Social Services of General Interest (SSGI) and the Sustainability of European Social Model

AuthorPaula Vaz Freire
PositionUniversity of Lisbon, Portugal
The EuroAtlantic Union Review, Vol. 1 No. 1/2014
Social Services of General Interest (SSGI) and the
Sustainability of the European Social Model
Paula Vaz Freire*
Abstract: This text analyses the features of SSIG within the broad category of SIG. Since no biding
definition can be found either in primary or secondary EU law, social services have to be considered
in accordance to the principles, aims and organization forms they are delivered. It is then analysed
the legal framework and the role of SSGI in fulfilling territorial, social and economic cohesion,
high level of employment, equality, social inclusion and economic growth. The social dimension of
the EU integration process reinforced by the Treaty of Lisbon determines, in our view, an increasing
relevance of SSIG and the adjustment of EU law to their specificity. As many European countries
face serious financial constraints, reforming welfare state becomes imperative, but only reforms
based on social investment policies and social consensus will create a trust environment necessary to
guarantee the preservation and sustainability of Europe’s social model.
Keywords: SSGI; European Social Model; Sustainability
1. Services of General Interest (SGI)
1.1 Definition
e term service of general interest (SGI), developed within the EU policy
process, is a broad and multifaceted concept that doesn’t correspond to national
terminologies. SGI can be categorised as economic and non-economic and
* University of Lisbon, Portugal
SSGI and the European Social Model
divided into services of general economic interest (SGEI)1, such as electricity,
gas, water, waste management, ICT, transport and postal services, and social
services of general interest (SSGI), like education, labour market services,
health services, health care, elderly care, child care and social housing.
Articles 14 TFEU, 106 TFEU and Article 36 of the EU Charter on
Fundamental Rights refer the expression SGEI but fail to dene it and neither
in secondary EU legislation such a denition can be found. Article 36 of the
Charter recognises as a right the access to SGEI.
By means of Protocol no. 26, concerning services of general interest (SGIs),
the Lisbon Treaty has introduced into primary law the distinction between
services of general economic interest (SGEI) and non-economic services of
general interest (NESGI).
In respect to economic services (SGEI), Article 1 in Protocol no. 26 establishes
as common Union values: (i) the essential role and the wide discretion of
national, regional and local authorities in providing, commissioning and
organizing SGEI as closely as possible to the needs of the users; (ii) respect the
diversity of services, situations, needs and preferences of users; (iii) achieving
a high level of quality, safety and aordability, ensuring equal treatment and
promoting universal access and upholding user rights. In accordance to these
values the action of the EU should respect the principles of subsidiarity and
According to the Protocol there should be taken due account of the diversity
of services, the characteristics of service providers, the preferences of users,
as well as the dierent economic, social, geographical, cultural and physical
situations in which they are provided.
Promoting high quality of services encompasses physical safety, reliability,
continuity and informed choice.
Access and aordability are also relevant features of SGEI2. Services should be
1 According to the Commission Communication “Quality Framework for Services of General
Interest in Europe”, COM (2011) 900 nal, 20.12.2011: “SGEI are economic activities which deliver
outcomes in the overall public good that would not be supplied (or would be supplied under dierent
conditions in terms of quality, safety, aordability, equal treatment or universal access) by the market
without public intervention. e (public service obligation) is imposed on the provider by way of an
entrustment and on the basis of a general interest criterion which ensures that the service is provided
under conditions allowing it to full its mission”.
2 “Citizens and businesses rightly expect to have access to aordable high-quality services of general
interest throughout the European Union. For the citizens of the Union, this access is an essential

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