"Strengthening social dialogue – shaping European integration": special project for workers' organisations in the Western Balkans - Evaluation seminar

The evaluation and perspective seminar of the EZA special project for workers' organizations in the Western Balkans took place in Vienna/Austria from February 24th to 26th, 2020, and was organised by ÖZA (Austrian Centre for Employee Education) with the support of EZA and of the European Union.

The approximately 60 participants from workers' organizations came from the following 15 countries: Albania, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina (guests), Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, Kosovo (guests), Croatia, Luxembourg, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Austria, Serbia, Slovenia and Hungary.

Opening the seminar and welcome by the organisers was done by the ÖZA President Mr. Norbert SCHNEDL, General Secretary. Mr. Andreas GJECAJ pointed out in his greeting the significantly increased number of participants at this seminar.

As Vice-President of EZA, Mr. Veselin MITOV welcomed the participants and gave an initial overview of the current situation in the Western Balkans, as a region between hope and reality. Although countries are constantly trying to make progress in the area of justice, the fight against corruption and for the rule of law, no new accession negotiations have been started. The new EU Commission under Mrs Von der Leyen wants to advance the process and "leave no one behind".

Presentation of the participants: In his introduction, Mr. Norbert KLEIN emphasizsed that EZA has been making intensive efforts to promote social dialogue in the Western Balkan region for around 8 years, because this region belongs to Europe and should therefore also become a member of the EU.

"But how? - Strategies for strong advocacy”

In his keynote speech, FCG Austria's education officer, Dr. Karin PETTER-TRAUSZNITZ, shows how a reconciliation of interests can succeed. He describes strategies, goal-oriented action, dealing with political powers and the need to clarify your role and to show your attitude so that positive change can arise.

"Dialogue on social dialogue: working successfully with EU institutions - opportunities, attitudes, interests, strategies"

The former deputy head of department in the DG for the enlargement of the EU, Mag. Franz Günter CERMAK, describes the structure and function of the Brussels institutions. These can be involved in the dialogue e.g. through diplomatic missions and EU ambassadors. If workers' organizations want to protect their interests in the EU, it is important to present their own initiatives and proposals using patience and persistence.

Shaping workers' policies in Europe - the role of the European Parliament: Mr. Lukas MANDL, a member of the European Parliament, reports on geopolitical interests in the region: "As the EU, we have to hurry up more than we can ask the Western Balkans to be patient". The problems have been known for a long time, especially the local labour market must provide a real perspective for young people and significantly improve their quality of life. Further progress must be made in the Western Balkans region in terms of health, education and the rule of law, while at the same time fighting corruption. The EU as a whole must become faster, develop from a pure “consumer continent” back to its own production and innovation, whereby the Western Balkans, with young and well-educated people, could become a future area of the “digital age”.

Shaping workers' policies in Europe - the possibilities of the European Economic and Social Committee: First, Mr. Veselin MITOV describes the composition of the EESC, in which, in addition to employers and employees, civil society is represented. The new EU Commission launched 28 initiatives in the first year. In doing so, it focuses on the following priorities: The “Green Deal” is intended to make the EU countries climate neutral by 2050; The "digital transformation" has radically changed the way we live and work; the initiative to introduce a “European minimum wage” was launched on a social focus. Currently, the minimum wages are between 2,450 euros (Luxembourg) and 350 euros (Bulgaria), so no fixed value can be considered, but e.g. 60% of the respective average income in the countries.

Lobby workshop: In this working phase, a strategic goal for the respective organizations is developed in two groups based on 3 points.

  • Review the inputs: new ideas? New questions?
  • Identify key issues that are important in your work.
  • How to implement? Who can be an "alliance partner"?

Presentation, discussion and summary of the results of the working groups in the plenary session.

Moderation: Mr. Norbert KLEIN, EZA

The working groups reported that the keynote speeches were very good and helpful. Across the region, governments are unwilling to engage in social dialogue. Although laws are passed, states often fail to adhere to them. But they need general validity and enforcement. Cooperation with the unions in Slovenia and Croatia is developing noticeably better.

Citizens want to live in safety. Civil society or the media need to be more involved with a specific target in order to be better publicly perceived. The participating police unions want to deepen their cooperation through EUROFEDOP.

Round Table: “The Western Balkans policy of the new EU Commission and the importance of social dialogue in it“

Moderation: Mr. Andreas GJECAJ, ÖZA

From the perspective of Slovenia: Mr. Janez CIGLER-KRALJ.

His core thesis is that the EU must start a new attempt to attract this region: more credible, and with better political governance; more dynamic and predictable. There must be no constantly changing conditions for EU membership, only the EU perspective helps to improve social dialogue in the region.

From the point of view of Austria: Mr. Fritz Neugebauer, former President of the National Council reminds us there can be no denial of dialogue because politically successful work cannot work without a network. Even if political parties in many countries do not have the best reputation, they are indispensable for functioning democracies. The independence of the media (as the fourth power) and the separation of powers - especially the independence of the judiciary - must also be observed. This is the basis for the rule of law. Perseverance is often required in democracies.

Conclusions and outlook:

Mr. Norbert KLEIN, EZA and Mr. Andreas GJECAJ, ÖZA

On the one hand, it became clear how difficult it is to find and maintain the balance between necessary patience and the request for speed. On the other hand, the networking that EZA is promoting with these seminars is necessary and essential at all EU levels. There is a clear commitment to continue these seminars.