Definition of services of general interest

Services of general interest are services that public authorities of the EU member countries classify as being of general interest and, therefore, subject to specific public service obligations. They can be provided either by the state or by the private sector.

Examples of services of general interest include: public transport, postal services, and healthcare.

Categories

There are three categories of services of general interest: economic, non-economic and social.

  • Services of general economic interest, which are basic services that are carried out in return for payment, such as postal services. These services are subject to European internal market and competition rules. However, there may be derogations to these rules if necessary to protect citizens' access to basic services.
  • Non-economic services, such as the police, justice and statutory social security schemes, are not subject to specific European legislation or to internal market and competition rules.
  • Social services of general interest are those that respond to the needs of vulnerable citizens, and are based on the principles of solidarity and equal access. They can be both of an economic or non-economic nature. Examples include social security schemes, employment services and social housing.

EU action

In 2011, the EU adopted the Quality Framework for Services of General Interest (SGI) in the EU. The SGI

  • clarifies how EU rules apply to basic services, as well as the revisions that have been made to these rules, where necessary, to ensure specific needs are addressed
  • ensures access to essential services for all citizens
  • promotes quality in the field of social services and highlights achievements as models for other basic services

As a follow up, European public procurement rules were also modernised, and new legislation was introduced that clarifies the application of state aid rules to the services of general economic interest.

Got a question about the EU law regarding basic services?

If you can't find the answer to your question in the guide, you can write to the European Commission using the interactive information service.

The Commission can reply to questions concerning EU law in this area. However, the Commission cannot:

  • analyse individual cases
  • provide a formal interpretation of EU law in relation to a specific case
  • provide legal advice on issues of national law
  • advise  on how to structure calls for tender or contracts
  • advise on how to organise compensation mechanism

This information service is available in English, French and German. This means that questions can only be asked (and answered) in these three languages.

Documents