The MEPs have just voted on the directive that aims to create a single market in services, but by ditching the ‘country of origin' principle they have given in to the protectionists
So what does the European Commission have in store for us this year? Well, it looks like the recurring theme will be better regulation - whether for workers, services, transport or procurement. Its programme for 2006 places the emphasis on impact assessment before legislation is proposed, and evaluation after implementation. This is in line with the Lisbon strategy, agreed in 2000 as a means to boost growth and jobs and to increase competitiveness in world markets.
The most important single element of this drive is the Services Directive, which aims to get rid of obstacles that prevent service providers from operating across the Continent. This is to continue its progress towards becoming legislation. The European parliament has just had its first reading of the proposal, and the dossier is with the 25 governments.
The main bone of contention has been the "country of origin" principle, under which providers may respect the regulations of the country where they are established, regardless of where in the European Union they are offering their service. Unfortunately, this month MEPs buckled under pressure from their national governments and abandoned the principle.
On the basis that skills and knowledge are the key to creating growth and jobs, 2006 has been dubbed the "European year of mobility for workers". So there is a certain irony about the discussion being carried out in European capitals about whether or not to continue the restrictions on migrant workers from the eight central and eastern European countries that joined the union in May 2004. Only the UK, Ireland and Sweden allowed almost unlimited access to their labour markets from day one.
The pressure is coming from a commission report that says that, despite fears of a flood of low-cost labour and the arrival of so-called benefit tourists from the east, enlargement has had only a minor impact on labour markets.
Despite fears of a flood of low-cost labour and the arrival of so-called benefit tourists from the east, enlargement has had only a minor impact on labour markets
In the first three months of last year, only 0.2% of workers in the old EU were from the new countries, the same as in the previous year. In fact the commission's data show the flow has been larger in the other direction, with 0.4% of the working population in the new countries coming from the old EU. It also says immigration into EU was larger than migration flows within it.
One driver of growth is Europe's cross-border transport infrastructure, known as Trans-European Networks or TENs. As well as preparing the new phase of TENs this year there will be an initiative to promote the use of rail freight across Europe. This will done by developing rail corridors on the trans-European rail network. The EU is to spend almost *3bn (£2bn) a year on this between 2007 and 2013.
We are also likely to see proposals on public procurement, especially on opening up defence procurement, that is not security sensitive, along with further work in areas such as public-private partnerships.
Waste management will also come under scrutiny. The waste framework directive will consider incineration, treatment operations, the definition of recovery and disposal.
The commission itself says 2006 will be a critical year for "turning words into deeds" - let's hope that is the case.
Jill Craig is head of European policy at the RICS' Brussels office. Email firstname.lastname@example.org