The end result is a deal which leaves everyone claiming a victory but with nobody sire of the impact."
Caroline Lucas, Green MEP for South-East England, added: "Though the directive does explicitly exclude health services, it does allow for international trade in education and social services: these should not be treated like widgets and washing machines - and we now need a separate law to protect vulnerable users of these essential services from the 'race to the bottom' in service levels which invariably accompanies the opening up of new markets."
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Notes to editors:
Jean Lambert: In October 2005 Jean was named MEP 2005 for Justice and Human Rights. Jean was first elected Green Party Member of the European Parliament for London in the 1999 European elections. She was re-elected in 2004. She is one of nine MEPs representing London and one of two UK Green representatives in the European Parliament.
Country of Origin Principle: According to this principle, a service provider who crosses the border to deliver services in another Member State would be subject only to the legal provisions of its Member State of origin. Without its removal from the Directive the consumer will have to know the rules and regulations from 25 Member States ranging from quality assurance and liability to advertising.