Discussing TiSA and public services

Last week we were occupied by trade agreements. As well as presenting our views at the TTIP stakeholders’ presentation event, our President, Heather Roy, participated in a dialogue on TiSA – the Trade and Investment in Services Agreement – and public services, organised by the European Confederation of Independent Trade Unions – CESI (you can read their article). Even if TiSA has attracted less attention from the public and media than TTIP – the EU-US trade agreement – the issues at stake when it comes to public services is exactly the same.

Our President entered a dialogue with Viviane Reding, the author of the European Parliament’s report on TiSA, Ignacio Iruarrizaga, the chief negotiator of the European Commission, and Klaus Heeger, Secretary-General of CESI. She highlighted how the current approach taken by the negotiators to exclude from the agreement only the public services which are publicly funded risks opening many Services of General Interest that are privately funded or that are financed by a mix of public and private sources to competition with foreign companies. She remarked that the provision of services is not perfect in the EU. We already see Services of General Interest treated as a commodity. We have been able to increase competition among providers on costs, by lowering costs, but not on increasing quality. By focusing on the type of financing and not on the mission of those services, we risk putting in place a creaming effect of the most profitable services. We want to avoid the risk of creating a dual system of service provision, by limiting the provision of services by companies only to urban and wealthy areas and to the least difficult target groups, both in Europe and beyond. Public services are an essential component to ensure social and territorial cohesion. It is essential that quality and affordable services are available across the whole territory of a country, including in rural and remote areas.

Mrs Reding stated that public services are “jewels of the European social model that need to be protected and excluded from TISA”. This principle must be defined in a way that does not leave room for interpretation. She added that transparency of the negotiations should be increased, even if the Commission has made some progress to this respect, as most of available documents have now been made public, except for the Council’s mandate.

To conclude, the participants agreed on the necessity to clarify the scope of the agreement and that a general exemption clause for public services would represent a major step forward in establishing trust and support for the agreement.