Services of general economic interest (SGEI) are commercial services of general economic utility, on which the public authorities therefore impose specific public-service obligations (Article 106 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). Transport, energy and communications services are prime examples.
The Treaty of Lisbon breaks new ground by adding a protocol on services of general interest to the founding Treaties. This protocol, which has the same legal value as the Treaties, specifies the protection to be afforded to SGEI at European level.
The Treaty of Lisbon introduces another innovation. It creates a new legal basis which enables the European institutions to adopt regulations concerning the operation of SGEI. Article 14 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU specifies that the Council and the Parliament may establish certain principles and conditions relating to the commissioning and financing of SGEI.
Source: Glossary of EU Law
Services of an economic nature, the provision of which can be considered to be in the general interest. For example, basic, publicly accessible supply of energy, telecommunication, postal services, transport, water and waste-disposal services. The Member States are primarily responsible for defining what they regard as services of general economic interest on the basis of the specific features of the activities concerned. However, their definitions are subject to the Commission’s control for manifest errors where Member States specifically entrust undertakings within the meaning of Article 106(2) of the EC Treaty with services of general economic interest. The precise definition of the particular task assigned to the entrusted undertaking is an important element for assessing whether, and to what extent, it is justified for the State to grant exclusive rights or funds to that undertaking in order to ensure the fulfilment of the task.
Source: Glossary of terms used in EU competition policy, Antitrust and control of concentrations, European Commission, 2002