The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) stresses that everyone must be entitled to access essential services such as water, energy and transport, pointing out that they are vital for social justice.
Better implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, with a focus on promoting essential services, was one of the topics discussed at the EESC's June plenary session, where members adopted the own-initiative opinion drafted by Raymond Hencks and Krzysztof Balon from the Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN).
The 20th and final principle of the Social Pillar establishes the right to access "essential services" of good quality, such as water, sanitation, energy, transport, electronic communications and banking services. The concept of "essential services" is a new one that does not exist in the Treaties, and the EESC considers it to refer to "Services of General Economic Interest" (SGEIs). As such, these services are already covered by EU law, in particular the Charter of Fundamental Rights, Article 14 of the TFEU, and Protocol 26 to the TFEU on services of general interest. This legislation goes further than simply guaranteeing access to quality: it calls on Member States to ensure a high level of quality, safety, affordability, equal treatment and the promotion of universal access and user rights.
However, Mr Hencks emphasised, some of these services are insufficiently regulated and implemented in the Member States.
We call for the essential services to be made available to everyone, he said, but added that this would not be enough.
The concept of essential services will also have to be clarified and concrete measures will have to be taken to fight the existing failures and to guarantee a good functioning of these services, according to the needs of the users.
The EESC therefore welcomes the fact that principle 20 of the Social Pillar reaffirms the right to access essential services/SGEIs.
These are a vital component of social justice and are underpinned by the principle of equal treatment of users, prohibiting any kind of discrimination or exclusion whatsoever, and by the principle of universal access to services of a high level of affordability and quality, echoed Mr Balon.
More specifically, in order to guarantee that everyone can access essential services, the Member States should respect and adopt the following principles and measures:
Right of access
Guarantee equal treatment, i.e. prohibit discrimination of any kind.
Universal access and universal service
Oblige Member States to define indicators to determine the nature of universal access for each SGEI (density of access points, maximum distance to an access point, regularity of service, etc.).
Define the concept of affordable prices to ensure that SGEIs are affordable for all, by establishing a basket of essential services for which the financial contribution considered reasonable for a typical household must be set in relation to the social wage/minimum income, above which prices are deemed to be inflated and require regulatory measures or public support.
Quality of service
Establish quality indicators and review and generalise the compensation to be paid by service providers in the event of a quality failure.
Evaluation and European semester
Introduce a harmonised assessment system for SGEIs and include them in the social scorecard of the European Semester.