Defining the concept of ‘services of general interest’ in light of the ‘checks and balances’ set out in the EU treaties = Termino „visuotinės svarbos paslaugos“ apibrėžimas per Europos Sąjungos sutartyse įtvirtinto „stabdžių ir atsvarų“ principo prizmę
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This article aims to shed some light on the concepts embedded in the expressions ‘services of general interest’ (‘SGI’), ‘services of general economic interest’ (‘SGEI’), ‘non-economic services of general interest’ (‘NSGI’) and ‘social services of general interest’ (‘SSGI’). It is submitted that the expression ‘SGI’ conveys a general concept which comprises both SGEI and NSGI. SGEI may be distinguished from NSGI in that only the former involve an economic activity. In contrast to SGI, SGEI and NSGI, the expression ‘SSGI’ is nowhere to be found in primary EU law. This means that it is for the EU legislator and, as the case may be, for the Member States to define such expression. Furthermore, this article supports the contention that a definition of the principles and conditions underpinning the operation of SGI must be capable of adapting to changing times and social perceptions, whilst being respectful of the vertical and horizontal allocation of powers set out in the Treaties. Vertically, a definition of SGI must not impinge upon the powers retained by the Member States. In the absence of harmonisation, it is for the Member States to define the services they consider to be of general interest, unless they commit a manifest error of assessment. In the presence of EU harmonising measures, the margin of discretion enjoyed by the Member States is, if still existent, narrowed down, given that national authorities are required to comply with the objectives pursued by the EU legislator. Horizontally, a definition of SGI must not encroach upon the prerogatives of the Commission in the realm of competition law. Moreover, in light of Article 9 TFEU and secondary EU legislation, the specific features of SSGI must be taken into consideration when determining the compatibility with EU State aid rules of public service compensation awarded to the providers of those services. 590 |a An EU conceptual framework for the SGI must thus be the result of a constructive dialogue between the different levels of governance, as well as of a balanced solution among different policy areas in relation to which the EU enjoys competences.
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