The role of workers’ organizations and workers’ representatives in the development and the strengthening of Europe’s social dimension

From 26 to 27 November 2019 took place in Brussels a seminar about “The role of workers’ organizations and workers’ representatives in the development and the strengthening of Europe’s social dimension”, organised by BIE Int. (Bouw-Industrie & Energie International), with the support of EZA and of the European Union. More than 40 representatives of workers’ organizations from Belgium, Spain, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Germany, Austria, France and Estonia participated in the seminar.

In the context of a newly elected European Parliament and a new European Commission, a reflection was organized on the EU and trade union priorities for the coming 5 years. And how to better coordinate trade union policies as to better influence policy making on EU level. 

To start the seminar Votewatch gave a detailed overview of the results of the European elections that were organized 23-26 May 2019 in all EU member states. Particular attention was given to changes in political strength in and between the political groups and the impact on the composition of the new EU Parliament. Votewatch sketched the main political trends on EU level and in the different EU member states. Based on the new composition of the EU Parliament and the new EU Commission Votewatch gave the outlines of possible changes in the different policy areas, with specific attention for the social domain. 

After this introduction, we received an update from a selected number of countries about their priorities and their expectations. Jörg Tagger from DG Employment of the European Commission, outlined some of the priorities for the Commission. He stated that the Commission von der Leyen, would continue and further develop the social correction started by the Commission Juncker. Priority would be given to operationalize the Pillar of Social Rights. As announced in the hearing in the European Parliament, an initiative an minimum wages/minimum income can be expected in the first 100 days of the new Commission. Another major file is the Green Deal. 

In a reaction the European trade union federations, UNI Europa and the EFBWW, expressed some concerns. Both federations welcomed the apparent social and ecological turn the new Commission has taken, but warned not to bring forward any proposals without proper social dialogue. For the EFBWW the fight against social dumping remains one the highest priorities. This is also very much linked to a fair functioning of the Internal Market. Another concern is the impact of the Green Deal on high energy industries, such as the cement and the chemical industry. Trade unions don’t oppose the greening of the economy, and the ambitious goals of the EU as such, but demand accompanying measures to have a just transition.  

The second day started with a forum on social dialogue and different voices from those social dialogues. Representatives from trade union and employer federations from the building, chemical and paper industry reflected on the challenges and opportunities for a renewed social dialogue on the EU level. Social partners expressed their will to work with the legislators on better legislation and thus better protection for workers and for companies. 

After almost 2 days of discussion, Peter Besselmann (Shared management DG Employment, Social Affairs, Inclusion - European Commission) depicted the new architecture for the different structural funds, such as ESF, the European Quality Forum and the Globalisation Fund. Besselmann announced also the creation of a new Just Transition-Fund. An interesting discussion followed where earlier interventions and standpoints were reiterated and connected to the funding and other support available from the Commission. 

The seminar was closed by Liina Carr, who on behalf of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) summed up the many files ahead of us.