Fabian Demicoli

Single Market re-launch to see Polish plumber comeback?

Traders such as tour guides and plumbers should be able to ply their wares across member states by flashing professional ID cards under proposals designed to re-launch the Single Market Act this week.


Background: The Single Market and its four freedoms for circulation of goods, services, people and capital is one of Europe's main competitive advantages. However, progress on the single market has stalled in recent times and business leaders have pressed for its completion in order to tap into the EU's full potential.

The Commission laid down plans for a new Single Market Act in October, offering a list of 50 proposals that could be put into action in the next two years.

The proposals ranged from making it easier to register a car in another country to creating an EU professional ID card to help people do business across borders. Following a four-month public debate and discussion of the 50-point list in the European Parliament, Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier is now expected to make concrete legislative proposals.

Professional ID cards: Other initiatives will attempt to revive old ideas. 2005's Professional Qualifications Directive mooted the introduction of professional identity cards, but the idea never caught on.

A consultation paper launched in January this year asked stakeholders for their opinion on a European professional card. At the same time a steering group made up of 32 experts representing different professions – including mountain guides, midwives and pharmacists – was set up to consider the issue of a European professional card.

In its paper this week, the European Commission will push for this group to produce meaningful ideas so that it can finally transform them into reality.

The professional ID card proposal is likely to revive old fears among West European countries about immigration. During the 2005 referendum campaign on the European Constitution in France, the 'Polish plumber' figure embodied popular fears about East European workers wreaking wage havoc on the labour market.

Those fears actually stemmed from the Services Directive, which was subsequently watered down to address labour market concerns.

"The Services Directive was a significant step forward but it must be the start of a process of deepening the internal market rather than the end of it," said Malcolm Harbour MEP (Conservatives; UK), chair of the European Parliament's internal market committee. "Now we need to tear own significant barriers relating to professional qualification recognition, intellectual property and public procurement," he said.

UEAPME: "We welcome the enhanced co-operation mechanism to resolve the patent issue, amongst other initiatives within the paper. However we believe that the key message to be reinforced by the Commission – more important than their 12 headline issues – is enforcement of the existing single market regulations. There remain so many outstanding cases of infringement of governance."

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