National Reports

The AGS 2014 declares the elimination of ‘rigidities in product and services markets’ a key priority . The Commission demands an ‘ambitious application’ of the EU services directive, which we reject for its lack of social balance. UNI Europa anticipates that the Commission will again follow up on this by issuing Country-specific Recommendations demanding very detailed liberalisation measures in Member States’ services sectors. (Last year, for instance, the Spanish government received a detailed recommendation on retail sector liberalisation). Collecting information on related measures that are under preparation at the national level is therefore an important concern for UNI Europa.

The AGS defines the creation of ‘lighter regulatory regimes, particularly for SMEs’, a priority. Further action along the lines of the recent REFIT communication is announced to achieve this. This could lead to further attacks on social dialogue akin to the Commission’s refusal to transpose into law the social partners’ agreement on occupational health and safety in the hairdressing sector. It stands to fear that the Commission will issue Country-specific Recommendations that demand Member States to axe socially protective legislation at the national level, too. UNI Europa and affiliates will have to be particularly vigilant to such developments to counteract this agenda at EU level and to prevent the REFIT approach to be passed on to the national level through Country-specific Recommendations.

The 2014 Country-specific Recommendations (CSRs) propose specific reform measures targeted at the retail commerce sector in seven EU Member States (BE, DE, DK, ES, FI, FR, IT). Retail commerce is the biggest private sector employer in the EU.
In the CSRs and the accompanying Staff Working Documents (SWDs), the Commission proposes measures such as:
• Updating national competition law to enforce competition in retail markets and supply chains.
• Make licensing procedures for retail service providers less strict (for instance by eliminating socio-economic impact assessments of new market entries).
• Facilitating the establishment of ‘large-scale retail outlets’ (such as shopping malls and hypermarkets) by updating urban planning provisions.

UNI Europa is not aware of Commission impact assessments that seek to anticipate the employment effects of the proposed measures. Liberalisation exercises in other services sectors have typically caused wages to decline and led to the increase of atypical employment (part-time, fixed-term, (bogus) self-employment).
At the same time, the European Commission (DG MARKT) is currently consulting with stakeholders, including UNI Europa, in the High-Level Group on Retail Competitiveness on measures to improve the European retail sector’s performance. Next to competition policy, the High-Level Group is considering instruments in other fields, such as innovation and VET, to achieve this objective. The Commission’s one-sided focus on competition policy in the CSRs is sabotaging the High-Level Group’s attempts to define an alternative and more socially balanced policy mix.