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Public services fulfil certain functions which are crucial to ensuring
an equitable and sustainable society.
In the UK we are familiar with changes to how our public services are funded
and provided. Heated public debates about our public services - such as hospitals,
schools, public transport - frequently hit the headlines. Public Finance Initiatives
(PFI) to fund the building of hospitals, the controversial Public Private
Partnership proposals for the London Underground and the privatised railways
are all heavily criticised for their effects on these services.
Jean Lambert and the Greens are fighting to ensure that universal access
and affordable services are guaranteed, to quality services.
This debate is not just limited to the UK, but is part of a worldwide trend.
The UK has advanced further in the field of privatisation than other EU countries,
but European Union legislation on the liberalisation of "services of
general interest" is developing fast.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) also has an important influence, and the
ongoing negotiations on the GATS Agreement (General Agreement on Trade in
Services) pose a potentially serious threat to our public services. The UK
Government is one of the main players in developing this agreement, for the
benefit of the UK services industry.
Jean Lambert is working within the European Parliament and using her position
as an MEP to try and guarantee the future of public services.
release on privatisation, November 2001
Link to Caroline Lucas MEP's
website -more info on public services
January 2003: London
Rail operators should learn more from Europe
GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services)
The GATS is a World Trade Organisation agreement on trade in services - 160
sectors including health, waste disposal, financial services, education, water
distribution, and tourism. GATS poses a serious threat to public services
in Britain and around the world and Jean has been lobbying UK and EC negotiators
to ensure that public services are kept safe.
In December 2002/ January 2003 Jean Lambert and Caroline Lucas submitted
joint responses to EC and UK Consultations on GATS
European Parliamentarians from different political parties signed a 'call'
on GATS. Read
World Development Movement www.wdm.org.uk
NEWS: 12th March 2003
GREENS VOTE AGAINST EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT GATS RESOLUTION
The EU Greens voted against a Resolution on GATS as too many questions were
left open, after other political groups voted to throw out key demands.
Key demands not adopted included those calling for a moratorium on GATS
to allow for democratic debate, and full impact assessment of the possible
outcome of GATS - which for the moment is largely unknown.
However, a couple of Green amendments were supported, including those stating
that the Parliament:
"Supports the right of each WTO member to regulate public services
and services of general interest and to uphold the principle of universal
service obligations; wishes to see a clarification of the right to regulate,
to ensure that it cannot be undermined by the application of trade-related
criteria such as the necessity test or the requirement to be "least trade-restrictive";
"Recognises that the ability of some developing and least developed
countries to regulate service sectors which were previously under public control
or ownership may be limited or non-existent and calls on the Commission to
act sensitively in those areas where the developing country concerned has
genuine development-based objections; insists that certain service sectors,
such as water and sanitation, have a special status in developing and least
developed countries, impacting directly and dramatically on people's daily
lives, and therefore require special treatment;"
The EU and Services of General Interest
Greens/EFA Group statement on public services
from the background document prepared for the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable
Development, August 2002
"In order for sustainable development to become a reality, taking account
of public services must be effectively regulated by institutions enjoying
democratic legitimacy,the principle of subsidiarity. Policy relating to public
services is fundamentally a public matter. Indeed, no economy can dispense
with effective public services, which also provide jobs and, for instance
in the case of public transport, are the only alternative to self-services
which are oriented for the individual, costly, inefficient, unequally accessible
and often polluting.
Public services need to function in an efficient and transparent manner and
to internalise external environmental costs, while remaining affordable and
universally accessible, even to the poor, the disabled or those living in
remote areas. Their performances are to be evaluated on a regular basis by
independent bodies, and the evaluation process should make it possible for
citizens and users to participate.
The current trend concerning public services is unsustainable, at both the
European and world levels. In the EU, liberalisation is being pursued at a
dizzying pace on a sector-by-sector basis, without any serious, democratic
and independent evaluation of their environmental and social impact or of
the quality of the service. Private, unaccountable, non-transparent oligopolies,
which operate on a cross-sector basis, tend to replace public monopolies and
dictate their conditions to public authorities. Job losses, reduced access
for the poor, the disabled or those living in remote regions, lower quality
of the service and often relatively higher prices result from this. The candidate
countries, which have to open their markets to prepare for accession to the
European Union, are the new prey of these private companies.
At world level, and far from any democratic scrutiny or public debate, negotiations
within the framework of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)
threaten to worsen these problems, with dramatic consequences not only for
the EU and other industrialised countries, but also - and above all - for
the developing world. GATS negotiations have already started, with the EU
asking a certain number of countries to liberalise industries providing "services
of general interest": telecomms, postal services, energy, transport,
water. Health care and education, other public services which are normally
considered to be part of the exclusive prerogative of domestic policy-makers,
are on the negotiating table. Public interest regulations, such as tobacco
control and environmental protection laws, are also threatened.
Before further liberalisation of any sector is contemplated, a serious, democratic
and independent evaluation is required of the performance of public services,
of the long term impact of their possible liberalisation and of the social
and environmental consequences of their liberalisations to date. This should
be overseen by a permanent and independent European observatory, which includes
both customers and citizens.
Rules need to be clarified regarding the financing of public services in
a manner that allows them to fully perform their essential role. In the field
of public procurement, a wide range of social andenvironmental criteria should
be used. At the international level, the GATS provisions that affect governments'
ability to regulate public services in the public interest, or that otherwise
threaten public interest regulation, need to be suppressed, and negotiations
should be stopped on the liberalisation of network and non-network public
services and on the curtailment of other public interest regulations."