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Ski Teachers reform going downhill fast

When it was my turn to take part in Europe’s other right of passage – other than Erasmus – and do an internship with one of the European Institutions, I took advantage of my badge to sit in on all the meetings on the biggest dossier that was before the legislators at the time, the Bolkestein Directive. An on every single sub-item of a sub-item of a sub-item on the agenda, the Member States divided 15-10 or 10-15, with the Mediterraneans and other socialists on one side, and the Nordics and the new Member States on the other side. (Given recent CJEU case law, I think I am allowed to disclose this now.) Frankly, I had no idea how they were going to fix this.

Then, one day, the subject appeared on the agenda of the Council proper. As the very last item. So I spent that morning glued to my screen, waiting for the other agenda items to be ticket off. (The Council’s intranet allows everyone to follow the progress of COREPER and Council meetings on-line, so that you don’t have to hang around the meeting room waiting for your item to come up.) Around lunch time, the agenda said “meeting suspended for lunch”. So I went out for lunch too. When I came back, the Ministers were still out for lunch. And they remained out for lunch at 16.00, at 17.00 and at 18.00. At 18.30 I gave up and joined my friends in the pub. (Already exiting through the Rue Frossart exit, because the main entrance closes at 18.00.) Ultimately, at 19.30, while I was already on my second beer, they announced that a compromise had been reached, a compromise which, it turned out, involved repeating what has already been in the Treaties since 1957 without adding very much in the way of detail or teeth. Since there was a blocking minority in both the Council and the Parliament, that was the only thing they could do.

Fast forward to 2012, when it turns out that the Commission has rediscovered Jean Monnet’s mantra of concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. Specifically, and with my great approval, it appears they are going to create a proper Internal Market for Ski Teachers. (Although I’m less enthusiastic about the fact that this reform will be part of a more general overhaul of Directive 2005/36, the Professional Qualifications Directive. I think it is safer for everyone if the Commission deals with this problem one market at a time.)

There’s just one glitch. If you’re preparing such a piece of legislation, who do you consult with in order to make sure your proposal strikes the right balance between free movement and quality of service? The answer is, of course, that you ask each Member State to send someone, if they like. And who do the Member States send? Experts who are “coincidentally” connected to that country’s biggest and most powerful Ski Teachers’ union. From the Euractiv story:

The office of Michel Barnier, the EU’s internal market Commissioner, has already hosted several meetings with representatives of European ski instructors to agree on a reform of the ‘Eurotest’.

But according to Camus, the big Alpine countries – Austria, France, Germany and Italy – are anxious to carve up an agreement that would prevent a wave of cheap labour coming in from newer EU countries.

“The risk at some point is to see Romanians or Czechs who will work for half the price,” he told EurActiv, something that could upset local employment.

“There are countries like Romania, the Czech Republic or Hungary which have degrees that are technically weaker than those of the Alpine Arc. So the big countries of the Alpine Arc, which represent the majority, are seeking to exclude them,” Camus told EurActiv.

And when meetings were held in Brussels with representatives of professional organisations to reform the ‘Eurotest’, not everyone was invited at the table. Camus’s SIMS trade union, which represents independent ski schools in France, Switzerland and Italy, was surprisingly left outside – despite his repeated calls to be invited.

When he asked to receive the minutes of the meeting, Camus was told to enquire with the Syndicat National des Moniteurs de Ski Français (SNMSF), which was appointed by France to sit at the Brussels talks. The SNMSF represents the Ecole du Ski Français (ESF), which dominates snow sport teaching in France and is a direct competitor to Camus’ Ecole de Ski Internationale (ESI).

To Camus, this was equivalent to asking Carrefour to enquire with rival Auchan on the future regulation of the retail distribution market in France.

“Let me remind you that ski teaching is completely privatised in France,” Camus told Barnier in a letter. “The SNMSF is our direct competitor,” he remarked, asking to be kept informed about the meeting’s decisions.

Barnier’s office took a defensive stance, saying it was up to the member states to appoint representatives to the EU talks. In the case of France, four delegates were sent to Brussels – all from the SNMSF, which is the dominant voice in the industry.

Asked by EurActiv, the French sports ministry, which made the appointments, said it was processing our request for comment.

“The Swiss have the same problem as us – they have a majority union that crushes the profession,” Camus said.

And so it ends before it has even properly begun. The whole thing gets carved up into an even longer version of Directive 2005/36, which was already 121 pages long, while doing absolutely nothing for the value for money that consumers are getting from their Ski Teachers. Still, I suppose it’s the thought that counts, and in all likelihood they will at least not make things worse.

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