Friday 30. July 2021

Social Europe: last chance to change direction ?

Will the European Commission’s Work Programme for 2016 deliver on its promises made on social issues? Thomas Miessen, head European trade union affairs at the Confederation of Christian Unions (CSC), examines the problem.

2016 is the year President Juncker has to deliver on his promise for a triple A social Europe,” said Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). The European Commission had just published its 2016 Work Programme, which is titled: “Conventional forms of management have had their day.” But in the face of the social regression that citizens and workers are encountering everywhere in Europe, is the 2016 Work Programme really up to meeting the challenges?


A set of consolidated social rights

The 2016 Work Programme includes two leading projects, the scope of which should not be underestimated: a European Pillar of Social Rights and also a legislative package on labour mobility embodying the principle of “equal pay for equal work” within the same workplace. But as Europe emerges from one of its worst economic and social crises, the time has come to establish a consolidated and clear set of social rights reflecting the realities of 21st Century Europe,” admits the European Commission. The discrepancies in social realities within the same internal market, with 2015 minimum wage levels varying from €184 in Bulgaria to €1923 in Luxembourg, means that a lot more needs to be done on equitable mobility policies for workers in Europe, according to the Commission.


However, the praiseworthy objectives of this Work Programme stand somewhat in contrast to the lack of clarity in the proposals in the social field. For example, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) observes that overall there are only “a low number of proposals  (…) in the social field … … remain very vague on the concrete action to be taken” while measures are being taken to push forward a series of proposals that will strengthen economic governance.


Awareness of the social emergency is represented in the leitmotivs of this Work Programme and likewise to be found in political guidelines. It is much harder to see in the small print of the European Commission’s practices. Indeed, the stakes of “Better Legislation” in a blind charge to reduce the "administrative burden"  and also “the regulatory burden” are increasingly given higher priority. By contrast, the question of knowing how to make the social dimension, or even the eco-social dimension, genuinely horizontal and effective within the European Union is pushed into the background. Worse still, these administrative simplification procedures embedded in the principles of “REFIT” and “Better Legislation” are, in the opinion of some experts, "taken hostage by very particular corporate interests"


British interests

Eighty-six British CEOs have estimated that two-thirds of their requests for administrative simplification – under the slogan "Cut EU Red Tape" – submitted and lobbied for in Brussels (especially by Prime Minister David Cameron) have to a large part been crowned with success after only one year of lobbying. Health and safety at work, upward harmonisation of maternity leave, and rules regarding shale gas are just some of the many measures which, in this particular context, are viewed solely as a cost to the British economy. While the interests of society are equated with those of British firms, no thought is given to social or ecological costs and benefits. The talks continue … today in the context of a possible BREXIT.


As experienced – or as perceived – by countless workers across the continent, social regression is now occurring everywhere you look in Europe; inequalities are becoming entrenched and every country is affected to some extent. The social domain is precisely the area where the European Commission should be trying to restore lost confidence. Yet months slide by and there is so little time left for the Juncker Commission to deliver any tangible progress in social affairs that could still be implemented before the forthcoming European elections.


Thomas Miessen,

In charge of Trade Union action – International department

Confédération des syndicats chrétiens de Belgique (CSC)


Translated from the original text in French

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