Social services of general interest

This Communication is a further step towards taking into account the specific nature of social services at European level. It presents an open list of characteristics reflecting the specific nature of social services as services of general interest. It clarifies the conditions for applying Community rules to such services.


Communication from the Commission of 26 April 2006, Implementing the Community Lisbon programme: Social services of general interest in the European Union [COM(2006) 177 final - Not published in the Official Journal].


The Member States are given the freedom to define services of general economic interest and particularly social services of general interest, and to define the obligations and missions relating to such services and their organisational principles. On the other hand, the Community framework requires Member States to take certain rules into account when they determine the arrangements for applying the objectives and principles they have established.

This Communication does not deal with health services. In document COM(2006) 122 final, the Commission has undertaken to present a specific initiative for this field.

Social services occupy an important place within European society and the European economy.

Social services often contain one or more of the following organisational characteristics:

The social service sector, which is in the midst of expansion and experiencing increasing levels of competition, is undergoing a process of modernisation, which may take the following forms:

The application of Community rules in the area of social services

The Member States must comply with Community law and the case-law of the Court of Justice when establishing the means of implementing the objectives and principles they have set themselves.

When services of an economic nature are involved, the Member States must ensure that their organisational arrangements are compatible with competition law in particular and also with the rules on the freedom to provide services and freedom of establishment.

The Communication focuses on the most common organisational arrangements:

Analysis of the compatibility with Community law of the organisational arrangements for social services must be carried out on a case-by-case basis.

An in-depth consultation on the specific characteristics of social services

The European Commission intends to consult with all the actors involved, namely the Member States and the providers and users of the services. The consultation will look at:

In order to improve the mutual knowledge of operators and the Commission in matters relating to the application of Community rules and in order to deepen the exchange of information, a monitoring and dialogue procedure in the form of biennial reports will be established.

In early 2006, the Commission launched a study to collect the necessary information to draft the first biennial report. The information will concern the functioning of the sector, its socio-economic importance, as well as the implications of the application of Community law. The results of the study are expected by mid 2007.


This Communication follows the White Paper on services of general interest and the Social Agenda, which announced a systematic approach to identify and recognise the specific characteristics of social and health services of general interest and to clarify the framework in which they operate and may be modernised. In March 2006, the European Council reiterated the need to maintain the European social model in the complex task of making the internal market for services fully operational.


Communication from the Commission on the Social Agenda [COM (2005) 33 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

The European Commission proposes a new social policy agenda for the period 2006-2010. The main objective of this new agenda is "a social Europe in the global economy: jobs and opportunities for all".

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 12 May 2004 entitled " White Paper on services of general interest " [COM(2004) 374 final - Not yet published in the Official Journal].

Presented as an extension of the Green Paper on services of general interest, the Commission White Paper describes the European Union's strategy for promoting the development of high-quality services of general interest. It presents the main elements of a strategy aimed at ensuring that all citizens and enterprises in the Union have access to high-quality and affordable services of general interest.

Commission Green Paper of 21 May 2003 on services of general interest [COM(2003) 270 final - Official Journal C 76 of 25 March 2004].

The Commission, in this Green Paper, undertakes to conduct a complete review of its policies on services of general interest. Its objective is to organise an open debate on the overall role of the Union in the definition of the objectives of general interest pursued by these services and on how they are organised, funded and evaluated. The Green Paper reaffirms the significant contribution of the internal market and competition rules to modernising and improving the quality and effectiveness of many public services, to the benefit of Europe's citizens and businesses. It also deals with globalisation and liberalisation, raising the question of whether a general legislative framework should be established at Community level for services of general interest.

Last updated: 16.08.2006