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Lisbon Treaty is Bad for Public Services

28 May, 2008

Speaking from Leinster House Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD outlined to media the consequences of the Lisbon Treaty on Ireland's public services. Deputy Ó Caoláin was joined by South West Representative Seán Crowe.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said

"There is a clear desire within the European Commission and a large number of EU governments to open member state markets in vital public services such as health and education to competition.

"The EU does not argue directly for privatisation and has no objection to member states competing "freely" with private operators in "open" markets. However there are clear consequences when vital public services are opened up to competition

"Treating health care or education as commodities to be traded on the market creates inequalities in access to public services services. The Institute of Public health estimate that 5000 people from low-income families die prematurely each year because of unequal access to health care in this state.

"Opening public services to competition actively undermines universal access to healthcare, and forces reliance on private insurance. It also puts downward pressure on wages, particularly for those involved in front line services such as nurses and ancillary services while putting pressure on budgets forcing health managers to seek cost reductions.

"It also undermines the long term viability of the public sector, as the private sector cherry picks the most "profitable" sectors, thus undermining vital revenue streams through which the public sector subsidies the "unprofitable sectors."

"The European Commission has been attempting to get greater powers to compel member states to open up their markets in vital public services to such competition.

"Article 16 of the Lisbon Treaty gives the EU new powers to apply "economic and financial conditions" to the provision of Services of General Economic Interest. These conditions are the rules of competition and restrictions on state aid.

"The European Commission and the European Court of Justice clearly regard large aspects of public services, such as health and education as economic in nature and therefore subject to Article 16.

"Article 188 allows for the inclusion of health, education and social services in international trade agreements, including at the World Trade Organisation. Again confirmation that the EU sees such activities as economic in nature

"These two articles will provide the European Commission with the tools to progressively open up areas of European public services such as health and education to both internal market competition and international trade.

"Advocates of the Lisbon Treaty argue that the Protocol on Services of General Interest protects public services. However the article clearly only protects non-economic services. However as the European Commission, the European Court of Justice and Article 188 explicitly recognise public services such as health and education are economic in nature, and therefore not provided any protection under the protocol.

"The impact of these changes on Ireland would be twofold. Firstly it would accelerate the already unequal two-tier nature of our vital public services. Secondly it would made reversal of the existing policy direction even more difficult as such changes would have to be secured at an EU as well as a domestic level.

"The Lisbon Treaty is a bad deal for public services. Sinn Féin has called for a specific protocol exempting vital public services such as health and education from any form of liberalisation, and promoting universal access to public services based on need and not ability to pay." ENDS

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