A vote by Euro MPs to open up the European service market could herald a multi-million pound opportunity for Birmingham, it has been claimed.
The European Parliament yesterday backed plans to transform the sector across the continent - sweeping away red tape and bureaucracy hampering everyone from hairdressers to plumbers and building workers seeking opportunities in another EU state.
The amended directive, which was adopted by 391 votes to 213, was cautiously welcomed by Birmingham Forward, the lobby group which represents professional services in the city.
Chief executive Simon Murphy said: "This will make it far easier for our companies to sell their services into Europe.
"It should be as easy to sell services between Birmingham and Bratislava as it is at present between Birmingham and Bilston.
"That is not the case at the moment, but we have moved closer. This decision could mean our firms have access to new markets which in turn could lead to more jobs and more wealth being generated in the Midlands."
As part of the compromise sensitive issues such as public health, social care and environmental services and all public services were exempted from the proposed new open market.
Mr Murphy said: "It is not as good as it could have been, but it is the beginning and not the end of the opening up of the European service market.
"There was a real risk it could have collapsed, but there has been a compromise. It is the very thin end of a wedge, but a wedge we can widen in the future so more of our companies benefit."
The CBI was more disappointed, describing the compromise as a missed opportunity.
Deputy director-general John Cridland said: "The likelihood of the European Union achieving free movement of services - one of its founding principles - in the near future has now seriously diminished, but the EU will have to do the best it can."
Labour MEP Arlene McCarthy was more upbeat.
She said: "This is the final piece in the jigsaw of establishing the single market.
"By opening up the market in services there is a potential to create 600,000 jobs and economic benefits to consumers and producers of around 30 billion euros (£20.5 billion)."
As well as exempting some service areas, MEPs have also removed from the European Commission's original plan the "country of origin" principle.
This stated that a firm from one EU country supplying services in another would have to comply only with the social and employment laws of its own country.
This was seen by unions as a green light to firms from poorer countries to compete in richer EU nations without having to meet the higher and more expensive operating standards and worker safeguards of the "host" country.
West Midland Conservative MEP Malcolm Harbour said: "Services is the EU's biggest economic sector. Enterprising small businesses need our support in expanding across borders. This vote paves the way for an early agreement by member states to push the directive forward."
EU ministers will consider the MEPs' decision at talks later this year - any final agreement on the Services Directive is unlikely to become law until 2009.