Some 10 EU countries, essentially a group of net budget contributors, oppose the extension of the European Globalisation Fund (EGF), set up in 2006 to assist laid-off workers develop new skills and return to the job market.
Among the countries blocking the fund's extension are the United Kingdom, Germany, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark, EurActiv has learned.
The EGF is financed with up to €500 million each year.
Marian Harkin, an Irish liberal and a member of the European Parliament’s employment and social affairs committee, said the irony was that most of these countries had applied for EGF funding during the period 2007-2013.
MEPs on the employment and social affairs committee were expected to give their backing to an extension of the scheme until end 2013 in a vote scheduled Tuesday (6 November).
Most countries benefit from the fund, not the UK
An overview of applications for the fund showed that most beneficiaries actually originate from the countries blocking the proposal in the EU Council of Ministers. They include Manroland, a German printing machinery manufacturer, Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas, Swedish automaker Saab and Finland's mobile phone manufacturer Nokia Salo, which all applied for EGF funding.
The UK has never applied to the EGF, taking a somewhat consistent approach in its policy not to advocate increased EU spending. Harken told EurActiv that rumour had it that the UK’s position on the EGF had “something to do” with its EU budgetary rebate.
Harkin expressed puzzlement over the position of these EU countries. When asked about the recent closures of Ford carmaker plants in Southampton, England, and Genk, Belgium, she said the EGF represented a “perfect fund” to help support those workers who were laid off.
But Harken said she was concerned about the future of the fund since, as many member states put the squeeze on EU budget negotiations, the EGF could be viewed as just another “low-hanging fruit”.
Sweden has also made its position clear that it does not believe that this type of aid for workers should be within the ‘competences’ of the EU.
During its EU presidency the Danish placed the EGF in a ‘negotiating toolbox’, with a view to scrapping it. The current Cypriot presidency has voiced its support for the programme, a position likely to be maintained by the upcoming Irish presidency of the European Council.
Not for farmers
On Monday, the agriculture committee rejected the proposal, which received support from just two of the 38 voters. Harkin told EurActiv this was “not expected”.
A policy advisor close to the agriculture committee told EurActiv the fund “does not make sense for farmers”. The committee therefore decided to remove any references to the agricultural sector in the draft amendments.
The proposal had attempted to buffer farmers from the effects of large multilateral trade deals, such as the recent free trade agreement with the Latin-American Mercosur group.
The no vote represents a further blow to the fund, which by August last year had provided 100,000 workers in various companies - from carmakers to those in the textile industry - with an average of €4,844 each. Figures for 2010 showed an employment reintegration rate of 42%.
“My fear is it will fall off the table”, Harkin said.