The speech made by Malcolm Harbour, the then Conservative MEP for the West Midlands, on 15 February 2006.
Mr President, it is more than two years since I started working on this directive and I have been convinced from the beginning that its objectives and the ambition to tackle the barriers to the internal market for services have been absolutely right. Why has it taken two years? We had it at the end of the last Parliament; we have seen some of the issues raised by the many speeches here today, which, in many cases, have vastly overplayed the problems but underplayed the opportunities.
With some of the high-flown rhetoric we have heard today about issues like social dumping and so on, which I have never been in any way convinced would arise from this directive, it is most important that we do not forget the opportunities, so I shall talk a little about those tonight.
Firstly, I particularly want to thank all the members of my group on the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection who have worked so tirelessly with me to reshape this text. I calculate that three-quarters of all the amendments to the text that we will vote on on Thursday originated from our group. In particular, the whole idea of a central clause called ‘freedom to provide services’ was developed by us in the run-up to the committee vote. That will form the basis for the compromise that I want to commend to all my colleagues this afternoon. I also want to thank our colleagues in the ALDE and UEN Groups who helped us achieve a very important result in the committee back in November.
This is one of the subjects to have attracted the most debate and argument over the last two years. This will be the final debate of this cycle, but I am sure we will have many more. At the heart of the debate has been Mrs Gebhardt, a very hardworking and determined rapporteur. I want to pay tribute to her and the very courteous and painstaking way in which she has led our work on a very complicated and difficult proposal.
I said that I wanted to look at the impact of the directive as a whole, because we should be thinking particularly about small and medium-sized businesses, which are constantly frustrated at their inability to access the internal market at the moment. There is a whole range of provisions in this proposal – no less than 81 provisions on Member States – to deal with these sorts of barriers, because businesses want to be able to go into markets; they want to be able to start up without unnecessary and bureaucratic barriers; they want to be able to send their experts to other countries. But they also want to know that they will not be subject to disproportionate and unnecessary restrictions and that includes requiring them to comply with duplicate sets of rules and authorisations when they have already complied with them in their own country. I do not think that is reasonable. The European courts do not think that is reasonable and that is contained in this compromise. If that is the devastating country-of-origin principle, then what have we been arguing about all this time? It is there in the law of the Court of Justice. My reading of this compromise is that it is not in any way eroded and we must make sure that it is not eroded when we come to the vote.
The role of the Commission has been mentioned. The Commissioner, has a crucial responsibility to take this forward. I do not want him just to produce a proposal based word for word on this text. We need to do more work on it, because it needs to deliver benefits for business, otherwise there is no point in having it at all. I think we can do that.
I say in conclusion to Mr Bartenstein – and I am still wearing my Austrian tie, because I told him I would wear it for as long as we were in sight of a clear agreement – he can still get this on the table of the economic summit in March if he puts his mind to it.