Do we need a more social Europe?

NEWS Published

Is a “Social Europe” the right medicine to stop growing populism? Can new social rights and social legislation foster growth and jobs? Is the fight against social dumping in fact a pretext for protecting domestic workers? What is the role of the EU and the Member States?

Among the speakers were Georgi Pirinski, Member of the European Parliament, Mattias Busse, CEPS, Christian Ardhe, Heimdal European Affairs and Stefan Gran from the German trade union DGB.

Among the speakers were Georgi Pirinski, Member of the European Parliament, Mattias Busse, CEPS, Christian Ardhe, Heimdal European Affairs and Stefan Gran from the German trade union DGB.

Jean-Claude Juncker stated already in 2014, that "in our union the same work in the same place should be remunerated in the same way". One year later, he concluded that Europe is not social enough and that the Commission would present a European Social Pillar. The European Commission has now presented its proposals for revision of the posting of workers directive, the Social Pillar and a major legislative package in the social field, together with a so-called Reflection Paper on the EU social dimension. The discussions have been heated, positions polarised and the questions many:

To discuss these current issues, the Swedish Society for Politics and Business, SPN, organised a seminar in Brussels.

Among the speakers were Georgi Pirinski, Member of the European Parliament, Mattias Busse, CEPS, Christian Ardhe, Heimdal European Affairs and Stefan Gran from the German trade union DGB.

The Bulgarian MEP Georgi Pirinski, S&D, opened the discussion and referred in his intervention to the Nordic countries, which he believed have managed to reconcile high economic growth with high social standards.

- A more social Europe must be seen in the light of the increased economic and social inequalities in Europe. This fact can also explain the growing populism and lack of trust in political processes. It’s therefore crucial to reinforce fundamental political economic and social rights to all citizens of the EU. Certainly, a more social Europe can guarantee growth and jobs. In a free market economy with strong social partners and collective agreements, social legislation is not disruptive. The challenge is about dealing with the negative effects of globalisation, new technologies and the new world of work, with a working life changing at an ever-faster pace, said Pirinksi.

Mattias Busse, researcher at the European think-tank Center for European Policy Studies, CEPS, took the subsidiarity principle as a starting point for his intervention.

- The first question we must ask is what the added value of EU legislation in the social area is. The Commission and legislators often refer to cross-border aspects and that there is a need to counter social dumping and race to the bottom of social standard. But what do these concepts mean? We often hear that the purpose of the posting directive is to fight unfair competition and protect posted workers. But is competition with wages and different levels of social insurance unfair competition? For example, it’s obvious that raising costs and complexity for posting will have a negative impact on competitiveness and jobs in Slovenia where 5% of the workforce is posted. The goal must be to find a balanced solution where both competitiveness and protection of posted workforce are guaranteed, said Busse, who didn’t believe that social regulations at EU level would have a major impact on limiting populism.

Christian Ardhe, EU Affairs consultant at Heimdal European Affairs, believed that the revision of the posting of workers directive and Social Pillar must be seen in the light of the current wave of mistrust towards globalisation, free trade and openness, where even countries who have traditionally embraced an open economy now tries to limit global trade, import and mobility.

- The European Commission EU Commission focuses increasingly on consumer and workers rights. Certainly there is a genuine desire to protect workers and reduce the gaps in Europe, but the current proposals have revealed two basic problems. Firstly, the wish to protect risks to become unwarranted protectionism, such as with the revision of the posting directive. Secondly, problems arise when the EU is regulating in areas, which should be reserved for national competence. In Sweden social rights are already well-developped both through social legislation, and in over 600 collective agreements, and where social partners have regulated issues such as occupational pensions, work-related insurances, holiday and holiday pay, working time and various leave benefits. The business sector therefore is deeply concerned about EU ambitions in this area, as they risk leading to an undesired shift of power to Brussels, said Ardhe.

Stefan Gran, from the German trade union DGB, believed that a social Europe is necessary.

- Europe is not yet social enough. In recent years, social inequalities have increased sharply. For over 10 years, Europe has focused on market openings, deregulations and liberalisation of the internal market. Social Europe must now be about balancing the freedom of the single market with fundamental rights for citizens and workers. This is also necessary in order to curb the growing populism in Europe. Both the Nordic countries and Germany should serve as role models. We support the Social Pillar, which we believe is not about legislation but mainly about benchmarking and establishing common indicators, as a first step, but if the Commission is serious about making Europe more social, the social dimension must be taken into account in all policy proposals, Gran said.

The seminar was chaired by Gunnar Hökmark (EPP group), chairman of SPN, and gathered about 50 participants from EU institutions, companies, business associations and other stakeholders.

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