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Better without competition? Public interest services – article in the European Voice

Not long ago airline carriers were considered supplying services of general interest. Subject to competition the sector provides increased availability to substantially reduced fares. Both radio and television, in most countries for decades government controlled services viewed as being in need of safeguarding monopolies, are also faring well under competition. Never before have European consumers of radio and television had such a wide range of choice.

Telecom is another sector once regarded as a service of general interest. Trade unions fought hard against the deregulation that gave us all more affordable phone bills and ever improving services. They claimed, then, deregulation would mean increased costs and deteriorated service. The impression given was that deregulation would make a simple phone call impossible.

Now the EPSU, probably encouraged by national trade unions, will attempt to prevent deregulation within other parts of the public sector. They abhor completion and consumer choice. But if the importance of a service is what matters, why not regulate distribution of essential goods, such as food, and the production of important commodities? To protect consumer interest there could be public monopolies regulating production of clothes, cars and provisions. Rations of price regulated products could be handed out to those deemed in need by local councils or national governments.

How come this model has never been introduced? Well, it has, and it has always failed at the cost of the consumers’ wellbeing and the citizens’ freedom of choice.

Today the world has come to the conclusion that competition is good for consumers. If a service or a commodity is of importance to consumers, why not encourage competition to secure inexpensive prices and a wide range of choice. Only some politicians and trade unions still embrace protectionism and defend monopolies. The campaign for preservation of competition free public services is a campaign directed against European consumers.

As Shadow Rapporteur for the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament on the Directive on Services of General Interest in the European Union I will strive for considerably increased competition. The EPSU will not like this, but I can live with that knowing a free and open Europe is preferable to a stagnating Europe burdened by monopolies and trade union approved guild systems.

Gunnar Hökmark, MEP