The future of Europe – the social dimension

From 5 to 6 April 2018 took place in Utrecht, the Netherlands, a seminar about “The future of Europe – the social dimension”, organized by CNV (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond), with the support of EZA and of the European Union. The seminar was part of the EZA project coordination about the “European Pillar of Social Rights”.  48 representatives of workers’ organisations from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Luxemburg, Malta, Portugal, Hungary, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Serbia, FYR of Macedonia and Albania participated in the seminar.

The most important aspect of the seminar was to emphasize the necessity of a strong social Europe. This is not only important for all workers in Europe, in order to prevent them from becoming competitors of each other, but also for the support for the European project as a whole. Dissatisfaction among workers about Europe is real. We should not oppose Europe but make it better. The aim of the seminar was to voice the need to the European Commission and European politicians to work hard for fairer rules in the European internal market. This seminar was deliberately of a political nature because CNV feels that the Christian-social trade union movement should make itself more heard in the European political debate.

Speakers (e.g. from the European Commission, EC) stressed the timeliness of the event considering the current crucial debate on the future of Europe, launched by the president of the EC, Jean Claude Juncker. We are now exactly at the middle point in time of this discussion, which was initiated last year and which will continue until the European elections in May 2019. Multiple speakers and participants expressed the view that the seminar covered an important topic at a pivotal point in time.

The topics discussed during the seminar were:

  • The conditions under which the free movement of workers, goods and services takes place in the European internal market.
  • The proclamation of and proposals under the European Pillar of Social Rights.
  • The desired function and tasks of the proposed European Labour Authority, in relation to cross-border fraud with labour and social security legislation, and cross-border inspections and enforcement.
  • Cross-border regulatory issues and fraud in international road transport, in relation to the proposed Mobility Package.
  • The agreement on the Posted Workers Directive.
  • The revision of Regulation no. 883 on the coordination of social security systems.
  • The proposal of the European Commission for transparent and predictable working conditions.
  • The interplay between labour law, social security legislation and fiscal rules in cross-border work situations.
  • The functioning of the European Semester

Results of the discussions

  1. The design of the European Labor Authority (ELA): CNV and the participants of their European seminar propose to not assign the following tasks to the ELA:  information provision and stimulation of labor mobility. They propose to look at existing national authorities for the design of the ELA, eg consumer protection where authorities can order the cessation/prohibition of intra-Union infringements. National inspections must also be able to operate across borders. An ELA can facilitate this work and mediate between national Authorities, like Europol does.
  2. Equal pay for equal work in the internal market is still not a reality.  CNV and the participants of their European seminar regret the fact that the only way to survive for some Eastern European companies is to compete on labor costs.
  3. The EC has set an ambitious social agenda but also presents opposing proposals. CNV and the participants of their European seminar believe that the proposal for a new European services e-card is not in line with the ambitious social agenda. The advantages of encouraging competition should be weighed against the impact on people’s wellbeing.
  4. The European semester often leads to imposing austerity on member states, with a resulting pressure on social services. The introduction of a social scoreboard as part of implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights is good, but you have to subject rules to a “Social Progress Protocol”. Such a Protocol essentially requires a supplement to European law in a way that gives priority to fundamental social rights in the event of a conflict between different rights in the internal European market.
  5. There is tension between a Social Europe and the competences for social policy that lie exclusively with the Member States: during the seminar, it was agreed upon to advocate for not harmonizing European rights because the differences between member states are still too large. This leads to a low average as for E.g. in the proposal for a 6 months trial period, which is much longer than in many EU countries.
  6. It was concluded that support for Europe among workers is crumbling. Workers turn their backs towards Europe and opt for extremist parties. Why is that? Europe is a peace project based on a social market economy. It was agreed upon that the answer to populists should be more social Europe.

Resolutions and demands

  1. It is therefore that participants of the seminar underlined that, if problems in the internal market are not addressed and solved adequately, workers and citizens will lose their faith in the European project.
  2. More enforcement is needed, and better rules, especially in the transport sector. A very concrete proposal: the license plate of a truck should determine which law applies and would facilitate law enforcement. The Mobility Package now entails too many bad conditions for drivers, such as more flexible working hours and liberalisation of rules on cabotage. None of the member states agree with these proposals. Social partners should ensure equal remuneration for equal work in the transport sector as social partners. This is a hot topic in the European Parliament.
  3. How can the Social Pillar really become a reality? For example, by giving more substance to article 9 of the TFEU: the social impact of policy measures should get more attention as well as the enforceability of social rights, as foreseen in Article 57 of the European Social Charter. The too high ambition of the social pillar may possibly lead to a risk for workers’ support for a social Europe.
  4. Participants agreed that bottlenecks in the interplay of taxation, labor law, and regulation on social security should become regulated.

Consequences for the daily work of participants/organizations concerned

  1. We must strengthen the weak position of the trade unions. Moreover, social dumping undermines the strength of unions. However, for employers, stricter rules for companies are still seen as an obstacle to free movement.
  2. Europe is often not concrete enough for members of the trade unions. An example that is concrete is the Carcinogens Directive. Participating representatives therefore proposed to not make too big promises, but to show ambition in concrete proposals, in order to maintain workers’ support for Europe.
  3. The main task of the trade union movement is to tell the real stories of employees, to show the urgency and to indicate where employees do and do not need Europe.
  4. The EPP consists of very different sections within the political group. Some are very liberal and are afraid of trade unions. Relationships between different sections have become more difficult after enlargement. Participating representatives agreed that it is necessary to continue to give input as a social Christian movement! Coalitions can be forged; the agreement on the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive is therefore a good example.
  5. The composition of the European Parliament after the elections will differ greatly from now; more parties with a liberal profile and with little attention for social issues (eg Macron) are likely to gain more seats. Participants therefore agreed to make an inventory of what their members think, in order to show MEPs how they want to vote. This input can give a great impact, as MEP’s want re-election.