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British firms hope for work boom as crackdown announced on restrictive practices

EC to get tough on German labour law

THE EUROPEAN Commission is taking action over the German government's crackdown on British builders.

And the move could clear the way for a new wave of UK contractors to return there.

The commission has issued a legal note to the German government insisting regulations forcing UK firms to sign up to local working agreements are dropped.

John Bromley, the National Federation of Builders' European director, said: 'In practice, this should open up the German construction market. It has to be a good thing.'

Under existing rules, UK firms must sign up with a local builders guild, the Handwerkskammer, and have a permanent German base in order to supply labour.

The legal note, known as a reasoned opinion, says: 'The commission regards this requirement as discriminatory and in violation of the right of establishment and the freedom to provide services set out in Articles 52 and 49 of the EC Treaty.'

The Germans have two months to change their rules or the case will go to the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg.

The court's judges could back the commission and force Germany to alter its legislation. Continuing to ignore the ruling could mean fines of £200,000 a day.

Herbert Schenk, economics spokesman at the German Embassy, said: 'I don't think this case will go to the European Court.

'There were similar rules governing craftsman in Austria and these have been changed, so they will probably change in Germany too. This ruling is just one piece in the puzzle.'

UK firms have complained for years about a German purge on foreign contractors, which has driven many out of the country.

The dragnet began after the German industry went into decline and followed pressure from local building unions whose members lost out on jobs to foreign workers working for lower rates.

A DORSET brickie on remand in Stuttgart for six months on charges of evading taxes totalling £250,000 expects his case to come to court in late March.

Mervyn Keynes, from Corfe Mullen, could face a two-year jail sentence if convicted.

His wife Elaine said: 'They are drawing up his indictment now and are telling him it will be ready by the end of this month.'

Mr Keynes has been refused bail three times by the German authorities, who fear he will flee the country.