Lead MEP: Macron’s campaign on posted workers could deepen east-west divide

The lead MEP in charge of a controversial EU labour reform has warned that French President Emmanuel Macron risks deepening divides between east and west EU countries.

The centre-right French MEP in charge of guiding the controversial posting of workers directive through the European Parliament has lashed out at Emmanuel Macron after he said he hopes to strike a compromise on the legislation by the end of this year.

“He has to understand the European negotiation process. These are negotiations between 28 countries. They require lots of listening, understanding of positions, respect and dialogue,” Elisabeth Morin-Chartier told EURACTIV in an interview.

French President Macron emphasised his intention to seal an agreement on the draft posting of workers bill during meetings last week with leaders from Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Austria. Macron said he is confident that the sharply divided leaders could compromise by the end of this year.

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The French and Austrian heads of state shared their views on EU workers from low-pay countries and on the future of the EU during a summit in Vienna. EURACTIV France reports.

But Morin-Chartier warned that Macron’s attempt to negotiate one-on-one with other leaders during last week’s meetings could backfire.

“I fear his initiative will crystallise the EU’s different blocs. But I am trying to be balanced between east and west and avoid deepening divides,” she said. Morin-Chartier is one of two MEPs who is shepherding the bill through the Parliament.

“I am just as keen as Emmanuel Macron to see this directive succeed, if not more so, because if it does not, we fuel Euroscepticism and this subject will become a central theme of the next European elections, which are not so far away,” she added.

Morin-Chartier’s positions on the posting of workers bill are closely aligned with Macron’s.

But she argued that Macron’s meetings with central European leaders bypasses the Parliament’s role in crafting the legislation. The bill will need to be agreed in three-way talks between national governments, the European Parliament and the European Commission before it goes into effect.

“The president must understand that work on the posting of workers directive has been going on in parallel in the European Parliament for the last 18 months and he cannot ignore this work,” Morin-Chartier told EURACTIV.

Macron’s campaign last week also ruffled feathers in other political groups in the European Parliament. Socialist MEPs criticised Macron over the weekend for rejecting a compromise they brokered between political parties before he was elected.

“He rejected it claiming he wanted to work on something tougher,” the S&D group said in a statement. It said that Macron’s proposal to reduce the maximum period for posting workers “brings no real benefit”.

In June, Macron’s government proposed strict new amendments to the bill, including a reduction of the maximum time that workers can stay abroad from 24 months down to 12. France’s proposal threw negotiations between member states off-track.

Macron's proposals wreak havoc on posted worker negotiations

Tough French proposals have derailed talks on controversial EU labour mobility rules and dashed Malta’s hopes of brokering a compromise deal by the of this month.

The posting of workers legislation regulates how long employees from lower wage countries can be sent to work in other EU member states and still pay social contributions at home—which saves companies money.

France has been the fiercest advocate for updating the labour law. Poland is the most outspoken opponent of the rules. Several other eastern EU countries also tried to veto the Commission’s proposal last year—but they were outnumbered by member states that favour stricter regulation.

Macron emphasised the importance of the posting of workers rules in his first joint press conference with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker after he was elected in May.

Despite disagreements over Macron’s proposal to change the bill, the Estonian government, which is leading legislative negotiations between national governments until the end of the year, hopes to broker an agreement between ministers at their next meeting in October.

But tensions between member states are still flaring—and Macron’s recent remarks have only sparked more resentment.

His tour of central Europe ended in a fight after he said that Poland is acting “against European interests”. In response, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo called Macron’s comments “arrogant”. She accused France of using the posted workers legislation to “destroy one of the pillars of the EU”. Macron and Szydlo did not meet in person last week.

Morin-Chartier said the spat between Macron and Szydlo has created a misleading impression that France receives a huge amount of workers from other EU countries but that French companies do not post their own employees abroad.

“What upsets me about the debate that has been going on for the last ten days is that at no point have I heard or read that we also have posted workers in other EU countries. This directive must also find the right balance between the EU’s posted workers in France and the French abroad. This is a fundamental negotiation and communication error,” Morin-Chartier said.

Poland sends more than 400,000 posted workers to other EU countries, far more than any other member state. That figure increased by 74.4% between 2010 and 2015—most Polish workers are employed in the construction and transport sectors. More than half of Poland’s posted workers are sent to Germany, which has backed France’s push for tighter labour rules.

France hosts around 180,000 posted workers from other EU countries—the second highest figure in the bloc. Polish employees make up 16.9% of the total posted workers in France. But France also has the third highest rate of workers posted to other countries in the EU—more than a quarter of them work in Belgium.

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