The European Union came a step closer to adopting a law aimed at liberalizing the market for services across the union Tuesday, when the 25 national governments signed up to a text almost identical to the one agreed by members of the European Parliament last month.The services directive\u2014often dubbed the Bolkestein directive after former commissioner Frits Bolkestein, who launched the proposal\u2014aims to create a single market for services across the union.But it has sparked intense debate, with critics claiming that the law would result in the dumbing down of employment protection and working practices to levels experienced in the poorest countries in the union.Meanwhile, the draft law\u2019s most ardent supporters believe the compromise text proposed by the European Parliament falls short of the original aim to create a seamless single market for all services.The commission welcomed the agreement reached by national governments. Charlie McCreevy, Bolkestein\u2019s successor, is "delighted," spokesman Oliver Drewes said Tuesday."We must concentrate on getting the law passed now," he said, adding that this should be possible by the end of this year.Once agreed at the European Union\u00a0level, directives must then be transposed into national statute books. Normally, member states are given 18 months to two years to do this, but the national governments agreed they should be given three years to adopt the controversial services directive in their countries."I am delighted that companies and consumers across Europe are now set to benefit from competition and choice in services," said Malcolm Harbour, a member of the European Parliament from the right-of-center European People\u2019s Party. The law will encourage companies to move into new markets and will make it easier for them to get necessary information and complete procedures to operate in neighboring European countries, Harbour said. The directive will now return to the European Parliament for a second reading, and it is expected to have a speedy passage into final approval. "We have finally made a start in this never-ending story, Harbour said. "Now, there is a chance to convince the public that the services directive is a good step forward," he said.-Paul Meller, IDG News ServiceFor related news coverage, read EU Called Wrong to Allow Passenger Data Release.Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.