Public Services and the Internal Market: Building Blocks or Persistent Irritant?

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Series Details Vol.21, No.6, November 2015, p738–757
Publication Date November 2015
ISSN 1351-5993 (Print) / 1468-0386 (Online)
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Publisher Abstract
Critics such as Fritz Scharpf maintain that in the EU, negative integration (abolishing national rules) by definition wins out over positive integration (adopting new EU rules). This claim is examined here regarding public services—both utilities and welfare services.

In EU law, the (partly overlapping) relevant categories are as follows: (1) services of general interest (SGI) and (2) services of general economic interest (SGEI). The latter are provided by undertakings. SGI that are not also SGEI are subject only to non-discrimination requirements: this covers most welfare services. SGEI must comply with the EU competition and state aid rules, which promotes liberalisation.

However, a proportional exception is allowed in so far as necessary for SGEI to carry out their public tasks. Moreover, alongside liberalisation, EU regimes for public services have emerged that benefit citizens/consumers. In sum, public services can now arguably be seen as building blocks of the internal market.

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ESO: Background Information: Services of General Interest

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