Position of the Norwegian Government on the Commission’s new draft directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on services in the internal market 24 May 2006

Position of the Norwegian Government on the Commission’s new draft directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on services in the internal market 24 May 2006

Norway supports the general purpose to reduce barriers to trade in services in Europe and to contribute to economic and social progress. While removing barriers to trade we must also ensure an advanced European social model, adherence to traditions of labour market conditions and respect for environmental values. The new draft directive on services in the internal market constitutes an improvement in this respect.

The Government of Norway is content that most of our remarks concerning earlier versions of the directive seem to have been taken into account in the new draft. The present draft thus represents a change for the better in facilitating an improved supply of services within the European Economic Area while respecting the values of the advanced European social model. Norway also welcomes the emphasis put on environmental motives in the new draft directive. However, certain elements need to be clarified.

It is essential that services provided are of high quality. Norway would like to underline the importance of public concerns, protection of the environment, working conditions, health and safety, consumer protection and local democracy. These objectives can best be achieved if relevant services provided in a country are coherent with existing standards. It is important that the presently proposed modifications of the draft directive allow for an effective supervision and enforcement by national authorities.

It is of utmost importance to the Norwegian government that the host country maintains the authority it has today pursuant to the EEA Agreement to regulate, supervise and control required standards of health, environment, safety and quality for all service providers within its territory.

The Norwegian government strongly emphasises the importance of member states’ right to organise the relationship between the social partners in a manner that it considers adequate, such as the possibility to enter into collective agreements. In this respect, Norway welcomes the technical adjustments to the directive, in particular the relationship between Article 1(7) and 4(7), which makes it clear that the directive does not affect the right to negotiate, conclude and enforce collective agreements and the right to take collective action.

Norway welcomes the clarification in Article 1(6) that the directive should not affect labour law. The Norwegian government has consulted the social partners in Norway, among which trade unions have called for the Council to further clarify that the directive does not affect labour law or has any influence on national regulations, that is, legal or contractual provisions or rules laid down in collective agreements, in relation to health and safety at work.

The Norwegian Government supports that certain social services are excluded from the scope of the draft directive. However, the Council could clarify the scope of that exception. Regarding the exclusion of health care services from the scope of the directive, we propose that a definition of health care services is included in the directive. The definition should not restrict the exclusion to activities that are reserved to a regulated health profession in the Member State in which the services are provided. Norway interprets the proposed directive as not affecting national measures to prevent alcohol related harm.

We notice that the Commission has reintroduced the provision that authorisation shall be deemed to have been granted failing a response within the set time period in Article 13(4). This provision might result in the neglecting of important public and private interests and should be brought in line with the position taken by the Parliament.

The principle of freedom to provide services in Article 16 has undergone positive changes through the compromise of the European Parliament. Nevertheless, we call for a clarification on the provisions on freedom to provide services. In particular, this concerns the scope of exemptions and prohibitions pertaining to national requirements necessary to prevent adverse effects on the social model. Norway asks the Council to clarify whether the said paragraphs exhaust Member States’ recourse to justifiable reasons for imposing requirements on service providers, or whether the notion of “mandatory requirements” is applicable.

The Norwegian Government welcomes that basic services of general economic interest, including water distribution, treatment of waste, electricity and education, are now exempted from the principle of free movement of services. The directive applies only to activities open to competition. The Norwegian Government believes that the concepts Services of General Interest and Services of General Economic Interest and their coherence could be clarified.

Judicial recovery of debts is excluded from the scope of the Principle of free movement of services. Norway supports this, but strongly emphasises that to maintain a high level of protection for consumers the exception should include extrajudicial recovery.

From a competitiveness perspective, Norway welcomes the facilitations of free movement of services. However, it is in this respect important that, to the extent that a Member State does not enact rules on standards and control, the Commission creates minimum harmonisation standards to create trust in cross-boarder supply of services, especially to protect the interests of consumers. Such minimum standards must not affect the possibility to introduce or maintain national standards giving a higher level of protection.