Participants came together in four EZA-workshops to debate the future of the EU. The result is 31 demands that will be submitted as a contribution to the Conference on the Future of Europe.
The European Centre for Workers’ Questions (EZA) welcomes the Conference on the Future of Europe as a process for enabling a debate throughout Europe on the future shape of the EU, also giving citizens an opportunity to participate. The EU is facing tremendous challenges regarding foreign policy, migration, global trade, climate change, energy transition, transformation of its economy towards sustainability and climate neutrality, the pandemic, social cohesion respectively social divide and its capacity for joint action.
We strongly believe that the EU must use the kairos to live up to the original goals of its founding generation and to have the courage to proceed with comprehensive reforms and action for the next generation.
We expect the joint presidency of the CoFoE and all competent EU and national bodies not to waste this opportunity and not to disappoint EU citizens taking part in the process of the CoFoE. The EU needs to make use of all existing provisions of the EU Treaties and to ensure that there is fully transparent follow-up of the input given to the CoFoE. Amendments to the Treaties must not be a taboo. It is of paramount importance for the EU’s credibility that the CoFoE is followed up immediately with concrete and committed proposals for change.
As a network of workers’ organisations, we appreciate the structural involvement of the social partners in the process of the CoFoE.
The EZA wishes to contribute with the following reflections and proposals arising from a series of debates and a final forum organised by EZA for its members on the CoFoE. Attention focused on EU values/democracy/rule of law – the European economic model/social affairs/health – climate change as the topics given the highest priority among EZA members.
Values and rights, rule of law – European democracy
- The European Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities (Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)). Promoting peace and reconciliation among the European people was the initial founding principle of European integration. We expect current and future decision-makers of the European Union to take these values as the fundamental elements driving further development of the EU.
- European values are coming increasingly under pressure. The return of nationalism as well as the rise of populism, both encouraging Euro-scepticism, together with xenophobia, have weakened the community spirit and cohesion in the EU. The EU needs to react with appropriate firmness and to promote and enforce its values.
- Mutual respect and tolerance must be fostered in our multicultural and multireligious societies. The EU has to be human-centred, and citizen-focused and citizen-owned. European citizens find themselves in different circles of belonging, starting with the family, that are drivers for an open and common European space. Grassroot organisations are to be considered vital players in promoting the prosperity of society and in achieving a broad-based, shared understanding among European citizens. Consequently, financial support for grassroot organisations has to be increased.
- The European values and social model must be the fundament of EU foreign policy and trade relations. Among others, the EU should further enhance its support for the transition process in the Western Balkan countries and offer a more concrete accession perspective, including a timeframe.
- We underline the need for more participative and deliberative democracy to complement and to strengthen representative democracy, not to replace it. Democratic processes need to be diversified as a complementary part of representative democracy so that policymaking becomes more inclusive with increased acceptance of – especially controversial – political decisions. Citizens should be encouraged to participate actively in both national and EU democracy. People feel more at home in a society where there is broad participation in politics. It is time for the EU to install a permanent mechanism to implement Article 11.1 of the TEU (Art. 11.1: The institutions shall, by appropriate means, give citizens and representative associations the opportunity to make known and publicly exchange their views in all areas of Union action.) and Article 11.2 of the TEU (Art. 11.2: The institutions shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative organisations and civil society), installing a permanent single Eleven2 platform.
- The balance of power between the EU institutions and the current institutional decision-making process has to be revised:
- The role of the EP must be strengthened. The EP, as the only directly elected European body, should be placed at the core of the European political system, and must be given the right of legislative initiative. At the same time, the autonomy of the social partners has to be respected.
- The principle of unanimous decisions in the Council must be overcome and the principle of qualified majority decisions expanded.
- We see a real threat to democracy in the growing influence of the big economy and multinational enterprises which are being given more and more space in political decision-making. We urge for corresponding awareness at all political levels, with paramount importance being given to transparency.
- The EU has to strengthen the political and democratic knowledge of its citizens (civic education). An understanding of how the EU functions and of its values has to be transmitted to the next generations with greater emphasis on its role in European educational curricula and lifelong learning schemes.
- The EU must improve regulation of social media to combat hate speech, sedition, disinformation and discrimination in the anonymity of the internet without undermining the fundamental right of freedom of speech, and invest heavily in countering internal and external attacks which undermine democratic elections and governing processes. New regulation needs to include precautions with respect to privacy in line with GDPR and to avoid the misuse of anonymity in social media. At the same time, media literary/skills of citizens must be strengthened.
- Subsidiarity as a main principle incorporated in the EU Treaties contributes to proper functioning of the European democracy if it goes hand in hand with the principles of solidarity and responsibility. Subsidiarity works best to the benefit of the people in a system of defined, complementary competences, implemented in a model of multilevel governance with close functional cooperation between different governmental levels that support each other. The pandemic as a global challenge has shown the need for joint action on the EU level, despite health not being an EU competence.
- We refer to the ‘Pisa process’ in education as an example to urge member states to work with a method of voluntary, bottom-up cooperation on the EU level. In areas of national competence (health, climate, energy and others) it is very important to act on the basis of what the citizens need, working with facts and arguments, connecting competences with responsibilities, using multi-level governance as a tool, taking common interests as the basis and building up multi-level cooperation gradually, step by step.
Rule of law
- The basic principle of rule of law is embodied in the division of powers. The EU needs new political and juridical instruments which allow for effective action when EU values are breached by member states. The mechanism provided by Art. 7 TFEU has proven inadequate. It is important that any new tool thereby pursues objectivity and proportionality.
- Beyond institutional enforcement, we understand democracy and the rule of law as a multi-level responsibility in civil society as such. We propose to set up regional and local information and reflection points by a European agency to offer citizens a protected platform where they can share their experiences and reflect on how human rights can be protected without the fear of any threat.
Social justice – a new European social economic model
- Democracy in the EU will only prevail if its social dimension is enhanced, achieving social cohesion and effectively implementing the motto of leaving no one behind. In the event of a conflict, fundamental social rights take precedence over economic goals. This means that the individual must be put in the centre. In consequence, workplace democracy must be enhanced.
- The EU must continue developing its economic model into an eco-social market economy, giving support in particular to those countries which face specific transition challenges. The aim of a climate-neutral economy by 2050 must not be watered down and be reconciled with economic competitiveness. Circular and social economy should be promoted. The European Pillar of Social Rights should become legally binding.
- GDP-focused economic thinking can be overcome by rethinking and redefining the Stability Pact and must be completed with a new toolbox for measuring well-being, social progress and sustainability in Europe. This includes data such as work-life balance, the right to disconnect, coverage of the social security system, affordable and accessible healthcare services, equal access to quality education, equal opportunities on the labour market, coverage of collective bargaining, effective labour regulation in multinational enterprises.
- Transforming the European economy to make it more digital and sustainable must be accompanied by comprehensive measures for a socially fair and just transition in order to make sure that no one is left behind (upskilling and reskilling of workers, lifelong learning, comprehensive reform of educational systems/VET to address new job needs, greater resilience…).
- A successful single market and labour mobility require further coordination of social security systems and a guaranteed minimum wage on the European level. Wage policies must be coordinated to eliminate social dumping.
- There must be better protection for vulnerable people on the labour market: working poor, young, persons with disabilities, LGBTIQ+, people suffering from bullying, migrants, platform workers, etc. Inequality in pay must be addressed to lift the low-paid out of in-work poverty. The gender pay gap must be closed.
- While debating the future of Europe, the EU has to put special emphasis on the future of the young generation. Precarity and instability have already become normal for many young people. The lack of prospects affects their life choices, including starting a family.
- Social dialogue and collective bargaining are part of the European social market economy. They strengthen democracy in the workplace and in European society. They contribute to more justice, higher productivity, and competitiveness. Therefore, social dialogue, collective bargaining and coverage by collective agreements, and workers’ rights need to be further strengthened.
- The credo of the Union that no one shall be left behind must be mirrored in actions to ensure that no more disadvantaged regions persist anywhere in Europe. Additional initiatives should be developed for redeveloping these territories in order to reduce the brain drain and the exodus of skilled and young people.
- The EU needs to develop towards a European Health Union giving more competence to the EU level regarding health issues.
- The healthcare sector in the EU is following a destructive downwards spiral, with medical tourism of citizens from Western Europe to private health facilities in Eastern Europe, accompanied at the same time by migration of highly skilled healthcare workers from Eastern Europe to less skilled jobs in Western Europe. This destructive mobility undermines principles 16 and 18 of the European Pillar of Social Rights. It is a result among others of austerity measures and the way the single market is organised.
- Everyone in the EU must have the right to timely access to affordable, preventive and curative healthcare as well as long-term care of good quality.
- Against the background of the ongoing global pandemic, the EU has to invest in a strong social security system that is capable of supporting well-equipped health systems under public administration as well as socially oriented or social economy initiatives, ensuring good working conditions and fair pay for medical staff and healthcare workers. RRF national plans should take this into account.
- We ask the EU to take measures based on the findings of the EU-OSHA 2021 Long-Term Care Report, where challenging working conditions are reflected in the significant share of LTC workers facing work-related health issues. Corresponding measures must definitely address the work-life balance, bullying/mobbing and health awareness. Member states should ratify the ILO convention on the prevention of harassment and violence at work.
- The EU must continue to work on a framework that guarantees healthy working conditions. Trade unions and other workers‘ organisations should help to ensure that companies comply with legal occupational safety and health rules. The role and resources of labour inspectorates should be enhanced.
Climate change – just transition
- Failure to take the necessary steps towards a sustainable economy will result in a social graveyard. Belief in the possibilities of a sustainable future can only be generated by working together with the social partners on a just and fair transition, leaving no one behind. The EU must show that change is possible by sharing experience acquired hitherto in turning old unsustainable industrial zones into future-oriented sustainable industrial zones.
- The EU should support campaigns for active citizen involvement, as the citizens are consumers of energy, food, clothing, services, transport, housing, etc. (from quantity to quality – from ego-personalism to eco-personalism). Trade unions, workers’ organisations, social movements and other civil society organisations must act as multipliers. Environmental education for children and adults should be enhanced.
- The EU should adopt mandatory due diligence legislation to ensure compliance with environmental aspects as well as human rights along the entire supply chain. Forced labour, child labour, land grabbing, pollution, etc. must be eradicated. Due diligence legislation must apply to EU and non-EU suppliers, and products need to be labelled accordingly (traceability).