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Europe

"We Want to Install our Products Then Go Home"

Administrative red tape and bureaucratic hurdles kept a number of small European businesses from being able to sell their services across the bloc -- a situation EU lawmakers Thursday aimed to change.

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Drawn-out approval procedures make it hard for small companies to do international business

As a pool maker, winter isn't typically Petr Horn's busy season. But come summer, he is hoping Belis, his Prague-based company, will have more work than ever thanks to a European Parliament decision to open the bloc's service sector.

"We can sell swimming pools with our technology to Germany but cannot install them -- that is really slowing us down," he said, adding that he sold about 60 pools to Germans last year. "We would happily go and install our products for two days or longer and then go back home."

A 394-215 decision by EU lawmakers on Thursday will get Horn a step closer to having his own employees setting up pools across Europe by knocking down nearly all of the national barriers that keep companies from one member state from offering their services in another EU country.

Das Viktoriabad in Bonn

Horn said his workers want to install pools then go home

"A foundation of the EU is the free movement of good and workers," Horn said. "Now we are in the EU, and our goods can move freely, but there still is not any movement in the labor force."

Some fears and resistance remain

Not everyone in Europe is happy to see the service sector expand. On Tuesday more than 20,000 people demonstrated against the plan, arguing it would lead to declining standards, lower wages and job losses, especially in the "older" EU member states.

"It is not time for opening up services, above all when you have no rules for social harmonization and public services," said French Socialist Pervenche Beres. "We can't accept the exclusion of social policy and consumer protection from the directive's scope."

The approved directive requires companies adhere to the host nation's laws, not their home-country requirements, a provision that previously led to the rejection of similar proposals as a number of EU states feared a flood of cheap migrant workers would undercut local businesses.

Straßburg EU Demonstration gegen Dienstleistungsrichtlinie

Thousands took to the streets of Strasbourg to protest the proposed directive

Horn, however, said he is prepared to meet each country's conditions but was being held back by lengthy licensing procedures designed to protect local workers every time he wants to send his employees abroad.

Only Britain, Ireland and Sweden opened their borders to foreign workers when the EU expanded to 25 members in May 2004 and are profiting from influx of workers while other nations continue to require work permits or have quotas in place to ward off mass migration, according to a EU report.

No flood of migrant workers

"Membership in the EU does not trigger migration," Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen, the architect of the EU's enlargement, told the press. "On the contrary, (it) is a strong incentive to stay home and to try to improve living conditions there because there is new hope."

Now Horn said he is hoping the European Commission and member states, which both need to approve the recently passed bill before it becomes binding, will quickly put their support behind the proposal so he can help non-Czech's cool off this summer.

"Drive there, install the product and come back -- that's the mentality of our employees," he said. "They will do that two or three times a month, but no one is interested in leaving their family for half a year at a time -- they don't even want to move to another place in the Czech Republic for work."

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