Brussels, 20 December 2011 – The European Commission has today adopted a Quality Framework for Services of General Interest (SGI) in the EU. They provide an essential safety net for citizens in areas such as health care, care for the elderly, child care, assistance to disabled persons and social housing. They also have a key role to play in the knowledge economy in the area of schools, training centres and university. At a time when public authorities are confronted with the need for fiscal consolidation, it is essential to ensure that right framework is in place so that high-quality services can be provided as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.
President Barroso said, “I made clear in my Political Guidelines in 2009 that Services of General Interest play a key role in ensuring social cohesion and can also be a driver for new sources of growth. This quality framework adopted today is a confirmation of the European Commission’s determination to support innovative, high quality public services, which are even more essential in the current difficult economic situation”.
This framework will help Member States to ensure that the regulatory environment at EU level continues to reinforce the social dimension of the single market, and to take better account of the specific nature of these services when designing new initiatives. It will also help Member States to deliver these services in a way which incorporates the values of quality, safety and affordability, equal treatment, universal access and users’ rights which are recognised in Protocol 26 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The quality framework consists of three complementary strands of action:
Enhancing clarity and legal certainty on how EU rules apply to services of general interest (SGI), and revising the rules when necessary to ensure that specific needs are catered for. The Commission is presenting alongside this Communication reforms of two key sets of rules – for state aid for Services of General Economic Interest (SGEI) and for public procurement/concessions – both of which will increase flexibility and simplification for Member States when providing these services. These reforms also aim at increasing convergence between both policies, to provide a simpler approach for stakeholders.
Ensuring access to essential services: the Commission will take forward its commitment to ensure access for all citizens to essential services in specific sectors building on recent actions in the field of basic banking, postal services, electronic communications, transport and energy.
Promoting quality: the Commission will reinforce its commitment to promoting quality in the field of social services, and will use the achievements in this area as a model for other services of general interest.
President Barroso identified services of general economic interest as a priority at the beginning of his second mandate. His Political Guidelines of 2009 already recognise their importance to the European model of society and refer to the modernisation of the services sector as one way to boost new sources of growth and social cohesion.
While the Treaty has always ensured that Member States have the flexibility to provide quality services of this type, the Treaty of Lisbon has introduced new provisions: Article 14 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), Protocol nº 26 on services of general interest. It has also given Article 36 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights the same legal value as the Treaties. It is in this new context that the Commission has decided to bring together in a single quality framework the comprehensive set of actions which it is pursuing on services of general interest. This framework will help the Commission to deliver on its broader commitment to put the social economy and social innovation at the heart of its work under the Europe 2020 strategy
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