STRASBOURG, Feb 15 (AFP): Tens of thousands of protestors rallied yesterday against plans to throw open Europe's vast service sector to increased competition, as EU lawmakers hammered out the details ahead of a crunch vote.
Union organisers said 40,000 protestors took to the streets in Strasbourg, seat of the European Parliament, in hope of influencing the vote to take place Thursday, while police put the number at nearly 30,000.
"We are demonstrating for services for all the people and not just services for money," said John Monks, head of the European Confederation of Unions. "It's very important that this message goes to the European Parliament today."
Police clamped down on access to the parliament after a demonstration last month by dockers turned violent, injuring 64 police officers and causing nearly 400,000 euros of damage to the assembly's imposing headquarters here.
Inside, lawmakers battled to broker a consensus ahead of a vote that holds high stakes for the huge services sector, estimated to generate at least half the economic activity in the 25-nation EU and 60 per cent of its jobs.
The EU's executive commission, which originally proposed the plans, says a shake-up is urgently needed to spur employment and growth in Europe's long-flagging economy.
The plans stirred up controversy last year when campaigners against the EU's draft constitution mainly in France seized on them as an example of Brussels dictating job-threatening pro- market policies.
The proposals stoked fears in older member states that a proposal known as the country-of-origin principle to let service providers operate in other member countries under the rules of their home country would provoke a flood of workers-epitomised by Polish plumbers-from newer, low-wage EU members undercutting local competitors.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso downplayed such concerns, telling eurodeputies during a debate: "While founded on legitimate fears, there are also misunderstandings."