BAUBY Pierre et CASTEX Françoise, Fondation Jean Jaurès, 2010, 102 p.

Europe : une nouvelle chance pour le service public

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To every great cause, its European manifesto one would be tempted to say. If this is the case, the great cause of public service now seems to have its own with this essay published by the Jean Jaurès Foundation under the double pen of a recent European Parliament Member, Françoise Castex, of the S & D Group (Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats) and President of the new Intergroup.Public Services" within this institution, and a political science researcher with long experience in the field (at Electricité de France), Pierre Bauby, one of the leaders of the European Liaison Committee for Services of General Interest (CELSIG).

The approach is primarily educational, with a first part devoted to what the authors call "our heritage" in terms of public service. The problems of defining a concept often considered as elusive are thus addressed and placed in their economic and socio-political context, which leads to the distinction between major national public services and local public services delegated to the private sector. But the ideological approach, in the noblest sense of the former, very quickly takes over: faced with a neoliberal-inspired "offensive of destructuring", the authors call for "renovating public service in order to re-found it" (2nd part).

More precisely, starting from the premise that "public service is the response to the needs of individuals and society", the expression of which must be organised, they propose a "strategy for re-founding" based on four priorities: implementing a profound democratisation of public services; redefining public service objectives and missions after democratic debate at each appropriate level of public authority; defining appropriate modes of organisation, management and financing; and implementing modes of regulation and evaluation of the efficiency of public services, involving at each level all the actors concerned. Among these actors, a special place is given to the user-user, who "must be taken into account both as a customer and as a citizen". This is the price of democracy in public services but also of ethics and transparency.

Can the European Union then make its contribution to this strategy of refoundation? This is the question that transcends the other two chapters of the book. For Pierre Bauby and Françoise Castex, the absence of a stable and common definition of public service in the positive law of the European Union, which on the contrary multiplies the concepts of reference (service of general economic interest, universal service, public service obligations, etc.), is a major obstacle to the creation of a new European Union.), can only pave the way for sectoral liberalisation, despite the progress made by the Treaty of Amsterdam in introducing Article 16 of the EC Treaty, which calls for a shared responsibility of the Member States and the European Union to ensure that SGEIs operate under conditions enabling them to fulfil their particular mission. One would be tempted to add that the former Article 90(2) of the EEC Treaty (later Article 86(2) of the EC Treaty, now Article 106(2) TFEU) was already in this spirit, except that it places the main burden of proof on the Member State.

It is moreover this "imbalance between the general interest, treated in a residual manner, and the omnipresence of competition" which, according to the authors, is the problem and which makes "any recognition and promotion of public services" remain "problematic". The formula certainly stands out and should be qualified, particularly in the light of the debates that led to the drafting and adoption of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2007. The explicit reference, among the objectives of the European Union, to the establishment of a social market economy and the ’relegation’ of the reference to competition in a protocol annexed to the Treaties cannot be ignored (see the proceedings of the Brussels colloquium of 8 November 2007 on the place of competition law in the future Community legal order, in , No 1-2008Concurrences, pp. 78-104). Nevertheless, it is regrettable that the European debate does not integrate the notion of "social effectiveness" more fully into the development of the internal market, as the tense negotiations on the 2006 Services Directive partly demonstrated (even if the future "Single Market Act" announced by the Commission for October 2010 could mark a step in this direction).

But all hope is not lost, if one understands the message of the last chapter: the Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on 1 December 2009, is for Mr Bauby and Castex "a new deal for clarification" through three main innovations: Article 14 TFEU (which reinforces the role of co-legislator of the European Parliament to establish, by means of a regulation, the principles and conditions for the operation of SGEIs), Protocol No. 26 on SGIs and Article 36 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights on access to SGEIs (on these contributions: see the Public Sector, in ConcurrencesNo. 4-2007, pp. 143-145). To enable the European Parliament to better appreciate the scope of these new provisions, a Public Services Intergroup was set up within the European Parliament in January 2010. Its mandate is ambitious: to create a space for direct dialogue between MEPs and all interested parties and stakeholders in the debate on the role and place of SI(E)G in 21st century Europe, at a time when the new EU 2020 Strategy presented by the Commission and recently adopted by the European Council is deadlocked on the subject.

This silence is all the stranger because, as the authors point out, Europe is going through an unprecedented economic and social crisis in which public services can unquestionably play a role as "stabilisers". It is also, in our opinion, the most appropriate instruments for reconciling the sometimes conflicting objectives of the European Union, such as those of solidarity and free competition; it is also a way for European leaders to mark a further stage in this Union that wants to be ever closer to its citizens. What if public service was also a new opportunity for Europe?

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  • University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne


Stéphane Rodrigues, Europe : une nouvelle chance pour le service public, December 2010, Concurrences N° 4-2010, Art. N° 33016, pp. 253-254

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