Services of General Interest
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.
The objective lies in reliable service provision and hence high quality of life for all inhabitants of the Austrian capital. The arguments and studies developed serve to define unified Viennese - usually also nationwide - positions regarding the different thematic areas, which allows for lobbying at the EU level.
The Section for Services of General Interest of Municipal Department 27 - European Affairs (MA 27) 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, unified opinions of federal provinces, arguments and studies aimed at successful lobbying vis-à-vis the institutions of the EU as well as the handling of actual lobbying work.
For the past years, the European Commission has been repeatedly launching attempts to liberalise the European water and transport sector. Vienna has expressed its vehement opposition to the forced liberalisation of these services.
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 quality 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.
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
Eva Gsteu-Kirschbaum (European Affairs)