EU opens service firms to migrants

Brussels, February 18:

Plumbers, hairdressers, architects and even undertakers could soon be free to set up shop anywhere in the EU after the European parliament yesterday passed a controversial measure to liberalise the provision of services.

A year after Jacques Chirac tried to shelve the services directive — amid fears that France would be swamped by unqualified Polish plumbers — MEPs on the centre right and ce-ntre left joined forces to p-ass a watered down version. The proverbial Polish plumber or Czech hairdresser could soon have the right to set up a business in France, for example, where the authorities would be banned from imposing unfair barriers. But the new arrivals would have to abide by French labour laws — removing the original ‘country of origin’ principle, which would have allowed a Polish plumber to work in France on a temporary basis according to the laws of his own land.

Supporters hailed the main parliamentary vote yesterday, carried by 394 to 215 with 33 abstentions, after the centre-right EPP-ED and Socialist groupings voted together. The directive now passes to the European commission and then to the council of ministers, which both have the right to make further changes, before it goes back to the parliament.

Arlene McCarthy, a (British) Labour MEP who chairs the European parliament’s internal market committee, said, “By opening up the market in services there is the potential to create 600,000 jobs and economic benefits to consumers and producers of around euro 30 billion.”


• A German town forcing a foreign company to join the local chamber of commerce, which had a five-year long waiting list

• A Belgian rule that foreign painters and decorators use Belgian-registered vans and Belgian equipment

• An Italian requirement that foreign businesses have at least four staff in Italy and make a euro 500,000 deposit to set up.