Services of General Interest

Contact (German)

Activity range

The Section for Services of General Interest observes and analyses EU policies for any planned liberalisation trends with a bearing on public services in Vienna. Key work areas include the development of strategies, position papers, unitary positions of Austria’s federal provinces, sets of arguments and studies aimed at successful lobbying vis-à-vis the institutions of the EU as well as the handling of actual lobbying work.

Thematic orientation

The term "services of general interest" or, as they are often called in the European discourse, "services of general economic interest" describes the task of the public sector of providing those fundamental goods and services that are essential for the smooth functioning of society. These services include traffic and transport, supply with gas, water and electricity, waste collection, sewage disposal, educational and cultural facilities, hospitals, cemeteries, public baths and swimming pools and similar. All of these services are primarily aimed at ensuring the welfare of the population, not at turning a profit. It is a key concern of the City of Vienna to provide high-quality, adequately-priced services on behalf of its citizens.

Background

The recent past has seen an increasing liberalisation of public services across the EU. The public services extended by the City of Vienna are excellent and part of its high quality of life, a fact repeatedly confirmed by international studies. The City of Vienna does its utmost to preserve and further improve the high standard of these services.

Starting in the early 1980s, several public services (such as electricity or gas) were opened to free-market competition within the EU. While this might appear a positive development at first glance, the consequences can in fact be massive, since such an approach subjects public welfare to the concept of competition. At the same time, liberalisation deprives regions and cities of much of their leeway for action. International examples have shown that, in the long term, the hoped-for cost cuts do not materialise; service quality deteriorates; reliable service provision is no longer safeguarded; workplaces are lost. For all of these reasons, the City of Vienna opposes the mandatory liberalisation of public services.

Objective

The objective lies in reliable service provision and hence high quality of life for all inhabitants of the Austrian capital. The sets of arguments and studies developed serve to define unified Viennese - usually also nationwide - positions regarding the different thematic areas, which duly allows for lobbying at EU level.

Target group

Decision-makers within the City of Vienna, the Federal Republic of Austria and the institutions of the European Union (European Parliament, European Commission)

Importance for Vienna

Safeguarding of services of general interest and, hence, of Vienna's high quality of life for all citizens

Successful examples

Water

For the past ten years, the European Commission has been repeatedly launching attempts to liberalise the European water sector.

In view of vehement resistance by several EU Member States and the citizens of the EU (first successful citizens' initiative "right2water" in 2014), the liberalisation of water services was for the time being put on hold. Vienna has likewise expressed its vehement opposition to the forced opening of the water market. In this connection, internal working groups of the City of Vienna have since 2004 developed two dossiers arguing against this liberalisation push. Moreover, Vienna will continue to defend the status of Vienna's water sector as a public utility.

Transport

Concerned about potential negative effects on public passenger transport, the City of Vienna strongly opposed the liberalisation of this sector. On the basis of the EU Directive on public passenger transport services adopted in 2007, municipalities remain free to decide whether they want to provide public passenger transport services on their own or open the sector to outside players.

Also within the context of the Fourth Railway Package, Vienna advocated the maintenance of the regime of free choice on the part of municipalities and opposed the mandatory tendering of transport services.

Contact for this page:
Eva Gsteu-Kirschbaum (European Affairs)
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