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The latest from Brussels


No right to strike, says Court
The European Court of Justice has ruled against Swedish unions blockading a Latvian construction company that employed cheap labour. The right to strike is supposedly a fundamental right under EU law. The Court said the action was against the public interest and the free movement of services. A previous judgement (the 'Viking' case) held that the right was limited by EU or national law, or if it affected the "smooth operation of the market". EU law does nothing to legitimise strikes and makes them illegal in many circumstances.

Capitalism's health paradise postponed
The European Commission has delayed its proposal to "marketise" healthcare after protests from Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands. The official reason for withdrawing the draft directive on cross-border healthcare was an "over-loaded agenda". Commission officials have now admitted it was member states that "thought it would destroy their national health systems". This directive could still be passed by qualified majority vote because it was proposed under the internal market. The British government did not object.

The directive would wreck the NHS and end national control over the unique British healthcare system. The NHS would be compelled to fund outpatient treatments in Europe if the patient had been referred by a medical professional and was suffering delay. It would enable patients to seek private treatment in foreign hospitals. This is similar to the Conservatives' "patient's passport" proposal, rejected at the last election.

The directive proposes a new EU health committee chaired by the Commission, which sees a greater role for itself in health policy. The revived Constitutional Treaty would end a member state's veto over public health issues. The Commission may also move towards setting clinical priorities. For example the directive provides for the setting up of EU "reference centres" – (specialist centres of excellence for "patients who have conditions requiring a particular concentration of resources or expertise"). This would soon lead to arguments for greater specialisation and rationalisation of health care on an EU-wide basis.