France ready to pick up the baton on EU minimum wage proposal

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron attend Europe Day ceremony and the Future of Europe conference at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Sunday, May 9, 2021. [EPA-EFE/Jean-Francois Badias]

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday (8 May) that Paris was ready to pick up the baton on the EU’s minimum wage proposal if an agreement cannot be reached during the Portuguese EU presidency, which ends on 1 July.

France will take the rotating EU Council Presidency on 1 January 2022, after Slovenia’s six-month stint, which starts in July.

And Macron said the minimum wage proposal would be high on France’s priority list.

“Beyond this summit is our entire economic and social agenda that we have been fighting for for four years (…) everything we want to pursue in view of the French presidency of the Council of the European Union,” Macron told a press conference at the end of the European Council meeting at the Crystal Palace, Porto.

“I am thinking of the minimum wage directive, the protection of online platform workers’ rights and the sustainable governance of companies, on which the Porto summit marks a step forward, but which must be strengthened in the framework of what we have prepared for the French presidency,” he added.

Portugal’s prime minister on Saturday acknowledged obstacles to implementing the directive on the European minimum wage but said the Portuguese presidency was doing a “discreet” job and would try to get results by the end of June.

António Costa was speaking after the informal meeting of leaders of the 27 member states of the European Union in Porto at a joint press conference with the president of the Council, Charles Michel, and the president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

Asked whether he expects to close the proposal for a European directive on the minimum wage soon, the prime minister said that the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the European Union “is in the phase of discreet work”.

Let’s see if we have good results to share, he added.

‘Plan B’

Meanwhile, the European Commission is considering future presidencies as a ‘plan B’ should Portugal fail to reach consensus in the Council on the definition of minimum wages, according to EU employment commissioner Nicolas Schmit.

“It is my expectation, my hope that the Portuguese presidency of the Council will reach a compromise between member states, but you know that a politician, a commissioner, has to have a ‘plan B’,” said Nicolas Schmit.

Speaking to Lusa on the sidelines of the Social Summit in Porto, Schmit added that “if it is not possible to reach this agreement during the Portuguese presidency, it does not mean that this is the end” of the discussion process.

“But I think that the work done by the Portuguese presidency is extremely important, extremely valuable and is something on which we will be able to build”.

At stake is the aim of the Portuguese EU Council presidency to achieve a compromise text in the Council on the new European minimum wage directive during this six-month period.

However, according to the European Commissioner for employment and social rights, these are still “complex” discussions, which only after a compromise in the Council will result in the start of negotiations between the co-legislators.

“The Portuguese presidency is very interested and has invested a lot of time and energy in this negotiation. So I would hope that we can reach an agreement [in the Council] during the Portuguese presidency,” he noted.

“If it is not under the Portuguese presidency, it will be a little later.”

“The next Council presidency falls to Slovenia and then France. I know that the French government and the President himself have told me that they are very committed,” Nicolas Schmit pointed out, speaking about the various stages of the negotiation.

“I think we are on the right track,” he further stressed, saying he foresees “a compromise based on the proposal” of the European Commission.

Schmit hopes for agreement on EU minimum wages by June

Member states will hopefully reach a common position on the definition of EU minimum wages before the end of Portugal’s presidency of the Council, which runs until June, European Commissioner for employment, Nicolas Schmit, told Lusa.pt, highlighting the “efforts” made …

The definition of a fair and decent European minimum wage is one of the elements of the negotiation of the action plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights, which Portugal wants to see approved during its EU presidency, despite divergences among the 27.

The Social Pillar is a non-binding text to promote these rights in Europe and in which, among other issues, reference is made to pay, arguing that “workers have the right to a fair wage that guarantees them a decent standard of living”.

Last October, the European Commission presented a legislative proposal on European minimum wages, but admitted difficulties in negotiations in the Council, which is why it assured that it does not want to impose values on countries, but rather indicators to ensure a decent quality of life for workers.

The treaties recognise the competence of each member state in setting wages, but the Commission has resorted to a flexible interpretation that integrates the wage into working conditions.

Currently, 21 member states have a minimum wage defined by law, while in the remaining six – Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden – this only exists through collective bargaining.

It is mainly these six countries that oppose the concept, but against the proposal are also employers’ associations, which argue that the directive could jeopardise the viability of European businesses, already badly affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

Commission makes it clear: Same minimum wage for all EU countries is impossible

Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said on Wednesday (28 October) that if Bulgaria, the country with the lowest wages in the EU, were to introduce the same wages as his native Luxembourg, the very next day there would be “no Bulgarian economy”.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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