Sinn Féin - On Your Side

EU Services Directive a gross breach of sovereignty

8 February, 2006


Speaking during this evening's public meeting on the EU Services Directive in Trinity College the Sinn Féin spokesperson on European Affairs, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has claimed that the EU Services Directive would "undermine the authority of governments in at least two ways." He cited the 'country of origin' principle as being a "gross breach of sovereignty" and said the demand to eliminate obstacles to the free movement of services could allow companies "circumvent regulations that ensure high service quality, continuity and equal or universal access." The meeting was also be addressed by SIPTU President Jack O'Connor.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said: "The often anti-democratic nature of EU decision-making has long been of concern to Sinn Fein. And this Directive would add to that 'democratic deficit', or exacerbate the situation, by moving more policy-making decisions further away from the Irish people. The Directive would undermine the authority of governments in at least two ways. Firstly, the 'country of origin' principle means in essence that the laws of countries other than Ireland will apply in this state, and the laws determined democratically by this state will not apply to everyone in it. This is a gross breach of sovereignty. Therefore, Sinn Fein will oppose the introduction of the 'country of origin principle' and will fight to ensure the elimination of every aspect of it from this and future EU proposals.

Secondly, under the draft Directive regulations that may be deemed an obstacle to the free movement of services must be eliminated. And, the draft Directive includes a long list of prohibited regulations and empowers the European Commission to add to this list at any stage in the future. This de-regulation logic lies at the heart of the Directive and is untouched by the amendments accepted by the European Parliament's lead committee. There is no recognition anywhere in the Directive that some so-called "obstacles" are necessary and indeed desirable. These "obstacles" might include regulations to ensure high service quality, continuity and equal or universal access.

"A further issue which has received scant attention is the gender dimension. Women are over-represented as both workers in the services sector and as service users. Therefore, any negative implications of the Services Directive will have a disproportionately larger effect on women. Both the 'country of origin principle' and the de-regulatory drive of the Directive would also jeopardise efforts by governments to promote conditions providing a better work-life balance." ENDS

Full Speech on Services Directive by Aengus Ó Snodaigh

The Trade Unions have done a good job of focusing attention on the threat, posed by the Services Directive, to workers rights and protections. And these are issues which Sinn Fein has also been actively highlighting. But rather than simply repeating the grave catalogue of concerns relating to workers, I'd like to draw people's attention instead to a couple of issues that have received far less political or media attention. I will look at the implications of the Directive for democracy and accountability. And, the implications for women and vulnerable groups.

Sinn Fein believes that the ultimate sovereignty of the people finds its expression in the rule-making of elected authorities, be they national or local, and that this must be the cornerstone of any healthy democracy. Thus it is a basic human right of citizens to elect governments who will regulate on their behalf in a transparent and accountable manner. The often anti-democratic nature of EU decision-making has long been of concern to Sinn Fein. And this Directive would add to that 'democratic deficit', or exacerbate the situation, by moving more policy-making decisions further away from the Irish people. The Directive would undermine the authority of governments in at least 2 ways. Firstly, the 'country of origin' principle means in essence that the laws of countries other than Ireland will apply in this state, and the laws determined democratically by this state will not apply to everyone in it. This is a gross breach of sovereignty. Therefore, Sinn Fein will oppose the introduction of the 'country of origin principle' and will fight to ensure the elimination of every aspect of it from this and future EU proposals.

Secondly, under the draft Directive regulations that may be deemed an obstacle to the free movement of services must be eliminated. And, the draft Directive includes a long list of prohibited regulations and empowers the European Commission to add to this list at any stage in the future. This de-regulation logic lies at the heart of the Directive and is untouched by the amendments accepted by the European Parliament's lead committee. There is no recognition anywhere in the Directive that some so-called "obstacles" are necessary and indeed desirable. These "obstacles" might include regulations to ensure high service quality, continuity and equal or universal access. To offer a few examples, the Directive might prohibit outright or allow companies to circumvent via the country of origin principle:

· regulations requiring nursing homes to provide a minimum level of recreational facilities

· regulations to protect places of natural significance (e.g. limits on the height of buildings or the architectural design of developments)

· regulations to protect places of linguistic or cultural importance (e.g. awarding exclusive authorisation to Gaeltacht-based/owned service providers).

A further issue which has received scant attention is the gender dimension. Women are over-represented as both workers in the services sector and as service users. This may be linked in part to the concentration of part-time work in the services sector and to the higher representation of women as primary carers for older people and children. Therefore, any negative implications of the Services Directive will have a disproportionately larger effect on women. Both the 'country of origin principle' and the de-regulatory drive of the Directive would also jeopardise efforts by governments to promote conditions providing a better work-life balance. The Commission failed to undertake a gender impact assessment or a social impact assessment for that matter.

Finally, as I have argued, the Directive severely limits the ability of elected authorities to use laws, regulations and administrative requirements to ensure that services are accessible, continuous and of a high quality. This will have detrimental consequences for society and in particular for vulnerable groups. To offer an example, Greece has no equivalent to Irelands Equal Status Act. That is, Greece has no anti-discrimination laws governing the provision of services. Therefore under the 'country of origin principle' Greek Service providers could operate discriminatory practices in the course of their business in this country. This would have a negative impact on the social and economic inclusion of, for example, people with disabilities.

On behalf of Sinn Fein I invite all those who are opposed to the Directive to join us in protest outside the European Commission building on Molesworth St. Valentines Day at 12.30 lunchtime to 'Kiss the Services Directive Goodbye'!

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