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Dear President Tusk,
On behalf of CEEP members, and the whole community of public services and SGIs, it is my honour to welcome you to the third edition of the Public Services Summit. I am delighted to welcome today such an impressive number of high-level representatives from EU institutions, beginning with Donald Tusk, President of the European Council. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked him at short notice to participate in the preparation of the G20 Summit on 29th of July in Berlin. But president Tusk sends us a video message. That is a great honour, because we can only guess his extremely busy agenda.
I am confident that this Public Services Summit is a perfect opportunity to further emphasise the key role that employers and providers of public services and services of general interest play in Europe. CEEP represents 500.000 providers of essential key services, 25.000 of which are local public services enterprises. They account for 26% of EU GDP and employ 30% of the EU workforce.
Public services are absolutely essential to our economy and the welfare of every single one of the 500 million European citizens. This edition will resolutely be forward-looking, with a focus on the discussions on the Future of Europe, the evolution of public services and the place for social dialogue in the coming years. But the PSS is not only meant to profile CEEP: it also aims at offering a platform for debate and reflection between the wider public services community and policy makers, at EU and national level, also involving the economic and social partners. Once again, I warmly welcome you to CEEP Public Services Summit 2017.
For us, but also for Europe, the last 12 months have been unique. The current easing of tension is about the same topics that lead EU into strained relationship, between Member States and towards citizens:
- Firstly, Brexit: Negotiations started and it is obvious that you can loose a lot by leaving the EU.
- Secondly, anti-EU sentiments: The recent electoral successes in France and the Netherlands were successes of pro-EU courses.
- Thirdly, Trump: The EU is the critical size to balance weights and to stick together for a smart climate policy.
Soon enough, both President Juncker and President Tusk were calling for an in-depth reflection on EU’s own nature and future. This is why CEEP gave concrete input to the white paper process, delivered to the European Commission in December last year. We propose not only measures that could be taken by the European institutions to foster support for the European project and move forward on the path of integration. We also propose specific activities for CEEP and its members to contribute to this end. Please allow me to also thank all members that have been active in drawing up CEEPs input to the Commission White Paper at this point.
In this context, CEEP members have a key role and SGIs must now be strengthened as opposed to being put under further pressure. This is not a call to “protect our own interest”, it is a call for democracy.
CEEP is absolutely supportive of the on-going debates on the Future of Europe. To be a real success those debates must be open and inclusive. The discussions should trickle down to the citizens, and reach them in their daily life.
Europe is not only about “Brussels”. Citizens are the first concerned and their voice should be the first-heard when it comes to discussing what Europe should become by 2025. And citizens should also be the main beneficiaries of the real added value of the European project.
Our contribution to the debate on the Future of Europe relies on two pillars: as an EU general cross-industry social partner, regularly consulted by the Institutions, and as THE cross-sectoral representative of public services and SGIs providers. There is still a need for a stronger recognition of our members’ essential role as economic stabilisers. That is why we call on a framework allowing European SGI providers to flourish. We see five main alleys to reach that objective:
Bringing the Acquis Communautaire for Services of General Interest to life
In the EU Treaties, Services of General Interest are explicitly recognized. However, this recognition must still become a tangible reality. For instance, in-house provision of SGIs should be considered as a regular mode of provision, and EU institutions should ensure that Member States do not gold-plate legislations impacting SGIs.
Fostering territorial cohesion and social inclusiveness
Services of General Interest, regardless of their sector of operation, are central in fostering social and territorial cohesion, ensuring that no citizen is left on the margin of the society. The digital transformation is also a good example of this: I believe not to be exaggerating when I say that the digitalization of our economies and societies will be the greatest political challenge we will have to face in the next few years. It revolutionizes the way we communicate between individuals, the way we move, the way we gather information: Instead of calling to reschedule a meeting, we send a WhatsApp message; instead of buying a car, we purchase ad-hoc mobility on a carsharing app; instead of turning pages in a dictionary, we ask SIRI. If we live in a remote area, instead of having to visit our doctor 25 kilometres away to get a new prescription, we will soon connect with him or her through an eHealth application.
A great challenge we are facing in this context is: How can we make sure that every citizen can actually benefit from these new developments, irrescpective of where they live or their economic situation? SGI providers play a pivotal role in this regard: they roll out broadband in remote areas that exclusively profit-oriented providers tend to pass by, integrate modern mobility options into urban public transport schemes and develop solutions for easy access digital healthcare.
However, SGI providers cannot reach that goal alone: the penetration of digital infrastructure in rural areas will need better policy and financial support, digital skills will need to become an integral part of any educational curriculum and policy choices made to govern the digital economy and society should leave a certain degree of flexibility and be technologically neutral, allowing public services’ providers to find cost-effective solutions to adapt services to citizens’ needs.
Ideally, the entire range of services offered in one way or another by the “public sector”, that is, enterprises providing public services as well as local, regional or national public authorities should one day be digitally accessible to citizens. eGovernment is an important key word in this respect. Digital pioneer countries like Estonia, whose extraordinary electronic government system I have had the opportunity to experience first-hand, have systems to integrate everything from declaring your taxable income to paying your electricity bill into a single digital gateway. It makes live not only tremendously more comfortable for the individual citizens, it also saves Estonia administrative expenses equivalent to an astonishing 2 % of GDP.
The upcoming Estonian presidency of the Council of the European Union will be a particularly interesting opportunity to strengthen the digitalization of the services we provide as CEEP members, support the public authorities we deal with in doing the same.
Putting SGIs at the heart of sustainable growth
By their nature and their missions, and regardless of their sector of activity, Services of General Interest are key in designing and implementing policies conductive of sustainable growth, and should be recognized and encouraged as such. Our members can greatly contribute to developing a genuine circular economy, or to developing new technologies for a greener future. The ongoing rapid digitalization efforts will further increase that contribution: Nowhere are the benefits of digitization more clearly seen than in the range of our topics, especially sustainability and the working environment of the future.
Supporting SGIs providers in innovation
Providers of Services of General Interest need a framework allowing them to have room to innovate and improve their services, develop skills and invest in R&D.
As such, removing barriers to innovation and ensuring an access to innovation aids for SGI providers would lead to increased efficiency and effectiveness of the provisions of public services, with spill over effects benefitting the whole population. This would imply, amongst other things that innovation aids as foreseen by art. 28 of the General Block Exemption Regulation are made accessible for Local Public Services Enterprises that, due to their size, face very similar challenges to SMEs as defined by the EU SME definition.
Cornerstone of the EU Social Model, important actor among the employers in the EU Social Dialogue, CEEP will, once again, build bridges. Bridges between our members and EU decision-makers; Bridges amongst EU institutions; Bridges across the political and ideological divides. Services of General Interest are at the heart of the European welfare states. EU citizens are calling for decision-makers to stand for stability, (social) security and transparency. CEEP now calls on EU leaders to personally engage into the debate and take responsibility, enabling citizens to identify themselves with EU principles.
We have got to know President Tusk since a while now and therefore know he says things as they are and is always ready to stand up for his commitments and ensure their realisation. That is why we are particularly happy that the wider public services’ community can debate with him today and acknowledge that they can put faces on Europe that they can trust.
With this I wish you all good debates, and to CEEP members in particular I wish that today will be inspirational for our current work on the Future of Europe.