The EU’s obstacle course for municipalism

Elke Schenk
globalcrisis/global change News 12.1.2019
A few months before the European elections, that conservative as well as left-
wing politicians are fearing because of the growing influence of anti EU
parties, the  EU Commission takes further initiative to weaken local and
national democracy, thus feeding anti EU attitudes.
See the analysis of Brussels based NGO Corporate Europe Observatory.
The EU’s obstacle course for municipalism
October 28th 2018 Economy & finance
Progressive municipalist city governments from Barcelona, to Naples, to
Grenoble have introduced important policies to promote citizen participation,
public ownership of services, expanded affordable housing, urban ecology and
sustainable energy, better transparency and accountability, and many more. But
their radical democratic programmes face obstacles from both EU and national
neoliberal legislation. Despite this, cities can and are finding ways to bypass
these hurdles.
However, the upcoming revision of the EU’s Bolkestein Directive – an update of
the 2006 directive to liberalise services in Europe – could have a real
chilling effect on their plans, obliging municipalities to ask the European
Commission’s permission for new measures. This would create major obstacles to
progressive municipal policies that challenge neoliberalism, such as limits on
AirBnB aimed at protecting affordable housing, or the public provision of
renewable energy.
Municipalist city governments across Europe are working to democratise
decision-making and reclaim their cities for citizens, and their inspiration
is spreading. In Spain, municipalist citizen platforms govern major cities
like Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Zaragoza and La Coruña. Add to that cities
such as Naples, Torino, and Grenoble. Key politicians in these city
governments were activists from urban citizens’ movements for causes such as
affordable housing, green energy, public water supply, and other battles
against neoliberal policies harming their cities. Now in power, they are
creating alternatives to years of neoliberalism – pushed from both national
governments and the EU – which forced the selling off of public utilities, the
outsourcing contracts to the lowest corporate bidder, and the slashing of
public spending.
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Full text see url above.
Bolkestein returns: EU Commission power grab for services
Questions & Answers on the proposal to enable Commission annulation of local
decisions
November 29th 2018 The power of lobbies
The EU institutions are currently negotiating new single market rules that
could have a severe and distinctly negative impact on decision-making in
parliaments, regional assemblies and city councils across Europe. The
Commission is proposing to enforce the Services Directive – aka the Bolkestein
Directive – in a new and extremely intrusive manner. In short, the Commission
wants the right to approve or negate new laws as well as other measures
covered by the directive. And the directive covers quite a wide range of
issues: zoning laws (city planning), housing supply measures, energy supply,
water supply, waste management and more.
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For other language versions of this article, click here: Spanish, Dutch,
French, Danish, Italian, and German.
Organisations are warmly invited to sign the statement
„Stop the EU’s Services Notification Procedure – municipalities need democratic
space to protect the interests of citizens!“
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Opposition to the Commission’s proposal is growing quickly, particularly from
city councils, whose capacity to act could be severely restricted in many
areas if the proposal is passed. As they were not properly informed about the
implications, many of them are discovering at a late stage that even
municipalities will have to ask the Commission’s permission before adopting a
measure that relates to services.  In Amsterdam the city council unanimously
adopted a resolution which states that the proposal “affects the autonomy of
local authorities and thus poses a threat to local democracy.” This strong
message in support of local decision-making is starting to resonate in cities
across Europe. A public statement against the proposal has quickly gathered
the signature of 75 European organisations, including NGOs, social movements
and political parties– with more signatures coming in by the day.
What is all the fuss about? Corporate Europe Observatory has put together a
list of questions we are being asked frequently at the moment, to try to
explain key concerns and issues with this proposal.
How does the Commission plan to stop or change decisions made in Member
States?
The proposal is about ‘notification’, i.e. ‘informing’ the Commission, which
sounds pretty harmless. But it is not so simple.
Currently, when a new policy measure which would be covered by the Services
Directive is adopted in Member State, the Commission has to be informed. The
Member State can inform the Commission after the measure has been adopted and
come into force. The Commission will then check if its rules have been
followed. If it deems them not to have been, it will initiate discussions with
the Member State in question to find a solution.
This procedure has been in place since the Services Directive was adopted in
2006. However, a plethora of business lobby groups, and the Commission itself,
have complained that this approach is inefficient and slow.
Mimicking a proposal tabled by BusinessEurope, and prompted by substantial
lobbying by various other industry groups, the Commission has proposed a new
and significantly more intrusive procedure. Under the new proposal, authorities
– be they municipalities or ministries – would be required to inform the
Commission about relevant upcoming decisions three months before the vote that
would pass them. This would give the Commission the chance to scrutinise the
text in advance, and in the event that it found something it believed to
contradict the Services Directive it would issue an ‘alert’. In the ‘alert’
the Commission would identify what would need to be changed to get its
approval.
If the Commission’s suggestions – which can range from full rejection to minor
tweaks – are not taken on board, and the city council or parliament in
question proceeds with the adoption of the measure, the Commission will make a
decision requiring the “Member State concerned…to repeal it” (Article 7).
This essentially, and alarmingly, empowers the Commission to overrule elected
assemblies in a vast number of policy areas, which are crucial not only to the
economy, but to most aspects of society. Moreover, it would fundamentally
change decision-making, especially at the level of municipalities and regional
authorities, undermining the principle and practice of local democracy across
the EU.
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Full text see url above.