GREEN PAPER ON SERVICES OF GENERAL INTEREST
STATE-OF-PLAY IN THE MAIN COMMUNITY POLICIES CONCERNING
SERVICES OF GENERAL INTEREST
I. Main horizontal Community policies concerning services of general interest
1. Internal Market
1.1 General Considerations
1. The four internal market freedoms (free movement of goods, persons, services and
capital) constitute the foundations of European economic integration. In general, the four
freedoms do not restrict the ability of operators to provide services of general interest.
However, in some cases the internal market freedoms can have an impact on the way
these services are provided. For instance, as regards the free movement of persons:
- the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality can oblige a provider of a
service of general interest in a Member State to offer the service (e.g. a social service)
to a national of another Member State (resident or non-resident);
- Treaty rules can affect employment in the public administrations (application of
Article 39 (4), but also more generally the employment of nationals of other Member
States in organisations providing services of general interest).
2. The rules and principles of the Treaty concerning the free movement of goods apply also
in cases where the production, import, export and distribution of a good is normally
considered as a service of general economic interest in the Member States. This is the case
in particular for electricity and gas, for which the full application of the internal market
rules was explicitly confirmed by the Court in its judgements of 23 octobre 1997 on
import and export monopolies1.
3. Services of general economic interest do not pose any specific problems with regard to the
free movement of services (Article 49 of the Treaty). As regards the application of Article
49 the Court does not refer to categories of services in order to justify restrictions of the
free movement of services. However, it uses justifications based on general interest
considerations fo allow certain restrictions of free movement. Even in its case law
concerning health services (Kohll, Smits and Peerbooms and Vanbraekel), the Court
applied the usual test. For instance in the case of public hospital services the Court
justified the requirement of a prior authorisation for the reimbursement costs incurred in
another Member State only by referring to the financial equilibrium of the social security
system and to the availability of a balanced range of treatment, that it considered genral
4. Whilst in general the application of the internal market rules does not raise any major
specific issues as regards services of general interest, there are three issues that the
ECJ Commission/France (C-159/94), Commission/Spain (C-160/94), Commission/Italy (158/94),
Commissions believes to require further consideration. These issues concern investment
restrictions introduced in the context of privatisation programmes, the rules applicable to
the selection of providers of services of general interest and the application of Directive
98/34/EC on the provision of information on technical standards and regulations in the
area of services of general interest.
1.2 Free movement of capital and privatisations
5. As already mentioned, according to the principle of neutrality set out in Art. 295 of the EC
Treaty, the Community does not interfere with the private or public ownership of an
undertaking. However, where a Member State decides to privatise an undertaking, it must
ensure that the Treaty rules on the free movement of capital are being respected.
6. Considering the enormous increase of intra-EU investment in many sectors of the
economy since the beginning of the 90‟s (boosted by the creation of the Single Market and
the full liberalisation of capital movements since 1 January 1994), as well as the
privatisation programmes undertaken by most Member States over the same period
(involving frequently „general interest services‟), some Member States felt it necessary to
introduce several measures in order to monitor, and in some cases control, direct and
portfolio investment in specific privatised economic sectors or companies.
7. Usually, these measures were considered to be restrictions on the free movement of
capital (Article 56 of the Treaty) incompatible with Treaty rules, hindering the functioning
of the Single Market. This situation led the Commission to adopt on 19 July 1997 a
Communication on certain legal aspects concerning intra-EU investments, which sets out
the Commission‟s interpretation of the acquis on capital movements with respect to
„special rights‟ of Member States in privatised companies. Although the strict conditions
upon which such „special rights‟ might be considered to be compatible with the acquis
were clearly described in this Communication, some Member States kept their „special
rights‟ unchanged while these were in the Commission‟s opinion incompatible with the
8. This triggered the opening of several infringement cases dealing with various types of
restrictions to investment (authorisation procedures, veto rights, guaranteed representation
in management instances, etc.), vested in various legal bases (investment legislation,
articles of association, „golden shares‟, etc.). While the incompatibility of such „special
rights‟ with the Treaty remained uncertain during the past years, the issue was clarified to
a large extent by three Court of Justice rulings released on 4 June 2002 (C-367/98, C-
483/99, C-503/99) which confirmed that the free movement of capital may be restricted
only by national rules which fulfil the twofold criterion of being founded on overriding
requirements of the general interest and being proportionate to the objective pursued (in
other words, where the objective pursued cannot be attained by less restrictive measures).
9. As far as the freedom of capital movements is concerned, the parties involved have
expressed two types of problems2 so far:
Of course, in theory these restrictions could concern any economic sector. Nevertheless, in practice, the
Member States use them mostly for services of general interest. The parties involved have usually expressed
their problems by filing formal complaints with the European Commission against the Member States applying
such control mechanisms
10. (a) Investment restrictions: Enterprises have complained about the fact that authorities of
Member States sometimes introduce control mechanisms in specific economic sectors or
privatised/private companies, which constitute a restriction on direct and portfolio
investments in these sectors and companies (which should be free according to the
provisions of Article 56 of the Treaty).
11. In most cases, these control mechanisms give national authorities two categories of special
rights: (1) the right to limit or veto the acquisition by investors of certain stakes of the
capital of enterprises involved, (2) the right to modify or veto strategic decisions of the
management bodies of enterprises involved.
12. (b) Discriminatory privatisation methods: Enterprises and private individuals have
complained about the fact that the privatisation methods selected by Member States
sometimes led to a discriminatory treatment of foreign investors in comparison to
domestic ones, be in terms of access to shares offered (additional technical constraints
may be imposed on foreign investors) and/or in terms of all-in cost for shares acquisition.
This discriminatory treatment can be considered as a restriction on direct and portfolio
investments in these privatised companies.
13. Should some representatives of the parties involved (enterprises, consumers, NGO)
express difficulties or problems in the application of Treaty rules with regard to enterprise
ownership, privatisation methods, and special rights of Member States, the appropriate
response from the Commission should be the adoption of proposals aiming at (1) the
reinforcement of „public service obligations‟ laid down in Community legislation dealing
with „general interest services‟, (2) as well as their strict enforcement by national
14. Under these circumstances, the „appropriate response‟ proposed in 2. above
(reinforcement of „public service obligations‟ in EU legislation and of enforcement
measures) appears to be the only available option for the Commission. Furthermore, this
type of response is certainly the most efficient one in terms of transparency for the parties
involved, and is undoubtedly the most respectful of the free movement of capital
movements (which is an essential pillar of the Single Market).
1.3 The selection of the provider of services of general economic interest
15. The legal framework for the selection of the provider of services of general interest by
public authorities (e.g. local authorities) is defined in the Treaty and in the Community
directives on public procurement3. As far as the internal market provisions of the Treaty
are concerned, it is for the public administrations to decide whether they provide their
services of general economic interest directly or whether they entrust the provision of
these services to a third party (public or private entity).
16. However, all providers of services of economic interest are undertakings – including in-
house service providers. They are all subject to the competition provisions of the Treaty.
Decisions to award special or exclusive rights to in-house service providers, or to shelter
Directives 92/50/CEE, 93/37/CEE; 93/36/CEE, 93/38/CEE.
them in other ways from the provisions of the Treaty, can fall foul of Article 86. Case law
shows that this is true, in particular, where the public service requirements to be fulfilled
by the service provider are not properly specified4 ; where the service provider is
manifestly unable to meet the demands placed on it by users5 ; or where there exists an
alternative way of fulfilling the requirements that would have a less deleterious effect on
17. Where a public administration chooses to entrust the provision of a service of general
interest to a third party the selection must respect certain rules and principles, in order to
ensure a level playing field for all providers, public or private, that are potentially capabl;e
of providing this service. This will ensure that these services will be provided at the
economically most advantageous conditions available on the market. Of course, within the
framework of these rules and principles public authorities remain free to define the
characteristics of the service to be provided, including any conditions regarding the
quality of the service, in order to pursue its public policy objectives.
18. If the act by which public authorities entrust the provision of a service of general
economic interest to a third party is a contract concluded for pecuniary interest in writing
between an awarding authority and a provider, this act falls under the definition of public
procurement in Community law. Consequently, such contracts, if they reach or exceed a
threshold defined in the relevant directives, must comply with the procedural requirements
defined by the relevant directives.
19. In other cases, the contract by which public authorities entrust the provision of a service of
general economic interest has all the characteristics of a public procurement contract with
the exception that the service provider obtains a significant part of the revenue from the
users, particularly by charging a fee, and bears the risk in operating the service in
question. In this case, the provider pursues an economic activity and the relationship
between the provider and the designating public authority can be qualified as a
« concession ».7 Under these conditions, the rules and principles that the public authorities
have to comply with for the selection of the provider derive directly from the Treaty and
apply to contracts as well as to unilateral acts of public authority by which the provision
of an economic activity is entrusted to a provider..
20. In its interpretative communication on concessions of 12 April 20008, the Commission set
out the following rules and principles :
- equality of treatment which requires that « the principle of open competition must be
adhered to », that « the choice of candidates must be made on the basis of objective
criteria » and that « the procedure must be conducted in accordance with the
procedural rules and basic requirements originally set » ;
- transparency which seeks to ensure «undistorted competitive conditions» and which
can be achieved« by any appropriate means, including advertising » ;
- proportionality which requires that « any measure chosen should be both necessary
and appropriate in the light off the objectives sough» ;
See the Court‟s judgement in Silver Line Reisebüro (C-66/86, judgement of 11.4.89)
See the Court‟s judgement in Höfner (C-41/90, judgement of 23.4.91)
See the Court‟s judgement in Vlaamse Televisie Maatschappij (T-266/97, judgement of 8.7.99)
Independently of the definition used in national law.
OJ No C 121, 29.4.2000, p. 2.
- mutual recognition which implies that the Member State in which the service is
provided accepts the specifications or qualifications required in another Member
- protection of the rights of individuals, in particular of those who consider that they
have been harmed by the award of a contract.
These rules and principles were confirmed by the Court in the case « Telaustria » C
324/98 of 7 December 20009.
21. The entrustment with the provision of a service of general economic interest can also
coincide with the creation of a new entity ( e.g. an undertaking specifically set up for the
provision of the service, or an entity which had already been providing the service and
that is partially privatised through the sales of part of the public shareholding to a private
party). In these cases, the entrustment should be subject to the rules and principles
applying to public procurement or to concessions.
22. In principle, the rules and principles concerning the selection of the provider apply to all
activities falling within the scope of application of the public procurement directives and
of the Treaty.10 Therefore, only non-economic activities and activities that are covered by
the derogations under Articles 45 and 46 concerning the exercise of public authority as
well as reasons of public policy, public security or public health are excluded. 11. Article
86 (2) would only apply if the application of the rules and principles on the selection of
the provider could obstruct the performance of the public service mission assigned to this
23. In conclusion, the Community rules set out above apply independently of whether an
activity of whether an activity constitutes a service of general interest to the extent that
they do not interfere with the Member States‟ possibility to entrust a public service
mission to a provider. However, the requirement to apply these rules and principles can
be difficult, in particular for local authorities. In some cases, the qualification under
Community law of certain contracts can pose a problem. Other complex issues can be
linked to the nature of the provider. The Commission currently examines, in the
framework of the cases it is dealing with, the implications of the term « in-house » and
similar situations such as those set out in the “Teckal” case12. In this case, the Court
considered that the public procurement directives were not applicable to contracts
In this case the Court held in particular that : «the fact that such a contract does not fall within the scope of
Directive 93/38 does not preclude the Court from helping the national court which has sent it a series of
questions for a preliminary ruling. […] In that regard, it should be borne in mind that, notwithstanding the fact
that, as Community law stands at present, such contracts are excluded from the scope of Directive 93/38, the
contracting entities concluding them are, none the less, bound to comply with the fundamental rules of the
Treaty, in general, and the principle of non-discrimination on the ground of nationality, in particular. As the
Court held in Case C-275/98 Unitron Scandinavia and 3-S  ECR I-8291, paragraph 31, that principle
implies, in particular, an obligation of transparency in order to enable the contracting authority to satisfy itself
that the principle has been complied with. That obligation of transparency which is imposed on the contracting
authority consists in ensuring, for the benefit of any potential tenderer, a degree of advertising sufficient to
enable the services market to be opened up to competition and the impartiality of procurement procedures to be
reviewed.» (paras 59-62)
This conclusion is not in contradiction with the fact that certain acts are explicitly excluded from the scope of
application of the public procurement directives. These exemptions apply only to secondary legislation and
implies that the award of these contracts is not governed by the directives but must nevertheless comply with the
rules of the Treaty.
For the sake of completeness, the derogation in Article 296 concerning the production of or trade in arms,
munitions and war material should also be mentioned.
Of 18 November 1999, Case C-107/98.
concluded between an awarding authority and an entity if this entity is held by this
authority and if the awarding authority exerts a control over this entity that is comparable
to the control it exerts over its own services. Nevertheless the award of these contracts
should comply with the rules and principles of the Treaty, in particular the principles of
transparency and of non-discrimination. Certain stakeholders have criticised this
interpretation as being to strict on the grounds that it would prevent local authorities from
providing public services indirectly themselves through public entities and that it would
negatively affect the autonomy of local authorities in respect of their internal organisation.
24. The Commission has committed in its report to the Laeken European Council to
« examine whether additional measures are required to further clarify the Community
rules and principles applicable to the selection of the provider of services of general
interest.». A declaration along the same lines was also made by the Commission at the
Internal Market Council on the occasion of the political agreement on its above-mentioned
proposal for a directive on public procurement.13
1.4 The provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations
25. In general, secondary Community legislation on the internal market applies fully to
providers of services of general economic interest like to any other undertaking (e.g. in the
area of intellectual property or in company law). In general therefore, other measures of
secondary legislation do not have to be specifically assessed. An issue that should be
raised, however, is the transparency system established by directive 98/34/EC which
requires a mandatory notification to the Commission of draft national technical rules.
Undertakings need full transparency regarding the measures Member States adopt in the
area of the provision of services of general economic interest. They must be informed as
early as possible of the choices made by the Member States in order to be able to take full
advantage of the market opening in liberalised sectors.
2. Competition Rules
2.1 Antitrust and Merger Rules
26. The Antitrust rules as well as the Merger rules only apply where undertakings, i.e. entities
performing economic activity are involved. In addition, the Antitrust rules only apply if
there is effect on trade between Member States. In contrast to that, the applicability of
Merger control under the EC Merger Regulation depends on the Community dimension of
the concentration which according to Article 1 of that Regulation is a quantitative criterion
based on a set of turnover thresholds of the participating undertakings. Therefore, the
provision of services of general interest remains unaffected by the Antitrust and Merger
rules, where the conditions of economic activity and effect on trade/turnover thresholds
are not fulfilled.
« La Commission considère que les questions relatives aux concessions de services et aux partenariats
publics/privés méritent un examen complémentaire afin d‟évaluer la nécessité d‟un acte législatif spécifique
permettant d‟assurer un meilleur accès des opérateurs économiques aux concessions et aux diverses formes de
partenariat public/privé et de garantir ainsi à ces mêmes opérateurs l'effectivité des droits que le traité leur
27. For the purpose of EC competition law, the ECJ follows a functional approach and
defines an undertaking as: „every entity engaged in an economic activity, regardless of the
legal status of the entity and the way in which it is financed“14. The ECJ has also
consistently held that any activity consisting in offering goods or services on a given
market is an economic activity15. On this basis, the ECJ/CFI has made clear that where
powers of a public authority are exercised16 and where basic compulsory social security
schemes are managed17 this does not amount to economic activity and the EC competition
rules are thus inapplicable. The position however is different with regard to supplementary
pension schemes.18 Moreover, the functional approach of the ECJ/CFI requires to focus on
the activity in question when assessing whether an entity performing this activity has to be
regarded as an undertaking within the meaning of the EC competition rules.
28. The applicability of the antitrust and merger rules to social services is often still not
accepted by providers of these services who argue that as a matter of principle they do not
engage in activity of economic nature. However, there there are no indications that the
fact that the ECJ and the Commission apply the same criteria when assessing the
economic nature of social services as well as when assessing the economic nature of any
other service would endanger special features which distinguish social services from other
services. In particular, the fear of some social service providers that the application of the
EC rules on competition would lead to a general levelling and commercialisation of their
services seems unfounded. The fact that within the scope of Community law social
service providers have to comply with certain rules does not reduce their scope to
continue providing social services on the basis of certain ideals, moral convictions or
religious beliefs and to perform them in a way which goes beyond what can be perceived
in purely economic terms. The spirit in which they provide their services, and immaterial
features which characterise them, will survive as long as they maintain them, and as long
as there are beneficiaries for whom this is important.
Permanent case law since ECJ judgment of 23.4.1991 in case C-41/90 Höfner, at point 21.
ECJ judgment in case 118/85 Commission v Italy  ECR 2599 at point 7 ; ECJ judgment in case C-
35/96 Commission v Italy  ECR I-3851 at point 36; ECJ in joined cases C-180/98 to C-184/98 Pavlov,
 ECR I-6451 at point 75; ECJ judegment of 22.1.2002 in Case C-218/00 INAIL (not yet reported) at point
ECJ judgment of 17.2.1993 in Cases C-159/91 and C-160/91 Poucet and Pistre (points 6-20); judgement of
22.1.2002 in Case C-218/00 INAIL (points 31-45).
In its judgment of 16.11.1995 in Case C-244/94 FFSA, the ECJ decided that a non-profitmaking organisation
managing a supplementary old-age insurance scheme, which was set up and regulated by Statute, but to which
membership was optional, did exercise economic activity. In this case, it was decisive (a) that this scheme
operated according to the principle of capitalisation rather than on a redistributive basis (i.e. a scheme in which
active members‟ contributions would have been directly used to finance the pensions of retired members), (b)
that the benefits depended solely on the amount of the contributions paid by the recipients and the financial
results of the investments made by the managing organisation, and (c) that altogether the activity was carried out
in competition with life insurance companies.
In three parallel judgments of 21.9.1999 in Cases C-67/97 Albany, C-115/97 Stichting Bedrijfspensioenfonds, C-
219/97 Drijvende Bokken, the ECJ also decided that a non-profitmaking pension fund charged with the
management of a supplementary pension scheme set up by representatives of employers and workers, to which
the State has made affiliation compulsory, exercises economic activity. In these cases, it sufficed (a) that the
fund itself and not the State determined the amount of contributions and benefits, (b) that the fund operated in
accordance with the principle of capitalisation, and (c) that the amount of benefits provided by the fund
depended on the financial results of the investments made by it. In its judgment of 12.9.2000 in Joined Cases C-
180/98 to C-184/98, Pavlov), the ECJ fully confirmed the line and reasoning of the Albany Case.
29. The granting of exclusive or special rights by the State to certain undertakings is a way of
exercising powers of public authority and does in itself not constitute economic activity.
Member States can use various forms for the act of granting exclusive or special rights,
such as the adoption of laws or the conclusion of concession contracts with the
30. However, the finding that the act of granting exclusive or special rights by the State in
whatever form is in itself not economic activity does not mean that the activity for which
the State grants exclusivity to one or a limited number of undertakings necessarily cannot
be economic activity subjected to the EC competition rules20. As a consequence, where
this activity is of economic nature, it is from this angle that the granting of an exclusive
right by the State can come under the scrutiny of EC competition law, where that granting
of an exclusive right establishes a dominant position in favour of the beneficiary
undertaking. According to the case law of the ECJ/CFI, the Member State infringes its
obligations under Articles 86(1) in conjunction with 82 where it creates a situation in
which (1) the undertaking enjoying the exclusive right cannot avoid abusing its dominant
position, or (2) there is a concrete likelihood that this undertaking will abuse its dominant
position, or (3) the dominant position which the undertaking already held on one market is
extended to a neighbouring but separate market without objective justification.
31. The Commission continuously closes cases (normally by rejections of complaints) where
the relevant activity is not of an economic nature. As these cases hardly ever reach the
level of a formal decision rejecting a complaint, they are normally not reported in
published documents. However, e.g. the Commission‟s 2001 Annual Report on
Competition Policy21 mentions the case in which a complaint by Ryanair against Italy,
alleging that Italian law had required ENAV (the entity in charge of air traffic control in
Italy) in the event of a strike of its personnel to discriminate in favour of domestic flights
to the detriment of international flights such as operated by Ryanair, was not pursued by
the Commission. In line with the ECJ judgment in Case C-364/92 SAT / Eurocontrol, the
Commission held that Italy could not have infringed its obligations under Articles 86(1) in
conjunction with 82 EC since ENAV‟s air control activities were not of economic nature
so that ENAV did not constitute an undertaking within the meaning of Article 82.
Effect on trade
32. Article 81(1) prohibits restrictive agreements between undertakings, decisions by
associations of undertakings and concerted practices “which may affect trade between
Member States”. Likewise, Article 82 prohibits any abuse by one or more undertakings
of a dominant position “in so far as it may affect trade between Member States”. For
both Articles 81 and 82, this criterion has an identical meaning and serves the purpose of
distinguishing jurisdiction, i.e. delineating the area in which Articles 81/82 EC (and
national competition laws) can be applied, from the area in which for lack of effect on
trade between Member States only national competition law can be applied. In contrast to
that, in Merger control the decision whether either national law or the EC Merger
Regulation is applicable depends on whether the concentration has Community dimension
ECJ judgment of 4.5.1988 in Case C-30/87 Bodson
In fact in Bodson, the funeral services were considered to be economic activity and the behaviour by the holder
of the concessions was analysed under Article 82.
Part I, para 503.
which according to Article 1 of that Regulation is a quantitative criterion based on
turnover thresholds of the participating undertakings.
33. According to the long-standing case law of the ECJ/CFI22, in order that an agreement
between undertakings or an abusive behaviour by a dominant undertaking may affect
trade between Member States, it must be possible to foresee with a sufficient degree of
probability on the basis of a set of objective factors of law or fact that it may have an
influence, direct or indirect, actual or potential, on the pattern of trade between Member
States, such as might prejudice the realisation of the aim of a single market between the
Member States. Accordingly, the effect on intra-Community trade is normally the result
of a combination of several factors which, taken separately, are not necessarily decisive23.
In view of the wording of Articles 81(1) and 82, the ECJ/CFI on the one hand expressly
acknowledges that the applicability of these provisions does not require that the
agreements or practices in question have actually affected trade between Member States.
On the other hand, the ECJ/CFI stresses that in the absence of actual effect on trade,
Articles 81(1) and 82 are only applicable if it is established that the agreements or
practices in question are capable of having that effect, i.e. have a potential effect on
trade24. This depends on the circumstances of each case25.
34. Moreover, the Commission and the ECJ/CFI have acknowledged that Articles 81(1) and
82 are not applicable if the actual or potential effect is so small that it is not appreciable26.
35. In summary, it can be stated that Articles 81(1) and 82 are not applicable where on the
basis of all factors relevant in the particular case, an actual or potential effect on trade
between Member States can be ruled out, or such effect is not appreciable.
36. While no longer dealing with appreciable effect on trade27, the 2001 Notice on agreements
of minor importance (“2001 de minimis Notice”)28 continues to provide quantitative
indications as to how the Commission interprets the notion of appreciable restriction of
competition in its application of Article 81(1). The 2001 Notice aims at defining more
clearly and comprehensively when agreements between companies are not prohibited by
Article 81(1), thus reducing the compliance burden for companies, especially smaller
companies. At the same time, the 2001 Notice aims at enabling the Commission to avoid
See e.g. Case 56/65 Société technique minière  ECR 281, 303; Case 42/84 Remia and Others v
Commission  ECR 2545, paragraph 22; ECJ Case 19/77 Miller  ECR 131, 150-151.
See e.g. Case C-250/92 Gottrup-Klim  ECR I-5641, paragraph 54.
Case C-219/95 P Ferriere Nord v Commission  ECR I-4411, paragraph 19.
Thus the grant of a statutory monopoly over the organisation of dock work in a single port, and the
establishment of a dominant position connected therewith, is capable of affecting trade between Member States
if that port has an important role in import and export operations (Judgment of 10 December 1991, Merci
convenzionali porto di Genova, C-179/90, ECR p. I-5889). Similarly, an agreement, decision of an association
of undertakings or concerted practice which covers the whole territory of a Member State has by its very nature
the effect of partitioning markets on a national basis and thus affecting trade between Member States (8/72,
Vereeniging van Cementhandelaren, 1972 ECR p.977, recently confirmed in C-309/99, Wouters).
See e.g. ECJ Case 5/69 Völk v Verwaecke  ECR 295, 302; ECJ Case 30/78 Distillers  ECR 3801,
3824-3827; ECJ Case 27/76 United Brands  ECR 207 paragraphs 201-202; ECJ Case C-306/96 Javico
 ECR I-1983, paragraph 16.
Except with regard to agreements between SMEs, see above para 35.
OJ C 368 of 22.12.2001, p.13.
examining cases which have no interest from a competition policy point of view, thus
allowing it to concentrate on more important cases.
37. The 2001 Notice reflects an economics-based approach and has the following key
- The de minimis thresholds are raised to 10% market share for agreements between
competitors and to 15% for agreements between non-competitors. The 1997 Notice
had fixed the de minimis thresholds at 5% and 10% market share respectively.
Competition concerns are in general not to be expected where companies do not have
a minimum degree of market power. The new thresholds take account of this while at
the same time staying low enough to be applicable whatever the overall market
structure looks like29. The difference between the two thresholds takes into account, as
before, the fact that agreements between competitors in general lead more easily to
anticompetitive effects than agreements between non-competitors.
- It specifies for the first time a market share threshold for networks of agreements
producing a cumulative anticompetitive effect. The 1997 de minimis Notice excluded
from its benefit agreements operated on a market where “competition is restricted by
the cumulative effects of parallel networks of similar agreements established by
several manufacturers or dealers”. This meant in practice that firms operating in
sectors such as the beer and petrol sectors could usually not benefit from the de
minimis Notice. The 2001 Notice introduces a special de minimis market share
threshold of 5% for markets where such parallel networks of similar agreements exist.
- It contains the same list of hardcore restrictions as the horizontal and vertical block
exemption regulations. The 2001 Notice defines more clearly and consistently the
hardcore restrictions (such as price fixing and market sharing) which are normally
always prohibited and cannot benefit from the de minimis notice. For agreements
between non-competitors, the 2001Notice has taken over the hardcore restrictions set
out in block exemption Regulation (EC) No 2790/1999 for vertical agreements30. For
agreements between competitors, the 2001 Notice has taken over the hardcore
restrictions set out in block exemption Regulation (EC) No 2658/2000 for
38. This increase by the 2001 Notice of the market share thresholds up to which restriction of
competition brought about by agreements and concerted practices will not be held
appreciable and thus not be pursued by the Commission under Article 81 has increased the
room for manoeuvre for many smaller providers of services of general economic interest.
Derogation under Article 86 (2)
39. Where the above-described conditions in terms of economic activity and effect on
trade/turnover thresholds are met, Articles 81/82 EC in its various forms or the EC Merger
Regulation will apply in areas in which services of general economic interest are provided
in principle like in any other area of the economy. Normally, the full applications of these
rules does not create any problems for the well functioning of services of general
This does not necessarily mean that agreements between companies that exceed the thresholds set out in this
Notice do appreciably restrict competition. Such agreements may still have only a negligible effect on
competition in the common market, but this can be assessed only on a case-by-case basis. Such assessment is
relevant in particular for agreements that are not covered by any of the Commission block exemption
OJ L 336, 29.12.1999.
OJ L 304, 5.12.2000.
economic interest. However, where it does, the application of these rules may be limited
under the conditions set out in Article 86(2) EC
40. The ECJ/CFI underlines that - as Article 86(2) allows for the derogation from the EC
Treaty, including the rules on competition and the internal market - this provision has to
be interpreted strictly and its application is not left to the discretion of the Member
States32. On the other hand, the Court acknowledges that the function of Article 86(2) is
to reconcile the Member States„ interest in using certain undertakings, in particular in the
public sector, as an instrument of economic and fiscal policy with the Community‟s
interest in ensuring compliance with the rules on competition and preservation of the unity
of the common market33. From this, the Court concludes that in view of the interests of
Member States thus defined, they cannot be precluded, when determining what services of
general interest they entrust to certain undertakings, from taking account of objectives
pertaining to their national policy or from endeavouring to attain them by means of
obligations and constraints which they impose on such undertakings34.
41. The conditions for the derogation under Article 86(2) can be set out in detail in the
(1) The activity in question must be a service of general economic interest, i.e. a
service of economic nature which is in the general interest.
(2) The service of general economic interest must be clearly defined by the State and
it must have been entrusted by the State through and act of public authority to the
(3) The full application of the EC Treaty rules (e.g. the Antitrust or Merger rules)
would obstruct the performance, in law or in fact, of the particular tasks assigned to
the undertaking entrusted.
42. Once the above conditions are fulfilled, the legal consequences under Article 86(2) are:
(1) The application of the EC Treaty rules (e.g. the Antitrust or Merger rules) is
limited to the extent strictly necessary to avoid obstructing the performance, in law
or in fact, of the particular tasks assigned to the undertaking entrusted. This
demonstrates that the application of the derogation is based on the principle of
(2) When determining the extent to which the application of the EC Treaty rules is to
be limited, the interests of the Community, in particular in establishing and
maintaining a competitive internal market, must be taken into account. This element
is a “derogation of the derogation” under Article 86(2).
ECJ judgment in case 127/73 BRT v SABAM, at point 19. ECJ judgment in case 41/83 Italy v Commission, at
point 30. CFI judgement of 19.6.1997 in case T-260/94 Air Inter, at point 135. ECJ judgment in case C-242/95
GT-Link  ECR I-4449, at point 50. ECJ judgment of 17.5.2001 in case C-340/99 TNT Traco v Poste
Italiane, at point 56.
ECJ judgment in case C-202/88 France v Commission, at point 12. ECJ judgment in case C-157/94
Commission v Netherlands, at point 39. ECJ judgment in case C-67/96 Albany, at point 103. ECJ judgment of
21.9.1999 in case C-115/97 Brentjens Handelsonderneming, at points 103. ECJ judgment of 21.9.1999 in case
C-219/97 Drijvende Bokken, at point 93.
ECJ judgment in case C-157/94 Commission v Netherlands, at point 40. ECJ judgment in case C-67/96
Albany, at point 104. ECJ judgment of 21.9.1999 in case C-115/97 Brentjens Handelsonderneming, at points
104. ECJ judgment of 21.9.1999 in case C-219/97 Drijvende Bokken, at points 94.
43. Problems can arise where Member States and undertakings invoke Article 86(2) while the
Member State has not clearly enough defined the contents and scope of the relevant
service of general economic interest. This is the case in the broadcasting sector in which
the boundaries of the “public service remit” granted to public service broadcasters poses
particular problems. Various Member States have not yet clearly enough defined the
scope of the relevant general economic interest obligations, e.g. regarding the ongoing
expansion of public service broadcasters‟ activities to new media businesses, such as the
Internet, which may give rise to serious competition concerns. However, this kind of
problem does not stem from deficiencies of the criteria under Article 86(2) or from any
other shortcomings in the relevant EC legal framework but from individual instances of
failure on the part of Member States to co-operate in their own interest. The ECJ/CFI has
made Member States‟ obligations quite clear. It has consistently held that Member States
must clearly define the service of general economic interest and explicitly entrust it
through an act taken in the exercise of public authority to one or more specifically
named35 undertakings36. Moreover the ECJ has also ruled that for obligations imposed on
an undertaking entrusted with the operation of services of general economic interest to be
regarded as falling within the particular tasks entrusted to it in the sense of Article 86(2),
they must be linked to the subject-matter of the service of general economic interest in
question and designed to make a direct contribution to satisfying that interest 37. These
strict requirements are necessary to ensure legal certainty as well as transparency vis-à-vis
the citizens. Moreover, only if it is clear which undertaking has been entrusted by the
State with which service of general economic interest, the Commission will be able carry
out its proportionality assessment under Article 86(2).
44. In conclusion, it can be stated that experience has shown that the implementation of the
EC Antitrust and Merger rules hardly ever conflicts and often even promotes the provision
of high quality services of general economic interest for the benefit of the citizens as
consumers and users of these services. For the rare cases of conflict, EC law offers
adequate instruments for solving them on the basis of the proportionality principle. This
guarantees the well-functioning of services of general economic interest in the most
competition- and open market-friendly way possible.
2.2. State Aid Rules
45. Dans le domaine de l'application des règles sur les aides d'Etat, il apparaît que les craintes
portent principalement, sur la liberté des Etats membres de définir et financer les
« services publics » qu‟ils souhaitent offrir à leur population, et sur les charges
administratives qu‟impliquerait l‟application du droit communautaire en matière d‟aides
d‟Etat. De nombreux éléments de réponses à ces craintes ont déjà été apportés par la
Commission dans ses Communications de 1996 et 2000 sur les Services d‟intérêt général
en Europe. Les développements ci-après se limitent donc aux questions essentielles. De
façon générale, un examen des règles relatives aux aides d‟Etat permet d‟écarter de
nombreuses craintes. Il apparaît en effet qu‟une application correcte des dispositions du
traité en matière d‟aides d‟Etat n‟est pas de nature à interférer avec la fourniture de SIEG.
ECJ Case 7/82 GVL  ECR 483, 484 No 3, paras 29-33; ECJ Case 66/86 Ahmed Saaed Flugreisen
 ECR 803, para 55.
Normally, though not necessarily, the definition of the SGEI and the entrustment of an undertaking with that
SGEI coincide in one act of public authority.
ECJ Case C-159/94 Commission v France (import and export monopoly for gas and electricity),  ECR
I-5815 para 68.
Do the state aid rules limit the Member States‟ freedom to define and ensure the good
functioning of services of general economic interest?
46. Le droit communautaire, et notamment le droit des aides d‟Etat laisse aux Etats membres
un large pouvoir d‟appréciation pour définir les services d‟intérêt général. Il est clairement
établi, qu‟en l‟absence de réglementation communautaire en la matière, la Commission
n‟est pas habilitée à se prononcer sur l‟organisation et l‟étendue des missions de service
public, ni sur l‟opportunité des choix politiques décidés à cet égard par les autorités
compétentes nationales38. A contrario, quand les conditions d‟imposition d‟obligations de
service public sont prévues dans un texte communautaire, les Etats membres ne peuvent
pas y déroger39. D‟une façon générale, la tâche de la Commission est de veiller à ce que
ces dispositions soient appliquées sans erreur manifeste.40
47. Dans le cadre de sa pratique décisionnelle, la Commission s‟attache à suivre
scrupuleusement la jurisprudence de la Cour, et ne conteste que rarement la qualification
de SIEG. Tel est notamment le cas lorsque l‟activité en cause ne présente aucun caractère
spécifique par rapport aux autres activités économiques, ou lorsque cette activité est déjà
réalisée de façon satisfaisante par des entreprises opérant selon les règles du marché41. La
liberté des Etats membres pour définir les SIEG s‟accompagne toutefois de l‟obligation de
définir précisément la tâche des entreprises en cause et les compensations éventuelles qui
leur sont attribuées, et le choix du prestataire doit se faire dans le respect du droit
48. D‟une façon générale, la disponibilité de SIEG efficaces est dans l‟intérêt des
consommateurs et contribue notamment aux objectifs visés à l‟article 153 du traité. La
fixation du niveau qualitatif des SIEG relève toutefois essentiellement de la compétence
des Etats membres.42
49. Les SIEG ne peuvent fonctionner correctement que s‟ils bénéficient d‟un financement
suffisant. Les Etats membres disposent à ce sujet, de toute liberté pour déterminer le mode
de financement le plus adéquat, et les subventions ne constituent qu‟un instrument parmi
d‟autres. Des obligations de service public peuvent en effet être imposées à des entreprises
opérant sur des marchés libéralisés, en l‟absence de soutien public. Tel peut notamment
Notamment arrêt du TPI du 27.02.1997, FFSA Aff T-106/95, rec 1997 p II-0229, point 192.
Voir notamment en ce sens la règlement (CEE) du Conseil du 23.07.1992, concernant l‟accès des transporteurs
aériens communautaires aux liaisons aériennes intracommunautaires (JO L 240 du 24.08.1992, p.0008).
Dans son arrêt FFSA du 27 février 1997 dans l‟affaire T-106/95, le Tribunal a notamment précisé en ce qui
concerne l‟efficacité des SIEG : « La Commission, en l‟absence de réglementation communautaire en la matière,
n‟est pas habilitée à se prononcer sur l‟étendue des missions de service public incombant à l‟exploitant public, à
savoir le niveau des coûts liés à ce service, ni sur l‟opportunité des choix politiques pris à cet égard par les
autorités nationales, ni sur l‟efficacité économique de La Poste dans le secteur qui lui est réservé ».
Voir notamment en ce sens, la décision de la Commission du 20.06.2001 dans l‟affaire Tirrenia di
navigazione. Affaire C 64/99
Dans son arrêt FFSA du 27 février 1997 (affaire T-106/95), le TPI a en effet précisé que « les références aux
coûts d‟opportunité, coûts minima ou marge de référence, au dessous desquels la fermeture d‟un bureau serait
préférable pour La Poste, ne sont pas pertinentes. En effet la Commission, en l‟absence de réglementation
communautaire en la matière, n‟est pas habilitée à se prononcer sur l‟étendue des missions de service public
incombant à l‟exploitant public, à savoir le niveau des coûts liés à ce service, ni sur l‟opportunité des choix
politiques pris à cet égard par les autorités nationales, ni sur l‟efficacité économique de La Poste dans le secteur
qui lui est réservé ».Le droit de la concurrence, et notamment le droit des aides d‟Etat ne s‟oppose donc pas à ce
que les Etats membres mettent en place des SIEG de qualité s‟ils le souhaitent.
être le cas lorsque toutes les entreprises d‟un secteur sont soumises aux mêmes
obligations. Les charges particulières qui pèsent sur ces entreprises sont couvertes par les
revenus retirés de l‟ensemble des activités réalisées par les entreprises en cause. Ces
activités peuvent constituer en tout ou en partie, des activités de « service public ». En
l‟absence de soutien public, la question des aides d‟Etat ne se pose pas.
50. Les Etats membres peuvent également assurer le financement des SIEG en attribuant des
droits exclusifs ou spéciaux aux entreprises en cause. Ces droits permettent d‟assurer une
péréquation entre les « activités rentables » et les « activités non rentables », et permettent
ainsi aux entreprises de fournir les services en cause dans une situation d‟équilibre
économique. Si l‟octroi de ces droits n‟implique pas le transfert de ressources d‟Etat, les
règles en matière d‟aide d‟Etat ne trouvent pas application. Ces droits doivent toutefois
être limités à ce qui est nécessaire pour le fonctionnement des services en cause43. Dans le
cas contraire, ces droits sont susceptibles de contrevenir aux dispositions du traité CE, et
notamment à l‟article 86.1 en combinaison avec les articles 81 et 82 et/ou les règles
relatives à la libre circulation des marchandises et la liberté d‟établissement. . La question
des droits exclusifs soulève par ailleurs des interrogations sur la qualification éventuelle
de ressources d‟Etat. Ces interrogations devraient être développées dans un texte futur de
la Commission sur les compensations de service public.
51. De la même façon, le droit communautaire ne s‟oppose pas à ce que les Etats membres
octroient des subventions ou autres formes de soutiens publics, pour permettre aux
entreprises en charge de SIEG, d‟accomplir leur mission. A ce sujet, le débat sur la
qualification juridique des compensations de service public n‟a pas d‟implications
majeures sur le fonctionnement des SIEG.
The legal qualification of compensations has no consequences for the financing of
services of general interest
52. Au regard de la jurisprudence récente de la Cour de Justice44, les compensations qui
n‟excèdent pas le surcoût du service public ne procurent pas d‟avantages aux entreprises
bénéficiaires, et dès lors, ne constituent pas des aides d‟Etat. Il en résulte que les Etats
membres peuvent attribuer ces financements sans être soumis à l‟obligation de notification
préalable prévue à l‟article 88 paragraphe 3.
53. La jurisprudence du Tribunal de Première Instance, telle qu‟elle résulte notamment de
l‟arrêt FFSA du 27 février 199745, implique que les compensations sont susceptibles de
constituer des aides d‟Etat, même si elles se limitent à compenser les surcoûts imposés
aux entreprises en charge des SIEG. La qualification d‟aide d‟Etat implique que ces
compensations doivent être préalablement notifiées à la Commission conformément aux
dispositions de l‟article 88 paragraphe 3. Toutefois, les compensations qui ne font que
compenser le surcoût du service public, y compris un bénéfice normal, sont normalement
compatibles avec le traité, en application de l‟article 86 paragraphe 2, sauf dans les cas
exceptionnels dans lesquels l‟intérêt de la Communauté visé à la dernière phrase de
l‟article 86 paragraphe 2 serait affecté.
cf notamment arrêt Corbeau du 19.05.1993. Aff C-320/91
Arrêt Ferring du 22.11.2001 Aff C-53/00
54. Il convient également de souligner que pour relever de l‟article 87 du traité, les aides
doivent être financées au moyen de ressources d‟Etat46. Ces aides doivent également être
susceptibles d‟affecter les échanges entre Etats membres. A titres d‟exemples, la
Commission a récemment considéré que ce critère n‟était pas réuni dans le cas de
subventions allouées à une piscine municipale en Allemagne, à des hôpitaux en Irlande, et
à des installations récréatives au Royaume Uni (Brighton West Pier).
55. De même, la Commission considère que les aides dont le montant ne dépasse pas 100 000
euros par entreprise et par période de trois ans, ne remplissent pas tous les critères de
l‟article 87 paragraphe 1, et ne doivent donc pas être notifiées à la Commission.47
56. En résumé, quelle que soit l‟évolution de la jurisprudence à ce sujet, le droit
communautaire ne s‟oppose pas à l‟octroi aux entreprises en charge de SIEG, des soutiens
financiers nécessaires à l‟accomplissement de la mission de service public. Le fait que la
compensation soit qualifiée d‟aide d‟Etat, ne constitue pas une réelle difficulté pour les
entreprises et les Etats membres concernés. Le droit communautaire s‟oppose uniquement
à l‟octroi d‟aides dont le montant dépasse ce qui est nécessaire pour le financement du
service en cause. Dans ce cadre, d‟éventuelles surcompensations constituent des aides
Open questions and possible responses
(1) Quelles limites aux notions d‟activité économique et d‟affectation des échanges ?
57. Les aides octroyées à des activités qui ne sont pas de nature économique et/ou qui
n‟affectent pas les échanges entre Etats membres, échappent aux dispositions des règles de
concurrence. Il est donc important pour les Etats membres et les entreprises de pouvoir
déterminer avec un degré suffisant de certitude, quelles activités remplissent ces critères.
Dans ses Communications de 1996 et 2000 sur les SIG, ainsi que dans son rapport au
Conseil européen de Laeken, la Commission a donné des informations sur ces notions, et
a expliqué pour quelles raisons l‟établissement d‟une liste d‟activités qui ne rempliraient
pas ces critères, n‟est pas possible, et en tout état de cause, ne fournirait pas un degré
élevé de sécurité juridique.
58. Afin d‟accroître la transparence et la sécurité juridique, dans son rapport au Conseil
européen de Laeken, la Commission s‟est engagée à consacrer dorénavant une partie
spécifique de son rapport annuel sur la politique de concurrence, aux services d‟intérêt
général, dans laquelle elle décrira l‟application des règles de concurrence à ces services.
De plus, la Commission identifiera à l‟avenir, les cas liés aux services d‟intérêt général
dans son registre des aides d‟Etat.
59. Des mesures supplémentaires sont-elles nécessaires ? La Commission est d‟avis que les
arrêts de la Cour de Justice et du TPI, ainsi que les décisions de la Commission
concourent à accroître la transparence et la prévisibilité, et qu‟il convient donc d‟en
assurer le maximun de diffusion. Dans son rapport au Conseil européen de Séville relatif à
l‟état des travaux concernant les lignes directrices relatives aux aides d‟Etat liées aux
SIEG, la Commission a notamment indiqué qu‟elle envisageait d‟adopter un texte en la
Cette obligation a été rappelée par la Cour dans son arrêt du 13 mars 2001 dans l‟affaire C-379/98
matière, et que celui-ci devrait notamment “faire le point de la jurisprudence pertinente, en
particulier en ce qui concerne les notions d‟activité économique et d‟affectation des
échanges.” Ce dernier texte abordera ces questions de façon plus détaillée.
(2)Comment déterminer la « juste compensation » de service public en évitant la
surcompensation constitutive d‟aide d‟Etat ?
60. Le calcul correct de la compensation présuppose que les obligations de l‟entreprise en
charge d‟un SIEG, soient précisément énumérées dans un texte engageant l‟entreprise et
les pouvoirs publics. Par ailleurs, les entreprises en charge de SIEG sont généralement
titulaires de droits exclusifs ou spéciaux, et sont soumises, à ce titre, aux dispositions de la
directive de la Commission 80/723 CE du 25 juin 1980 relative à la transparence des
relations financières entre les Etats membres et les entreprises publiques, ainsi qu‟à la
transparence financière dans certaines entreprises. Les dispositions de cette directive
doivent bien sûr être respectées, en particulier la tenue d‟une comptabilité séparée quand
l‟entreprise en charge d‟un SIEG preste également des services ouverts à la concurrence.
La transparence est indispensable afin de définir correctement les coûts du service public
et le montant justifié de compensation. La Commission encourage également la mise en
place d‟autorités de contrôle dans les Etats membres, afin de veiller au respect des
obligations de service public telles que définies dans l‟acte étatique octroyant ledit service.
61. Lors de la sélection du prestataire du SIEG, la Commission considère que le recours à la
procédure de mise en concurrence est la règle quand l‟Etat membre a recours aux services
d‟un tiers. Quand l‟attribution fait suite à une véritable mise en concurrence et que le
montant de la compensation a été déterminé dans ce cadre, la Commission estime que ce
montant reflète le prix du marché et ne comporte pas d‟éléments de surcompensation. Une
telle présomption suppose toutefois que la concurrence a été réelle entre plusieurs
entreprises candidates. Le pouvoir adjudicateur doit en particulier garantir à tout
soumissionnaire potentiel, un degré de publicité adéquat permettant une ouverture du
marché des services en cause à la concurrence ainsi que le contrôle de l‟impartialité des
procédures d‟adjudication. En l‟absence de mise en concurrence, le calcul des coûts du
service public et de la « juste compensation » peut s‟avérer très délicat, en particulier en
l‟absence de répartition des coûts et de comptabilité adéquate.
62. Dans ce contexte, la transparence des relations financières entre l‟Etat et les entreprises en
charge de SIEG est fondamentale. Les entreprises en charge de SIEG qui sont titulaires de
droits exclusifs ou spéciaux, ou bénéficient des financements publics pour
l‟accomplissement de leurs missions, relèvent du champ d‟application de la directive de la
Commission 80/723 CE du 25 juin 1980 relative à la transparence des relations financières
entre les Etats membres et les entreprises publiques ainsi qu‟à la transparence financière
dans certaines entreprises48. La tenue d‟une comptabilité séparée quand une entreprise en
charge d‟un SIEG preste également d‟autres activités ouvertes à la concurrence est
nécessaire afin de veiller à ce que les compensations octroyées pour le service public ne
sont pas en fait utilisées pour financer d‟autres activités ouvertes à la concurrence.
Lorsque les dispositions de la directive 80/723/CE ne sont pas applicables, en particulier
quand les seuils de chiffre d‟affaires ne sont pas atteints, la tenue d‟une comptabilité
séparée demeure nécessaire quand une entreprise qui reçoit des compensations pour un
SIEG est également active sur d‟autres marchés.
Directive modifiée en dernier lieu par la directive de la Commission 2000/52/CE du 26 juillet 2000. JO L 193
63. Une autre question à examiner concerne les compensations établies de façon
« forfaitaire » par les Etats membres. L‟affaire Ferring offre un exemple à ce sujet.
Lorsqu‟un Etat membre impose des obligations à une catégorie d‟entreprises, celui-ci
peut-il octroyer une compensation calculée de façon globale pour l‟ensemble des
entreprises en cause, ou doit-il établir l‟absence de surcompensation au niveau de chaque
entreprise ? Cette question devra être abordée dans le texte que la Commission s‟est
engagée à préparer dans son rapport au Conseil européen de Séville.
(3) Comment alléger la procédure de notification si les compensations constituent des
aides d‟Etat ?
64. L‟article 88 paragraphe 3 CE permet aux Etats membres de notifier non seulement des
projets d‟aide individuelle, mais également des projets de régimes d‟aides. Quand ces
derniers sont autorisés par la Commission, les aides individuelles octroyées en application
desdits régimes ne doivent pas être notifiés. La Commission estime donc que si les
compensations sont des aides d‟Etat, le recours à l‟utilisation des régimes est de nature à
réduire sensiblement la tâche administrative des Etats membres. Un texte de la
Commission, notamment un « encadrement » pourrait faciliter l‟utilisation des régimes
par les Etats membres. Conformement à l‟approche envisagée dans son Rapport à
l‟intention du Conseil européen de Laeken, la Commission évaluera l'expérience acquise
par l'application de ce texte et, si et dans la mesure justifiée par l'expérience, la
Commission prévoit d'adopter un règlement exemptant certaines aides du domaine des
services d'intérêt économique général de l'obligation de notification préalable.
1.4 Social Policy
65. Article 2 of the Treaty defines the promotion of a high level of employment and social
protection as fundamental tasks of the Community. This is implemented through the
provision of a broad range of social services in Member States, including social
protection schemes, health services, care services and services to promote social and
labour market integration of individuals (including housing).
66. All such services can be regarded as services of general interest, but not all of them would
be regarded as an economic activity and fall under the scope of Article 16 of the Treaty.
Internal market rules concerning the freedom to provide services and competition rules
apply only to services of general economic interest. Other services would still have to
comply with the rules that guarantee the free movement of persons (social security, non-
discrimination regarding access to social services).
67. Setting up these services is, however, not a responsibility of the EU, but of the Member
States, regional and local authorities or the social partners. To the extent that such
services are considered as economic activities, the EU has the responsibility to ensure
that they are delivered in conformity with the principles of the Internal Market. This does
not imply any objective in terms of harmonising or shaping at the EU level how such
services should be organised. However, it does mean that diverse national and sub-
national systems which have evolved in response to specific political and social
circumstances for the promotion of social welfare, health, employment and education are
subject to scrutiny at EU level.
68. In the wake of a series of legal cases, fears have been expressed by some actors in the
social policy sphere that internal market rules have had the effect of creating legal
uncertainty and that this could interfere with the ability of Member States to meet their
policy objectives49. It should be stressed that there is very little concrete evidence that the
application of Single Market or competition rules has impacted fundamentally on service
provision in these areas. Nevertheless, it is useful to examine and clarify the rights of
Member States with regard to the design and provision of different types of social
services, taking into account the interests of the Community and to indicate where it may
be necessary to create greater legal certainty and a clear framework for policy makers. 50
69. [Are there any social policy initiatives (programmes etc.) that are relevant for services of
1.5 Consumer protection
70. Services of general interest are by their nature of special importance to EU citizens and
businesses. As highlighted in Article 16, they are an essential pillar of our societies.
Services of general interest cannot be politically and socially efficient in the Internal
market without taking into account user and consumer needs as users and consumers are
the final beneficiaries of services of general interest.
71. Market mechanisms are one of the best means to bring about efficiency, quality and value
for money for consumers. Market opening has generally raised expectations for increased
choice and lower prices. The market opening in some of the services of general interest
sectors has also raised concerns in the public about possible negative effects of a profit
and shareholder value-based approach, that could, for example, favour cost-cutting over
quality and availability of the service. The conclusions of the first horizontal assessment
of market performance of network industries providing services of general economic
interest51 mentioned: “There is as yet insufficient evidence to assess the long term impact
of liberalisation on services of general economic interest, but on the basis of available
information, there seems to be no evidence supporting the thesis that liberalisation has
had a negative net impact on their overall market performance, at least as far as
affordability and the provision of universal service are concerned”. It would seem
therefore necessary to continue the effort to monitor overtime the impact of liberalisation
at Community level. There are nonetheless remaining issues, notably in areas which are
not fully recognised as “services of general economic interest” (e.g. electronic payment
systems) or subjected to universal service obligations (e.g. mobile telephony) that would
appear to warrant further reflection on the means to ensure adequate protection of
72. In areas where market opening has not taken place, the services continue to be provided
under special or exclusive rights, and the promotion of user/consumer rights in these
sectors depends critically on the effectiveness of regulators, e.g. the sanctions are
See, for example, the remarks of the Belgian minister for social affairs, Frank Vandenbroucke, in a paper to
the Max Planck Institute: “Member States have lost more control over national welfare policies in the face of
pressure from integrated markets than the EU has de facto gained in transferred authority, substantial though the
latter may be. Thus, there is a growing gap in our steering capacity with regard to welfare policy.”
COM (2001) 736 of 7.12.2001
available to them in the event of poor performance by the monopolist, and whether there
is a clear separation between the regulator and the monopoly service provider. In addition
to the requirement to be run efficiently in order to supply the best service quality for the
lowest possible price, adequate safeguards for users and consumers in the provision of
those services should ensure that they will continue to be delivered with the best
73. In order to make informed decisions, policy in relation to the consumer aspect of services
of general services of general economic interest interest must be based on both
quantitative and qualitative information and evidence. The assessment of services of
general economic interest must depend not only on their economic performance and
efficiency, but also on the degree to which they live up to the standards mentioned above,
and the level of satisfaction they achieve among consumers and users. In particular, price
monitoring and the prevention of anti-competitive market behaviour should be given
special attention. Commission services have produced a “methodological note for the
horizontal evaluation of services of general economic interest”52 which focuses on the
market performance of services of general economic interest. In this context,
Commission services are working on the development of indicators for the evaluation of
consumer satisfaction levels in the area of services of general economic interest.
74. EU Consumer protection legislation addresses failures in the market that affect
consumers. It is increasingly tending to do so through the use of horizontal legislative
instruments that set out the broad objectives required to assure the safety or the economic
interests of consumers. In the case of safety, there is a General Product Safety Directive,
while the Commission is also examining together with Member States experts and with
stakeholders whether or not a similar approach might be suitable for services 53. As
regards the economic interests of consumers, the Commission services are, following the
Green Paper on consumer protection, preparing a framework directive on fair
commercial practices54. Framework legislation of this kind does not obviate the need for
vertical legislation, it does, however, provide a coherent background for this. At the same
time, it reduces the likelihood of over-regulation.
75. For horizontal consumer policy as well as sector specific policies, the enforcement of
rules is crucial. The role of regulators for the enforcement of legislation including
consumer and user rights as important as the policy approach and the legislation itself. It
is the condition for ensuring a level playing field and predictability in market operations.
1.7 Regional Policy
76. Article 158 of the Treaty provides: "In order to promote its overall harmonious
development, the Community shall develop and pursue its actions leading to the
strengthening of its economic and social cohesion. In particular, the Community shall
aim at reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and
the backwardness of the least favoured regions or islands, including rural areas." In
addition, Article 16 of the Treaty explicitly recognises the role of services of general
COM (2002) 331 of 18.6.2002
Details are available at: http://europa.eu.int/comm/consumers/policy/developments/prod_safe/ps08_en.pdf
Concerning the elements of a possible framework directive on fair commercial practices, see the annex I to the
follow-up Communication to the Green Paper on EU consumer protection COM (2002) 289 of 11 June 2002.
economic interest services for the promotion of social and territorial cohesion. Les
services d‟intérêt général touchent aux objectifs, aux missions et aux moyens de l‟Union
et leur organisation relève de l‟ensemble des niveaux institutionnels (Union, Member
States, Regions and local authorities). Au delà des convergences nationales influencées
par la mondialisation, il existe en Europe une grande variété de systèmes nationaux ou
locaux d‟offre des services d‟intérêt général qui doit être préservée dans le cadre du
modèle européen de société. Dans un contexte de mondialisation et de rapides mutations
technologiques, la cohésion économique, sociale et territoriale devient un impératif.55.
Ce sera un défi majeur de la réussite de la politique de l‟élargissement et aura un impact
direct sur le consensus de solidarité qui est à la base des choix communautaires actuels au
travers de la mise en œuvre des politiques structurelles.
77. Face à ce défi, une politique active des services d‟intérêt général devient nécessaire pour
permettre une intégration positive des populations des territoires défavorisées de l‟Union
élargie. Une dynamique d‟intégration reposant uniquement sur la concurrence et la
libéralisation des marchés conduira inévitablement à renforcer les clivages économiques
et sociaux entre les citoyens européens et amplifiera les tensions entre les régions
défavorisées de l‟Union et les régions mieux dotées en ressources qui seront minoritaires.
L‟amplification de cette fracture sociale et territoriale doit être à tout prix évitée, sans
compter son impact négatif à terme sur la compétitivité économique de l‟ensemble des
territoires de l‟Union élargie.
78. From the point of view of economic, social and territorial cohesion the operation of
services of general interest must be guided by a number of principles, in particular:
– The guarantee of universal access, c‟est-à-dire la nécessité de fournir un service
déterminé sur l‟ensemble d‟un territoire national à des prix abordables et à des
conditions de qualité similaires, quelque soit la rentabilité des investissements : les
conditions d‟accès aux réseaux deviennent déterminantes afin d‟ assurer la
compétitivité des territoires et de garantir la satisfaction des besoins des citoyens, y
compris les catégories défavorisées de la population
– A complete territorial coverage, y compris pour les zones éloignées ou inaccessibles
pour les services essentiels et les zones urbaines défavorisées : ce principe reconnaît
l‟importance du droit des citoyens européens à l‟accès aux services essentiels ainsi
que la prise en considération des spécificités territoriales dans le choix des SIG.
– The right of public authorities to organise services of general interest at the
appropriate level if they consider that market mechanisms are not sufficient to ensure
a satisfactory provision of these services: this principle implicitly recognises the role
of local and regional authorities in the definition and organisation of services of
general interest, in line with the principle of subsidiarity.
79. The implementation of the objective of economic, social and territorial cohesion requires
the establisment of systems based on financial solidarity (e.g. tariff averaging,
compensation funds, structural funds) in order to guarantee universal access to certain
services for all citizens. The principle of solidarity must however be complemented by
the principles of efficiency, financial transparency, quality of services, and consumer
Commission européenne, Unité de l‟Europe, solidarité des peuples, diversité des territoires –Deuxième
rapport sur la cohésion économique et sociale, 2 Volumes, Luxembourg 2001
80. [Are there any concrete contributions made at Community through structural funds, EIB
or other financial instruments?]
2 Main sectoral Community policies concerning services of general interest
2.1 Telecommunications, electronic communications
81. Since 1988, the telecommunications sector has been gradually liberalised at Community
level until full liberalisation was achieved on 1 January 1998. The liberalisation measures
adopted at Community level were complemented by harmonisation legislation ensuring
that market distortions were avoided and public policy objectives were achieved. In 1999
the Commission launched a comprehensive review of the Community regulatory
framework in order to simplify regulation and to address problems experienced in its
implementation and application.56
82. The 1999 communications review led to the adoption of a new regulatory package
consisting of a framework directive and four specific directives in spring 2002. 57 The
new directives will have to be implemented by 25 July 2003. The most important feature
of the new framework is that it introduces competition law concepts (relevant market and
dominant position) in the sector specific regulation. The aim is to allow the regulation of
market players to evolve with future technology and market changes and to roll back
regulation once competition law remedies are adequate to ensure market entry.
83. Like the current regulatory framework, the new package sets out detailed provisions
defining public policy objectives and providing for the regulatory instruments necessary
to ensure that they are effectively achieved. The provisions pertain inter alia to the
provision and financing of a universal service, access to networks and services, price
controls, consumer and user rights, data protection, privacy and security, services for
persons with special needs, complaint mechanisms, price regulation, accounting
transparency, regulatory authorities.
84. As a result of its continuous monitoring of the communications sector the Commission
publishes annually a “Report on the Implementation of the Telecommunications
Regulatory Package”.58 In preparation for the report, detailed questions on the state of
liberalisation and the implementation measures are asked, including questions relating to
services of general economic interest. The process involves country visits, follow up
questionnaires and public hearings in Brussels with all stakeholders (industry, consumer
bodies and regulators/governments).
85. In the process of gradual market opening in the telecommunications the Commission has
applied the antitrust and merger rules in particular to prevent distortions of competition
by the incumbent operators.59 The application of the state aid rules have recently been of
little relevance in the electronic communications sector.
The full text can be found at: http://europa.eu.int/ISPO/infosoc/telecompolicy/review99/review99en.pdf
Cf. Seventh Report on the Implementation of the Telecoms Regulatory Package, COM (2001) 706, 28.10.2001
2.2. Postal services
86. A regulatory framework for postal services has been established by Directive 97/67/EC of
the European Parliament and of the Council.60 The Postal Directive has laid down the
process and timetable for the gradual opening of the postal sector. At the same time, it
has sets out a harmonised framework for the provision of a universal postal service
within the Community, the criteria defining the services which may be reserved for
universal service providers and the conditions governing the provision of non-reserved
services, tariff principles and transparency of accounts for universal service provision,
the setting of quality standards for universal service provision and the setting-up of a
system to ensure compliance with those standards, the harmonisation of technical
standards, and the creation of independent national regulatory authorities. In 2002,
Parliament and Council adopted an amending Directive61 following the path of the
opening of the sector and introducing further requirements and clarifications.
87. An assessment of the impact of Directive 97/67 was published by the Commission in a
Report of 25 November 2002.62 The Reports states that the Directive had significant
regulatory and market impacts and has reached its objectives of setting in place a basic
harmonisation of the EU postal services market and of improving the quality of service.
It concludes that no further update of the Community regulatory framework is required at
88. However, the report also stresses that "the level of harmonisation achieved remains
limited across the Community beneath the umbrella of the basic regulatory framework
set out by the Postal Directive. For example, the regulatory practice varies significantly
between Member States, and this may have limited, both the actual development of
competition in the EU postal services market and, the level of harmonisation in the
efficiency of the USPs. This in turn has limited improvements in EU competitiveness.
Continuing regulatory asymmetry threatens to distort the market as further steps are
taken towards the full accomplishment of the internal market, and there have already
been a number of infringement cases on this issue. Further, the coexistence of
reservation, variable regulation and competitive market segments has produced perverse
incentives for market players and when combined with the corporatisation and the
privatisation of the USPs, clear issues of faircompetition have emerged." Therefore, the
Commission called in its report on the Member States to ensure effective independence,
adequate capacity and effectiveness of the competition and regulatory authorities in
particular in the postal sector.
Directive No 97/67/EC of the Parliament and of the Council, 15/12/1997 on common rules for the
development of the internal market of Community postal services and the improvement of quality of service
(OJ C, 21/01/1998).
Directive 2/39/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 10 June 2002 amending Directive
97/67/EC with regard to the further opening to competition of Community postal services, OJ L176, 5.7.2002,
Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the application of the Postal
Directive (97/67/EC), COM(2002) 632, 25.11.2002.
2.3 Energy (electricity and gas)
89. Currently, the gas and electricity sectors are partially open to competition. This will be
extended gradually over the next few years. The recent summit of the European Council
at Barcelona agreed for the extension of market opening to all non-households by 2004,
although, almost all Member States are planning to totally open these markets in any case
and remove all exclusive rights. The Energy Council of 25 November 2002 has now
agreed on a full opening of the gas and electricity markets (including for households) by
1 July 2007.
90. The main points discussed in relating to the interaction of this process with the idea of
services of general economic interest relate to the delivery of universal service. In
particular some Member States and stakeholders are attached to the idea of a uniform
price across the national territory for gas and electricity (perequation). Others are
concerned that market opening may benefit certain groups at the expense of others.
However, perequation may be accommodated within a liberalised framework. For
electricity and gas there is not such a large difference in cost between supplying different
customer types, especially if there is some mechanism to equalise the transmission and
distribution charges paid in different regions. At the same time, however, the use of
uniform charges may prevent the application of economic signals to the market about
network costs implied by location of, for example, industry with large energy
91. Another potential problem might, however, arise if companies had some way of knowing
the income of potential customers and avoided those which it thought might have a
higher risk of non-payment. This can be avoided by an obligation on companies to offer a
service to everybody on the same terms.
92. Another issue is security of supply, particularly relating to peak demand. Due to the
uncertainty associated with predicting the occurence of peaks, there are concerns that the
market may fail to guarantee enough energy to serve all customers at all times. This may
require some safeguard mechanisms for which all customers are required to contribute.
93. The Commission supports the Member States in identifying additional measures that they
need to take to support the market opening process. The Commission helps sharing best
practice through benchmarking for the electricity and gas industry and produces an
annual report which considers both the functioning of the internal market as well as
questions related to services of general economic interest.63
94. Airports. The airport industry is currently going through a process of transformation. In
the increasingly liberalised and competitive environment of air transport, airport
operations have also been changing. In the past, the provision of airport facilities, i.e. the
construction, development and operation of runways and terminals, was organised as a
non-market activity. Today these activities are increasingly carried out in a commercial
manner. Cost efficiency, private finance, marketing and even acquisition strategies are
characterising parts of the airport business as much as any other industry. Moreover, a
degree of competition is emerging. Airports can, in some situations, be seen as
undertakings competing with each other, regardless of whether they are publicly or
privately owned: most notably when they have overlapping catchment areas and when
they are hub airports competing for attracting transfer traffic. Changes are affecting
airport ownership too. Direct national of local ownership has been the more usual thing
so far, but the number of airports either privately owned or held by both public and
private entities is going up. There is a trend towards privatisation which is giving rise to a
true community-wide, or even world-wide, market for corporate control.
95. It can be said that airports nowadays have a twofold nature. On the one hand they continue
to be providers of general economic interest as access to infrastructure is necessary to
carry out transport operations. On the other hand they increasingly are and behave like
commercial entities. Also, the core business of the airport industry is still monopolistic
and this requires some form of price regulation, but it is also affected at least to some
extent by competition and as consequence, subject to competition law. The Commission's
policy on state aid for airport infrastructure is set out in the guidelines on state aid in the
96. Air transport other than airports. In the area of air transport the “third package” of 1992
set out a comprehensive harmonisation and liberalisation framework. 65 This regulatory
framework which is at the center of European air transport law implements the
fundamental Treaty principles of freedom of establishment and of free movement of
services. Today, the licensing of operators by national authorities is based on harmonised
criteria, the free access of Community operators to intra-Community connections is
guaranteed and air fares have been fully liberalised. In this liberalised environment,
Article 4 of Regulation 2408/9266 provides for the possibility of imposing public service
97. In terms of ports, very few “special and exclusive rights” cases have emerged so far (e.g.
see ECJ Case C-343/95 Calí). In ports, there is a tendency to use safety arguments to
exclude competition and reserve certain activities. However, the market itself evolves in
the direction where more and more private operators are involved in also safety-sensitive
According to these guidelines the construction and enlargement of airport infrastructure represent general
measures of economic policy which can not be controlled by the Commission under the Treaty rules on State
aids. However, the commercial evolution and the appearance of competition increasingly challenge this
Regulations (CEE) No. 2407/92, 2408/92 and 2409/92 of 23 July 1992
Celles-ci ont pour objet d‟imposer des normes fixes en matière de continuité, de régularité, de capacité et de
prix, auxquelles les transporteurs ne satisferaient pas s‟ils ne devaient considérer que leurs seuls intérêts
commerciaux. Dans certaines conditions il est possible pour un Etat Membre de limiter l‟accès d‟une liaison
sur laquelle une OSP a été imposée à un seul transporteur et de lui verser une compensation financière afin
qu‟il satisfasse aux normes imposées. La sélection du transporteur se fait alors sur appel d‟offres. Les OSP et
les appels d‟offres sont publiés au Journal Officiel des Communautés Européennes. Ce mécanisme est appliqué
sous le contrôle de la Commission et fonctionne de façon satisfaisante. Il assure un équilibre entre les
impératifs de la libéralisation et les règles de l‟économie de marché et les exigences des Etats Membres en
matière de service public.
98. In the light of the above, the most important objective remains to ensure that the
derogation in Article 86(2) is applied only when this is necessary for the achievement of
a purpose of general economic interest that has been entrusted by the State to the
undertaking in question. It is for the Commission to identify on a case-by-case basis
where for example the safety arguments are a valid reason for excluding competition.
99. Railways. [Insert description of Community railway legislation]
100. Remaining problems lie in structural impediments to a properly functioning competitive
internal market. First, in a number of Member States where domestic markets for socially
necessary passenger services (i.e. passenger services of general economic interest) have
been opened unilaterally, new entrants bidding to enter the market cannot do so on the
same basis as the incumbent, because it is the latter in whom the necessary rolling stock
(locomotives and carriages) is vested. Second, some Member States continue to adhere to
the traditional model of vertically integrated incumbents. The railway infrastructure
package adopted in 2001 does require that the essential functions for access to the
infrastructure are independently organised from any railway undertaking. The
Commission is receiving representations from third parties about unfair treatment in the
allocation of train paths and one of the cases the Commission is currently pursuing
concerns a formal complaint from a potential new entrant to the effect that the incumbent
has, inter alia, refused him access to the network. The objective should be to create the
proper framework for supply side competition and fair and non-discriminatory access to
the network. The infrastructure package already adopted and the new railway package try
to achieve this framework.
101. In order to create a level playing field, an option would be to unbundle rolling stock used
for socially necessary services and to put it into separate companies, so that it could then
be leased by the successful bidder for the duration of his contract. So far, only one
Member State has taken such action in recognition that this category of rolling stock
represents the single most significant barrier to a properly functioning market in the
provision of services of general economic interest. On the basis of experience, one can
therefore say that such unbundling would:
- remove a considerable market entry barrier for would-be new entrants;
- encourage competition, both among train operators and in the rolling stock rental
- minimise disruption of services in the event of operator failure;
- introduce greater transparency in operating costs.
102. There may be other options to take care that rolling stock is available to the different
market players at reasonable terms : rolling stock such as end of contract conditions or
public authorities acquiring rolling stock.
103. Inland public passenger transport. The majority of public transport provided in the EU
today is not commercially viable67 because public authorities deem public transport to be
a service of general economic interest and wish to intervene to provide a higher level of
service and/or lower fares than the market would provide. Intervention has typically been
To use a local example, the operating costs of STIB, the local public transport provider in the Brussels region,
are funded 37% by commercial activities (mostly fares) and 63% by public subsidy.
through the establishment of a public operator, owned and/or controlled by the authority,
and granted exclusive monopoly rights and financial compensation68. Exclusive rights are
an important characteristic of many public transport systems. As there is no current
legislation requiring liberalisation, there have not traditionally been any obstacles to
authorities granting exclusive rights (although we do receive a number of letters
complaining about the adverse effects of monopoly markets in terms of price, service
patterns etc). Because of the particular nature of public transport (a network industry ;
often a social service ; loss-making overall but with some profitable routes and services),
liberalisation has most often taken the form of „controlled competition‟ (competitive
tendering for an exclusive right and subsidy). This is the model the Commission is
proposing, without preventing Member States and authorities from introducing „open
access‟ (direct competition between operators) if they wish.69 In general, „controlled
competition‟ has led to increase passenger numbers and lower operating costs/lower
subsidy. Historic monopolies sit uneasily with today‟s emerging single market for the
provision of public transport services70.
104. A number of complaints have been received relating to the abuse of monopoly power
from both excluded operators and disgruntled passengers : cases have come from all over
the EU (most recently from France, Ireland, Sweden, UK and Austria). Issues concerning
freedom of establishment/freedom to provide services and State aid have only really
arisen recently with the emergence of an international industry for the provision of
services. In the current „Altmark‟ case (C-280/00), the ECJ has been specifically asked to
judge whether subsidy paid for purely regional services could have an effect on trade
between Member States. The Advocate-General stated that there was a potential effect
and that therefore such subsidies constitute State aid (the case is ongoing). On a small
number of occasions, problems have been encountered with the application of the public
105. For the inland public transport sector, the Commission wants to ensure that liberalisation
is not introduced at the expense of consumers, workers or the environment – otherwise it
risks failing to meet its main objective of boosting passenger numbers and reversing the
growth in car use. The Commission‟s proposed PSR Regulation72 makes it clear that
authorities can (and, indeed, should) use selection and award criteria other than cost (e.g.
environmental or consumer factors) when awarding public service contracts.
One of the benefits of the public monopolies in public transport is the potential for a high degree of integration
(of services, ticketing, information provision etc) – though this potential is not always (perhaps even often)
realised. It is possible that without due care such integration may not be fully retained in a system where there
may be more than one operator and where the relationship between authority and operator(s) is more
contractual and commercial than at present. A loss of integration would disbenefit passengers. It seams that
integration of services– with or without competition –, especially across national borders, is not currently
meeting the needs of passengers. A small study is currently undertaking on this issue and in 2003 appropriate
options will be considered in the light of the findings.
There are now about a dozen European operators providing services in more than one Member State ;
however, we estimate that about ¾ of the market remains closed to any form of competition.
References to the 2 Helsinki cases concerning the use of environmental award criteria and the protection of
Amended proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on action by Member
States concerning public service requirements and the award of public services contracts in passenger transport
by rail, road and inland waterways (COM, 2002, 107 final 21.02.02) It also clarifies that authorities can apply
the employee protection rules of Directive 01/23 on safeguarding employees‟ rights in the event of transferts of
undertaking, even when they are not required to.
2.5 Public Broadcasting and Audiovisual Services
106. Community broadcasting policy recognises the important role of public broadcasting in
the Member States. Public broadcasting contributes to cultural and linguistic diversity,
educational programming, to objectively informing public opinion, to guaranteeing
pluralism and to the supply of quality programming. The future of the dual system of
broadcasting in Europe, comprising public and private broadcasters, depends on the role
of public service broadcasters being reconciled with the principles of fair competition
and the operation of a free market, in accordance with the Treaty, as interpreted by
Protocol n° 32 on the system of public broadcasting in the Member States.
107. In its communication on "Principles and guidelines for the Community's Audiovisual
Policy in the digital age"73 the Commission sets out the following regulatory principles
concerning public broadcasting:
– Member States are free to confer, define and organise the public service remit and to
decide how their public service broadcasters are to be financed (whether by licence
fee, State funding, dual funding, etc.);
– the public service remit, as defined by the Member States, shall be consistent with the
Community interest with regard to services of general economic interest (as assessed
by the Commission);
– the funding scheme, as decided by the Member States, shall respect the principle of
proportionality and not affect trading conditions and competition in the Community to
an extent contrary to the common interest, in accordance with Article 86 (2) of the
Treaty, as interpreted by the Protocol (while the realisation of the remit of that public
service shall be taken into account) and the case law of the Court of Justice;
– while the definition of the public service remit and the related funding scheme is the
responsibility of Member States, the Commission has the duty to ensure that these are
compatible with the Treaty, as interpreted by the case law of the Court, in respect of
both state aid rules and the freedom to provide services.
108. In accordance with these principles only a few provisions of secondary legislation
concern specifically these services. For instance, according to Article 31 of the Universal
Service Directive74, Member States may impose “must carry” obligations for the
transmission of specified radio and television broadcast channels and services on certain
undertakings providing electronic communications networks. Furthermore, Article 3a of
the “Television without Frontiers Directive”75 allows Member States to draw up a list of
certain events which it considers to be of major importance for society. Member States
may then take measures to ensure that broadcasters do not broadcast these events on an
COM(1999) 657, 14.12.1999.
Directive 2002/22/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 March 2002 on universal service
and users' rights relating to electronic communications networks and services, OJ L 108 of 24.4.2002.
Council Directive of 3 October 1989 on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or
administrative action in Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities
109. The Commission has explained its approach on the application of the state aid rules to
public services broadcasting in a Communication of 17 October 2001.76 In this
communication the Commission developed the following approach: The Commission
recognises the particular role of public service broadcasting as acknowledged by the
Protocol to the Amsterdam Treaty in the promotion of democratic, social and cultural
needs of each society. Public broadcasting can be defined as a service of general interest,
but its funding by state resources in general remains State aid. This means that while
Member States are competent for the definition and choice of funding of the public
service, the Commission retains a duty to check for abusive practices and absence of
overcompensation. Member States are free to define as public service remit a broad
programme spectrum. In other words, the public remit can be defined as providing the
public with a balanced and varied programming that also includes, for instance,
entertainment and sport. This means that no objections will be raised as to the nature of
the programmes included in the public remit. The definition of the public service remit,
however, could not extend to activities that could not be reasonably considered to meet in
the wording of the Protocol the "democratic, social and cultural needs of each society".
The Commission requires that the following three conditions are met: The establishment
of a clear and precise definition of public service in broadcasting (whatever its content);
The formal entrustment of the public service mission to one or more undertakings by
means of an official act. It is also necessary that the public service be actually supplied as
foreseen in the formal provision between the State and the entrusted undertaking. To this
purpose, it is desirable that a body or authority of the Member State independent from the
entrusted undertaking(s) monitor its fulfilment; The limitation of public funding to what
is necessary for the fulfilment of the public service mission (proportionality). This
approach is fully consistent with the provisions of the Amsterdam Protocol , which refers
to the "public service remit as conferred, defined and organised by each Member State"
(definition and entrustment) and provides a derogation to Treaty rules for funding of
public service broadcasting "in so far as such funding is granted to broadcasting
organisations for the fulfilment of the public service remit…and …does not affect trading
conditions and competition in the Community to an extent which would be contrary to the
common interest, while the realisation of the remit of that public service shall be taken
into account". In carrying out the proportionality test, the Commission will consider
whether any distortion of competition arising from the aid can or cannot be justified with
the need to perform the public service as defined by the Member State and to provide for
its funding. When necessary the Commission will also take action in the light of other
110. In so far as public broadcasters are beneficiaries of State aid and are also active in non-
public service activities they are also subject to the transparency requirements set out in
Commission Directive 723/80 (Transparency Directive).77
2.6 Water Services
111. Principles for an integrated water policy at Community level have been set out in
Directive 2000/60/EC establishing a framework for Community action in the field of
OJ C 320, 15.11.2001, p. 5.
water policy78 The Directive highlights that water is not a commercial product like any
other but, rather, a heritage which must be protected, defended and treated as such.79 It
confirms that the supply of water is a service of general interest. 80 The Framework
Directive establishes principles concerning the protection and sustainable use of water
resources and on securing the quality of water in the Community. However, it does not
create a regulatory framework for the organisation and management of water services.
Water production and water services therefore continue to be regulated by the Member
States according to different models and reflecting different traditions.
112. Although water is usually produced and supplied locally, the internal market rules and
the competition rules of the Treaty can apply to such services under the conditions set out
2.7 Waste management and environmental services
113. The economic and ecological importance of waste management and environmental
services has dramatically increased in recent years. Nevertheless, at Community level
there is currently only environmental legislation relating to these services.82 A specific
regulatory framework for such services does not exist at Community level.
114. Waste management and environmental services are frequently provided in monopolistic
or oligopolistic structures and sometimes under special or exclusive rights. The
Commission has applied the Treaty competition rules in order to ensure competitive
market structures and to prevent abuses of dominant popsitions with regard to the
provisions of such services.83
2.8 Social services
115. This section describes briefly different types of social services and different delivery
mechanisms used by the Member States (social services are in this context taken to
include healthcare and housing provision - a wider definition than normally used - on the
basis that the issues raised and possible approaches discussed may be relevant to these
fields as well). It seeks to identify the social policy objectives in each of these areas as
well as the interests related to the Internal Market and Competition Policy. Where there
are possible areas of conflict between the two sets of policy objectives, these are
identified. In conclusion of this section, a possible approach for future work in this area is
Statutory social protection schemes: income protection
116. All Member States have systems to provide incomes to people who are unable to earn a
living or do not have sufficient other resources. The social risks covered typically include
unemployment, sickness and invalidity, family responsibilities, old age and death of a
OJ L 327, 22.12.2000, p. 1.
cf. above nos.
provider of household income (survivors' benefits). This type of social protection can be
organised as social insurance schemes with compulsory membership for all (or most)
people in employment or as welfare programmes directly administered by the state. They
are the main source of income for millions of Europeans (e.g. the vast majority of people
over 60). A lower level of compulsory social protection would leave greater scope for
private insurance. However, access to such private provision would be unequal and the
social outcome would be very different. In particular, it would result in more people
having to rely on means-tested social assistance. Means-tested benefits create poverty
traps (people may face a one-for-one withdrawal of benefits if they make their own
provision have little incentives to save for their old age) and can be detrimental to social
cohesion by creating a two-tiered social protection system.
117. Member States wish to remain free to define the level of compulsory social protection
and to maintain compulsory membership. They should be allowed to manage social
protection schemes themselves or to create financing mechanisms and designate
institutions for that purpose. The ECJ's interpretation of the Treaty seems to be fully
compatible with this core objective84 and the main mechanisms used.
118. The main Community interest is to ensure that national social protection systems cannot
discriminate on grounds of nationality as far as membership conditions and benefit
entitlements are concerned. In addition, the national systems should be co-ordinated to
prevent that persons moving within the Union would lose social security rights (art. 42,
Regulation 1408/71 which foresee the principle of aggregation of qualifying periods and
maintenance of benefits by exportation.). Institutions managing social protection schemes
may wish to offer services on a voluntary basis. This may result in distortions to
competition if cross-subsidisation in favour of the commercial activity takes place or if
such institutions can use their privileged access information on potential customers
among the population that is covered on a compulsory basis. This may need to be
prevented. By contrast, the possibility to make voluntary additional contributions that
exists in some schemes should be maintained. Although this may be in more or less
direct competition with private insurance, it is an important mechanism for people on
lower incomes or with broken careers (mostly women) to obtain an adequate and safe
pension from a single source.
Supplementary social protection schemes: income protection
119. Many workers will only be able to maintain a living standard more or less in line with
previous earnings if they have access to supplementary social protection schemes, mostly
occupational pension schemes. Particularly those countries with universal pension
schemes offering mainly flat-rate benefits (e.g. Ireland, Netherlands, Denmark, the UK)
tend to promote the development of occupational pension schemes. In some countries
this is achieved through the collective bargaining system by enabling the two sides of
industry to define a level of supplementary social protection and by designating or
creating an institution to manage a scheme that frequently covers an entire sector of the
economy. Membership in such a scheme can be made compulsory by the legislator.
Other countries favour the development of supplementary social protection through their
tax system by making contributions by workers and employers to such schemes
deductible from taxable earnings and by exempting investment income of the pension
See notably Cases C-159 and 160/91, Poucet and Pistre.
scheme. Obviously, such preferential tax treatment is subject to certain conditions that
need to be met by the scheme.
120. Promoting supplementary social protection through the collective bargaining process
appears to be becoming more prevalent (notably in Belgium, Germany; it is already
highly developed in the Netherlands, France, Denmark). This possibility should be
maintained, for example in view of benefit reductions in statutory pension schemes
which require a greater development of second pillar schemes. The ECJ accepts that
collective agreements establishing supplementary social protection schemes are
compatible with the Treaty and that articles 82 and 86 of the Treaty do not preclude
public authorities from conferring on a pension fund the exclusive right to manage a
supplementary pension scheme in a given sector. However, it has to be demonstrated that
this is necessary to provide a service of general economic interest such as a pension
scheme with a high level of solidarity. Regarding fiscal incentives, Member States will
want to maintain the possibility to ensure that certain features are present in pension
schemes benefiting from favourable tax treatment. This could pose problems with regard
to the provision of services across borders and to the possibility of migrant workers to
remain in their home country pension scheme.
121. Again, a major issue is to ensure that the Treaty freedoms are not hampered by social
protection schemes. Work aimed at improving the portability of pension rights acquired
in supplementary pension schemes is currently in progress85. Regarding fiscal incentives
in the form of tax exemption for investment income of pension schemes, problems could
arise where different institutions offering broadly similar pension products are treated
differently. In such cases Member States should be capable of demonstrating a clear
public policy justification for their approach. With regard to the tax treatment of
contributions paid into a pension scheme established in another Member State, the
Commission distinguishes two situations: “sedentary” workers (that is workers remaining
in one Member State) and migrant workers. Where citizens resident in a Member State
join a foreign scheme the Member State may, in the current state of Community law,
require that the scheme meets conditions for tax approval relating to the nature and level
of benefits, age of retirement, qualifying beneficiaries and similar proportionate
conditions. In the case of citizens who already belong to a scheme approved for tax
purposes in their home State and then move, often temporarily, to another Member State,
the host State cannot refuse to grant tax deduction of contributions paid to the foreign
scheme on the ground that the scheme does not meet its conditions for tax approval.86.
122. Another aim is to allow multinational companies to have all their national pension
schemes in the EU managed by a single institution. This is one of the aims of the
directive on institutions for occupational retirement provision on which the Council has
reached an agreement in June 2002. This, too, requires the elimination of tax obstacles
along the lines described above.
Health and long-term care services
"Improving the portability of supplementary pension rights", first stage consultation of the European social
partners (SEC/2002/597 published on 27/05/2002).
See the Commission‟s Communication on the elimination of tax obstacles to the cross-border provision of
occupational pensions of 19 April 2001, COM(2001) 214 final. ECJ C-136/00 Danner, Judgement of 3 October
2002, not yet reported.
123. Mechanisms for ensuring that everyone has access to medical and social care regardless
of income are a core feature of Member States' social policies. Two principal types of
health system structure exist in Europe: insurance-based systems (costs reimbursed
separately from care provision) and direct provision of care with financing direct to
providers. Long-term care is frequently treated as a separate area, and is still to a large
extent provided informally (by relatives). However, in coming years, with increasing
numbers of older people and fewer younger people to look after them, it will become
more and more important to develop access to professional care services.
124. Where healthcare is financed through insurance, statutory health insurance may be
provided by a single institution or a number of different institutions. In some countries
(e.g. Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic) citizens are free to choose between
institutions, though effective competition between institutions remains limited.
Furthermore, in some countries, statutory schemes provide limited cover (in terms of
certain groups of people or benefits) and many people purchase additional private health
insurance (notably in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Ireland).
125. Provision of care services and products may involve an array of different institutions,
with, potentially, public, non-profit and private commercial organisations all playing a
role. The nature of providers tends to be more mixed in systems financed through
insurance rather than the predominantly public providers of direct provision systems.
Member States may also wish to confer responsibility for the provision of some services,
e.g. certain health and long-term care services, on particular providers, most notably the
non-profit sector. This appears to be compatible with the ECJ's interpretation of the
126. Member States need to preserve the possibility to establish mandatory systems that
ensure universal access to health and long-term care (insurance-based or through direct
provision of services). This may require limiting competition amongst health insurers, to
avoid risk selection prejudicing access of citizens to health insurance or the effectiveness
or viability of the system as a whole. This policy objective is recognised under the
current interpretation of EU law.88 Regarding private insurance, Member States that rely
on the contribution of private health insurers to achieve a sufficient coverage level
against health risks need to be able to regulate these markets so that public health and
social objectives can be achieved. The 3rd non-life insurance directive (92/49/EEC of 18
June 1992) explicitly envisages this possibility in article 54. Member States also regulate
the provision of healthcare, for public health objectives (e.g: planning of service
distribution and specialisation) and in order to assure the quality of services, and to attain
priorities and outputs while controlling spending as a whole. By their nature, such
measures affect the „market‟ in health services. Whilst recognising that such measures
may constitute barriers to the free movement of goods and services, the Court has stated
that certain restrictions could be justified by the risk of seriously undermining the
financial balance of the social security system, or the need to ensure a high level of health
protection and public health.89 More specifically, the Court has also recognised that these
overriding reasons could justify restrictions in order to maintain a balanced medical and
hospital service open to all, and to maintain essential treatment capacity or medical
competence on national territory. However, jurisprudence and practice in this area is still
Poucet and Pistre, see above
See C-158/96 Kohll, C-157/99 Smits/Peerbooms
evolving, and its implications are being considered in several forums (in particular the
high level process of reflection on patient mobility and healthcare developments in the
127. In those countries which establish competing statutory health insurance institutions, there
is a tendency for such institutions to offer additional services to their members in order
become more attractive. Such services may be in direct competition with those offered by
private insurers. It may therefore be necessary to ensure that statutory health insurers do
not gain an unfair competitive advantage from their special status (e.g. more favourable
tax treatment, privileged access to customer information, shared use of resources).
128. The ECJ has accepted that freedom to provide services should also apply to health care
services. Applying the principles of free provision of services to the health care sector
has the potential to create benefits for patients, for providers and for health system
managers. Cross-border provision could enhance accessibility and the quality of
provisions for citizens while opening up cost-effective co-operation among service
providers. On the other hand, it may have the effect of complicating the challenge of
ensuring effective care provision by distorting patterns of demand and funding flows.
Internal market rules must, therefore, be applied with particular care in this area, with
proper regard to ensuring that they contribute to a high level of health protection and in
close collaboration with the Member States (who have responsiblity for the organisation
and delivery of health services and medical care).
Employment: access to placement services
129. All Member States have public bodies that offer placement services free of charge to job
seekers and employers. Access to such services is defined as a right in a number of
international documents including ILO Convention n° 88, the European Social Charter,
the Community Charter of Fundamental Social Rights of Workers and the Charter of
Fundamental Rights of the EU.
130. Private placement services were traditionally regarded with suspicion because of a risk
that desperate job seekers could be forced to pay excessively high fees for such services.
Also increased market selectivity at the expense of disadvantaged groups in the labour
supply was feared. Recently, attitudes have changed resulting in a more liberal public
regulation with regard to private placement services and temporary employment
agencies. At the same time it is widely accepted – and usually guaranteed by national
legislation – that job placement services should be free of charge for job seekers. The
revenue to finance these services has to come from employers or, in the case of public
placement services, from public budgets.
131. Monopolies for public placement services are incompatible with European law to the
extent that not all market demand for placement services can be met by the public
service.90 In any case, job placement services are regarded as economic activities and the
public institutions offering such services are undertakings.
132. Member States may wish to maintain a strong public placement service as a tool for
achieving the ambitious employment targets defined by the European Council. Insofar as
public placement activities focus on people with poor employment chances direct
C-41/90 Höfner and C-55/96 Job Centre
competition with private services will be limited (although there are experiments in
which private placement services are being financed to help people with certain labour
market handicaps). It might, however, be detrimental for the image of public placement
services and for social cohesion if they only worked for people with special handicaps on
the labour market. Therefore, Member States may wish to maintain a large market share
for their public placement services. Clearly, a publicly financed employment service that
remains free of charge to both job seekers and employers would reduce the potential
market for private placement services. However, this is the same situation as in the case
of a public health service or any other public service that is free of charge or offered at
prices that do not fully cover costs. Preventing Member States from offering such
services would be politically unthinkable.
133. To the extent that Member States decide to use the services of private placement
agencies, it will be necessary to ensure that contracts are awarded in accordance with
public procurement rules. To the extent that Member States allow providers of public
services also to engage in paid services to employers comparable to those offered by
private placement agencies, guarantees should be established against taking undue
advantage of available public facilities. Moreover, placement services should take
account of the full range of opportunities on the European labour market (notably
Support for families: child care
134. Child care services are increasingly important as the labour force participation of women
rises. In some Member States, they are typically neighbourhood services under the
control of local authorities and may be integrated in the education system. In some
Member States, different types of operators - public, non-profit and private commercial -
may be found.
135. For Member States it is essential to be able to ensure that high quality child care services
are widely available to allow parents to remain in employment and to offer good
conditions for the development of a child. The European Council of Barcelona has
established specific targets for increasing the provision of child care places throughout
136. Child care services are normally provided on a very local scale. Direct public provision
should not cause problems. Nevertheless, it is possible to envisage that public funding of
certain operators could give rise to State Aids issues. In such cases, public authorities
should be capable of demonstrating that their systems meet the conditions set out in
Article 86§2 of the Treaty (in particular a clearly defined public interest that is being
supported and aid that is proportional to that interest).
Services to promote social integration and to support people in difficulties (e.g.
homelessness, drug dependence, disability, mental or physical illness)
137. Whereas most social services are delivered as of right, there are numerous initiatives that
provide support for people whose needs are not adequately met by legal entitlements.
Numerous volunteer organisations and self-help groups try to meet such demands, often
with financial support from public administrations.
138. Grass-roots initiatives are important for innovation in social policy and for drawing
attention to new social needs. Civil society associations often become important partners
of public authorities in the implementation of social and health policies. This was the
case in the past with organisations such as the Red Cross and Caritas, but also, in the area
of social insurance, mutual benefit societies which turned into statutory social insurance
bodies. It is essential to preserve the Member States' ability to foster the emergence of
new players in the field of social policy and to use them as partners in the achievement of
139. Subsidies to organisations which are largely based on volunteer work may not pose
problems with regard to the Internal Market. Legal uncertainty could potentially arise at a
later stage of development of such organisations when they establish themselves as
partners of public authorities and are professionalised in this process. The potential
difficulties should not be overstated, given that problems have not emerged over the
years from the extensive use of partnerships with large-scale civil society organisations
by certain Member States. However, given the important role of such operators and the
destabilisation that could flow if such problems did emerge, it would be in everyone's
interest to seek to clarify how such operations can be made legally secure.
Housing: provision of low-cost housing
140. Access to housing is an important social right. It can be achieved through means-tested
housing benefits or through the provision of low-cost housing. Such socially provided
housing can be in public ownership, or provided by housing associations benefiting from
public subsidies or by private developers in exchange for building permits or tax
141. For the Member States, housing policy is an important tool for ensuring social cohesion
and a balanced regional development. It also serves employment objectives by enabling
workers to move to areas with good employment opportunities, but unaffordable
142. Direct public provision should not cause problems. Nevertheless, it is possible to
envisage that public funding of certain operators could give rise to State Aids issues. In
such cases, public authorities should be capable of demonstrating that their systems meet
the conditions set out in Article 86 (2) of the Treaty (in particular a clearly defined public
interest that is being supported and aid that is proportional to that interest).
Education and training
143. Basic education is compulsory and available free of charge. Member States also offer a
wide range of free education and training opportunities up to post-graduate level.
Providers of education and training can be the public sector or private institutions which
may be fully financed by public budgets. However, there is also a wide range of
education institutions at all levels (pre-school to post-graduate) offering education that is
fully paid for by users. Training is, to a large extent, provided by employers, often with
direct or indirect support from public budgets.
144. A high level of education and training is a precondition for competitiveness and high
living standards. Member States must have the possibility to ensure the widest possible
access to education and training, through compulsory basic education, free provision of
further education and training and through financial support for education and training
145. The provision of education and training above and beyond statutory requirements could
well be regarded as economic activities, but so far Internal Market issues do not seem to
have arisen. This cannot be excluded in the future, though, as institutions, notably for
higher education, compete for pupils and students. A framework for financial support for
enterprise-based training has already been adopted.91
Possible Approaches to enhancing legal certainty
146. The analysis suggests that years of co-existence and successive judgements of the ECJ
show that there is no fundamental contradiction between market rules and the core
objectives and mechanisms of Member States' social policies. Nevertheless, the fears
sometimes expressed by social policy actors should not be dismissed. The above analysis
shows that problems may potentially arise, particularly where public authorities choose
not to provide services directly but to do so through different types of intermediary
providers. Furthermore, while core social objectives are well-established and relatively
unchanging, delivery mechanisms are constantly undergoing change. Thus it would be
useful for all policy makers and actors to seek to clarify the interaction between the two
sets of policy objectives in a way which would help to facilitate and guide their future
147. The Report to the Laeken European Council suggested a two stage approach in order to
improve legal certainty involving, as a first step, defining a new Community framework
for state aids for services of general economic interest; and, at a later stage, block
exemption for defined areas/practices. While such an approach has often been promoted
in the past by groups in particular social policy sectors, it is unlikely that it could be
applied across the diversity of structures and situations identified above. In addition,
there would be the risk that such an exemption could act as a constraint on the way
practices evolve for the future.
148. A possible complementary or alternative route would appear to lie in the development of
guidelines and notices whereby the Commission sets out the approach it will take in
various areas when deciding on the compatibility with Single Market and competition
rules. These can achieve a high degree of reliability while maintaining sufficient
flexibility to evolve with the economy and society. When deciding whether to develop
guidelines for social services, a decision would have to be made whether to develop such
guidelines directly with a view to the application of Article 86 (2) or whether an attempt
should also be made to define how to evaluate whether a service is of an economic or
2.9 Local services
Commission Regulation (EC) No 68/2001 of 12 January 2001 on the application of Articles 87 and 88 of the
EC Treaty to training aid
149. Dans le débat sur les services d‟intérêt général (SIG), l‟attention a été portée en priorité
sur les services d‟intérêt économique général (SIEG), et notamment ceux ayant fait
l‟objet d‟un processus de libéralisation (par exemple, télécommunications, poste,
énergie). Les services locaux n‟ont pas suscité une telle attention, bien qu‟ils jouent un
rôle essentiel en termes de cohésion économique, sociale et territoriale , rôle qui doit être
préservé. Il n‟est pas aisé de définir précisément ce que l‟on entend par „services locaux‟.
Les services locaux couvrent un champ très vaste : certains d‟entre eux, par exemple les
transports publics locaux ou la distribution d‟eau sont parfois ouverts à la concurrence
alors que d‟autres activités ont un caractère non-économique92.. Lorsqu‟ils sont de nature
économique, ils sont susceptibles d‟être soumis aux dispositions des règles de
concurrence, notamment les règles en matière d‟aides d‟Etat. Il en va de même pour les
règles du marché intérieur. Au plan général, les services d‟intérêt général sont définis à
travers un certain nombre de critères objectifs : nature de la prestation, bénéficiaire, mode
de financement, caractère économique ou non, apport pour la collectivité etc. Au niveau
local, la distinction entre services d‟intérêt général et services d‟intérêt économique
général est plus difficile à établir dans la mesure où le rôle économique des services
locaux est de plus en plus reconnu. Comme pour tous les services d‟intérêt général, se
pose la question du respect des règles du Traité sur la concurrence et le marché intérieur.
Trois aspects méritent d'être examiné de plu près : l‟affectation des échanges entre Etats
membres ; l‟application des règles de minimis ; la subsidiarité.
Le critère d‟affectation des échanges 93
150. Les services locaux qui n‟affectent pas les échanges entre Etats membres ne sont pas
soumis aux règles de la concurrence. Pour relever éventuellement de l‟article 87, il suffit
que les aides menacent de fausser la concurrence et d‟affecter les échanges entre Etats
membres. Le TPI a rappelé dans son arrêt Confederación Española de Transporte de
Mercancias du 29 septembre 200094 que « lorsqu‟une aide financière renforce la position
d‟une entreprise par rapport à d‟autres entreprises concurrentes dans les échanges
intracommunautaires, ces derniers doivent être considérés comme influencés par
l‟aide ». Ceci est particulièrement le cas lorsque l‟entreprise bénéficiaire de l‟aide
participe activement aux échanges entre Etats Membres, ou quand elle participe à des
marchés octroyés par appel d‟offres dans plusieurs Etats membres.
151. Dans le cas présent, il convient, cependant, de noter que les règles relatives à la
concurrence ne s'appliquent aux entreprises chargées de la gestion de services d'intérêt
économique général (…) que "dans les limites où l'application de ces règles ne fait pas
échec à l'accomplissement en droit ou en fait de la mission particulière qui leur a été
Les aides d‟un faible montant sont-elles susceptibles d‟affecter les échanges ?
152. Il résulte de la jurisprudence actuelle que l‟importance relativement faible d‟une aide ou
la taille relativement modeste de l‟entreprise bénéficiaire n‟exclut pas a priori,
l‟éventualité que les échanges soient affectés. Pour déterminer si ce critère est
Ces dernières activités sont examinées dans le cadre du groupe 5 sur les services sociaux.
Dans son rapport au Conseil européen de Séville relatif à l‟état des travaux concernant les lignes directrices
relatives aux aides d‟Etat liées aux SIEG, la Commission a notamment indiqué qu‟elle envisageait d‟adopter un
texte en la matière, et que celui-ci devrait notamment « faire le point de la jurisprudence pertinente, en particulier
en ce qui concerne les notions d‟activité économique et d‟affectation des échanges. Ce dernier texte sera donc de
nature plus technique que le Livre vert, et abordera ces questions de façon plus détaillée.
effectivement rempli, il convient d‟examiner cas par cas, et en particulier la structure du
marché en cause, notamment l‟existence ou non d‟une vive concurrence, et le nombre
d‟entreprises présentes. Ceci ne signifie toutefois pas que la Commission ait vocation à
examiner tout soutien financier octroyé par les Etats membres. C‟est la raison pour
laquelle le 12 janvier 2001, la Commission a adopté le règlement (CE) 69/2001
concernant l‟application des articles 87 et 88 du traité CE aux aides de minimis95. Celui-
ci dispose que les aides dont le montant n‟excède pas 100 000 euros par entreprise sur
une période de trois ans, ne relèvent pas de l‟article 87 paragraphe 1 du traité. Ce
règlement est applicable à tous les secteurs, à l‟exception du secteur des transports, et des
activités liées à la production et à la transformation ou à la commercialisation des
produits énumérés à l‟annexe I du Traité. Sont également exclues les aides en faveur
d‟activités liées à l‟exportation, ainsi que les aides subordonnées à l‟utilisation de
produits nationaux de préférence aux produits importés. Par ailleurs, s‟il n‟est pas
possible d‟identifier a priori tous les cas d‟aide qui n‟affectent pas les échanges ni la
concurrence, la Commission s‟attache, dans sa pratique décisionnelle, à distinguer les cas
d‟importance communautaire, des cas de nature purement locale (cf Encadré n°.1). Les
décisions récentes illustrent le souci de la Commission de concentrer ses efforts sur les
affaires qui sont susceptibles d‟avoir un impact réellement significatif sur les échanges
entre Etats membres, tout en maintenant un équilibre entre les exigences de la
concurrence et les besoins de l'intérêt général (article 86,2 TCE).
Encadré n°1 : Cas d’aides octroyées à des entreprises pour des services publics locaux
En 1998, la Commission a ainsi considéré que des aides octroyées à des entreprises pour l‟achat de véhicules
commerciaux utilisés pour des services publics locaux non ouverts à la concurrence, échappent aux dispositions
de l‟article 87 du traité.96
En 2000, la Commission a décidé que la subvention annuelle attribuée à l‟exploitant privé de la piscine de
Dorsten97 ne constitue pas une aide au sens de l‟article 87 du traité, car cet équipement sportif sera
essentiellement utilisé par les habitants de la ville et des communes voisines. En conséquence, le critère de
l‟affectation des échanges n‟est pas établi.
De même, le 27 février 2002, la Commission a adopté une décision relative aux soutiens publics octroyés à
certains hôpitaux irlandais98. La mesure en cause prévoit un avantage fiscal en faveur des personnes qui
investissent pour la construction, l‟extension ou l‟amélioration d‟hôpitaux. Les hôpitaux bénéficiaires de la
mesure doivent réserver une partie de leur capacité pour le service public des soins. La Commission a considéré
que la mesure procure un avantage aux hôpitaux qui peuvent ainsi développer leurs activités. Toutefois, la
Commission a estimé que la mesure en cause bénéficiera essentiellement aux hôpitaux locaux pour lesquels il
existe une sous-capacité, et n‟entraînera pas la création de complexes hospitaliers susceptibles d‟attirer des
clients en provenance d‟autres Etats membres. En conséquence, la mesure n‟est pas susceptible d‟affecter les
échanges entre Etats membres.
Le 6 juin 2002, la Commission a adopté une décision relative aux soutiens publics octroyés pour la rénovation
de Brighton West Pier99. Les Autorités publiques britanniques prévoient d‟octroyer une aide au propriétaire du
West Pier pour sa restauration. Celle-ci sera également en partie financée par une entreprise privée qui sera
ensuite chargée de son exploitation commerciale, et pourra dans ce cadre, utiliser des terrains publics mis à sa
disposition pour un montant symbolique. La Commission a considéré que ces mesures financées avec des
ressources publiques vont procurer un avantage au propriétaire du West Pier, ainsi qu‟à l‟entreprise qui assurera
son exploitation commerciale. Toutefois, la Commission a estimé que la mesure en cause n‟est pas susceptible
d‟affecter les échanges entre Etats membres. Il n‟existe pas d‟installation similaire dans les autres Etats
membres, et le West Pier est surtout susceptible d‟attirer des touristes britanniques. La renommée internationale
JO L 10 du 13.01.2001
Case C(1998) 2048 Plan Renove Industrial, Décison de la Commission du 01/07/1998, JO L 329/23
Cas N-258/2000, Swimming pool Dorsten, Commission Communiqué de presse IP /00/1509 du 21/12/2000
Cas N 543/2001 Capital allowances for hospitals
Cas N 560/01 et NN 17/02. JO du 05.07.2002
de celui-ci est insuffisante pour attirer des touristes d‟autres Etats membres. La décision de la Commission a
toutefois fait l‟objet d‟un recours en annulation devant le TPI.
Les règles „marché intérieur‟
153. De façon générale, les règles « marché intérieur » s‟appliquent d‟abord aux règles et
comportements émanant des Etats membres, y compris des régions et des collectivités
locales. Ainsi, les principes de libre circulation tels qu‟ils sont définis dans le Traité ont
pour objet de réduire les obstacles causés par les mesures réglementaires adoptées et
appliquées par les autorités publiques nationales. De la même façon, les mesures
(directives et règlements) de droit dérivé « marché intérieur » visent à harmoniser les
législations nationales. Dans certains cas, la transposition nationale pourra se faire à
travers des mesures locales mais toujours par des autorités régulatrices. Dans cette
perspective, les services locaux peuvent également être touchés par les règles « marché
intérieur » mais au même titre que n‟importe quel citoyen ou entreprise qui se voit
appliquer des règles obligatoires à portée générale (visant à la protection de la santé, de la
sécurité, de la protection de l‟environnement ou des consommateurs…). Les règles
« marché intérieur » s‟appliquent aux activités économiques mais d‟autres circonstances
peuvent être évoquées.100.
154. Dans le domaine des marchés publics de services soumis aux directives communautaires
pertinentes (92/50/CEE et 93/38/CEE), ces dernières imposent des règles de procédures
importantes et le respect de certains principes (notamment non discrimination, égalité de
traitement, ...). Ces marchés de services sont très souvent qualifiés de services d'intérêt
économique général à caractère local (ramassage des ordures, traitement des déchets,
distribution de l'eau, etc..:). Les directives "marchés publics" basées sur les règles
"marché intérieur" ainsi que ces dernières trouvent donc une application constante dans
la gestion des services publics locaux. Dans d‟autres cas, le contrat à travers lequel les
pouvoirs publics confient à un tiers la gestion d‟un service d‟intérêt général, a le même
caractère que celui des « marchés publics » à l‟exception du fait que le prestataire du
service en question va se rémunérer principalement par l‟exploitation des services fournis
à l‟usager et il supporte, en outre le risque lié à l‟exploitation de cette activité. Dans cette
hypothèse, ledit prestataire exerce une activité économique au sens du Traité et la
relation qui le lie avec le pouvoir public qui l‟a désigné peut être qualifiée de «
concession » au sens du droit communautaire101. Dans ces conditions, les règles et
principes devant être respectés par les pouvoirs publics pour le choix du prestataire de
service (et de son offre) découlent directement du Traité et s‟appliquent à tous les
contrats ainsi qu'à à tout acte étatique unilatéral ou imputable à l‟Etat, conclu par les
pouvoirs publics et ayant pour objet la délégation d‟une prestation d‟activités
économiques au sens du Traité. Il faudrait souligner que la qualification de services
d‟intérêt général, ou autre, qui peut être attribuée à ces activités en droit national, ne
préjuge en rien l‟obligation de respect de ses règles et principes. L'application des règles
« marchés publics » telles que celles rappelées ci-dessus n‟est pas liée comme dans le
Ainsi même lorsqu‟ils n‟exercent pas d‟activité économique, certaines règles du traité peuvent s‟appliquer à
des services locaux comme par exemple le principe d‟égalité de traitement (prestation sociale à des ressortissants
d‟autres Etats membres) ou le principe de libre circulation des personnes (accès non discriminatoire à l‟emploi
dans les SIG)
Voir la communication interprétative de la Commission sur les concessions ( Communication du 12 avril
2000 publiée au JOCE série C n°121/2 du 29 avril 2000) ainsi que l'arrêt de la Cour "Teleaustria" du décembre
droit de la concurrence à l'affectation du commerce et des échanges mais à l'existence ou
non d'une discrimination (potentielle ou réelle) des prestataires .
155. C'est à ce titre que la Commission a récemment lancé une enquête horizontale dans tous
les Etats membres pour vérifier la compatibilité avec les règles des directives "marchés
publics" et/ou du Traité des modalités de gestion des services publics locaux par les
collectivités locales concernées. En particulier, il s‟agit de vérifier qu'à chaque fois que la
collectivité ne gérait pas directement le service public local en question, elle ait procédé à
une forme de mise en concurrence et de publicité préalables pour le choix du prestataire.
Les enjeux des services locaux en termes de cohésion sociale et territoriale
156. A l‟instar des SIG, les mêmes principes doivent s‟appliquer aux services locaux à savoir
„la garantie d‟un accès universel, une qualité élevée et des prix abordables‟102.
Particulièrement pertinentes par rapport aux services locaux figurent, parmi les
préoccupations des citoyens, un niveau élevé de protection de l‟environnement, la prise
en compte des besoins spécifiques de certaines catégories de la population, telles que les
personnes handicapées et les personnes à bas revenus » ainsi qu‟une‟ couverture
territoriale complète‟, y compris dans des zones éloignées ou inaccessibles, pour les
services essentiels „.
157. Le maintien d‟un niveau élevé de prestation de ces services demeure une préoccupation
importante des citoyens. Des standards de qualité élevés doivent s‟appliquer pour les
services locaux , comme pour tous les SIG, quelque soit leur mode d‟organisation et de
gestion. Les enquêtes relatives à la satisfaction des consommateurs concernant les
SIEG.menées en 2000 (Eurobaromètre)103 et 2001 (étude qualitative)104 intègrent les
transports urbains et la distribution d‟eau dont on peut considérer qu‟il s‟agit de services
Implications en termes de subsidiarité
158. En ce qui concerne l‟application du principe de subsidiarité dans le domaine des SIG, , il
convient surtout de rappeler que les Etats membres ont la pleine liberté de définir les
missions d‟intérêt général, d‟octroyer des droits spéciaux ou exclusifs de manière à
assurer ces missions aux entreprises qui en sont chargées de trouver les méthodes
d‟organisation du service public local les plus aptes et les plus efficaces à satisfaire
l‟intérêt général et de veiller le cas échéant à leur financement, pour autant que le
développement des échanges ne soit pas affecté de manière contraire à l‟intérêt de la
Communauté. En particulier, la Communication de la Commission sur les services
d‟intérêt général en Europe (COM 2000) reconnaît un rôle primordial des collectivités
régionales et locales en matière de prestation des services d‟intérêt général. Il est ainsi
affirmé que „la responsabilité de décider quel service doit être considéré comme d‟intérêt
général et comment il doit fonctionner incombe en premier lieu au niveau local »
Cependant, la prestation de certains services d‟intérêt économique général peut revêtir
une dimension communautaire : c‟est le cas des réseaux d‟infrastructure trans-européen
qui sont intégrés au niveau européen. En même temps, ils peuvent avoir des incidences
importantes sur l‟organisation de ces services au niveau local en raison des externalités
de réseau. Le développement de services à ce niveau est souvent lié à la mise en place de
COM (2000) 580, Paragraphe 10
partenariats publics-privés qui impliquent des acteurs divers dans les secteurs des
transports, de l‟énergie, du tourisme . Cette démarche implique néanmoins le respect des
compétences et des dispositions juridiques et administratives propres à chaque Etat