“General-interest services” are services considered to be in the general interest by the public authorities and accordingly subjected to specific public-service obligations. They include non-market services (e.g. compulsory education, social protection), obligations of the State (e.g. security and justice) and services of general economic interest (e.g. energy and communications). Article 86 of the Treaty (former Article 90) does not apply to the first two categories (non-market services and state obligations).
In May 2003 the European Commission adopted a Green Paper on services of general-interest in Europe. This opened a debate on the role of the European Union in promoting the supply of general-interest services, in defining their general-interest objectives and the way they are organised, financed and evaluated.
In May 2004 the Commission went on to issue a White Paper on services of general interest, in which it sets out the approach taken by the European Union to promoting the development of quality general-interest services. It presents the elements of a strategy to ensure that all citizens and firms in the Union have access to quality general-interest services at affordable prices. The Commission has decided to develop its sectoral approach without issuing a general directive for the moment.
Source: Glossary of EU Law