Craftsman at work

© iStock.com/milanvirijevic

At the centre of today's meeting of the Competitiveness Council in Brussels were debates about two draft directives that are to become part of the services package (proportionality test and notification procedure), and the adoption of Council Conclusions on a future EU industrial policy strategy. The German government had voiced serious concerns about the services package and sought to maintain Member States' competence for regulating access to professions and to defend the sovereignty of national parliaments. The Bundestag and the Bundesrat had shared these concerns and made an official complaint against the Commission for having breached the principle of subsidiarity. Following difficult negotiations in which Germany was very actively involved, a good solution has now been found.

Said Matthias Machnig, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy: "I'm pleased that we were able to reach broad-based agreement in the Council on this and that this agreement will further strengthen the Single Market. As far as Germany is concerned, we can say that this is an outcome that does not put a question mark behind the structures that have served us so well. These notably include the principle of self-governance by industry, our dual vocational training system, and the requirement for a master craftsman's certificate to be obtained by anyone wishing to establish certain types of crafts businesses. The hard work we put in to defend the master craftsman's certificate has paid off. Member States will remain in charge of regulating access to professions and this principle won't be undermined. A good solution has also been found as far as the notification procedure is concerned: there will not be a requirement for Member States to seek ex-ante approval by the European Commission. Nor will there be a 'standstill' period, during which national parliaments would have had to refrain from passing legislation, as had been proposed by the Commission. I welcome the Council Conclusions on European industrial policy. It was high time for such a clear commitment to Europe as an industrial hub. The industrial sector in Europe is a guarantor of high-quality jobs and excellent products. And it is living proof of our competitiveness."

The Council also agreed on a General Approach to the draft directive on proportionality tests. Under this approach, a set of criteria will be established to allow for professional regulations that are being newly introduced or modified by Member States to be assessed at EU level. Having joint forces with other Member States, the German government was able to ensure that professional regulations will continue to be part of the remit of Member States and that these will continue to be able to make use of the discretion that they have been given by the European Court of Justice in its case law. This means that Member States will be able to decide to uphold a high level of professional standards where this serves health and consumer protection.

Another General Approach was also adopted to the draft directive on a notification procedure. In future, the European Commission will have to be informed of any requirements that apply for service providers. This new rule is to create greater transparency and afford protection against regulation that is unjustified. We support this. The proposal by the Commission to introduce a requirement for ex-ante approval of national regulation was not approved by a majority of Member States. This outcome is in line with what the Bundestag and the Bundesrat had advocated. In fact, they had each filed a complaint against the Commission, warning against a breach of the principle of subsidiarity. Nor will there be a 'standstill period', something that the Commission had proposed. Instead, the Commission will have the right to issue 'recommendations' on a number of matters that can arise in the services sector. Non-compliance with these recommendations on the part of Member States may result in infringement proceedings being brought by the Commission.

The draft directives intended to become part of the services package are now being debated by the European Parliament.