One third of trade unionists voted for the far-right at last EU election

Maithreyi Seetharaman, Pierre Moscovici, Deirdre Mortell, Christophe Catoir and Luca Visentini during a panel discussion in the Brussels Economic Forum. [European Commission]

The European social contract is broken and inclusive economic policies should be on the top of the next European Commission’s agenda, policymakers said at the Brussels Economic Forum on Tuesday (18 June). 

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) ran a survey among their active members, asking them who they voted for at the last national and European elections.

As it turned out, one-third of them admitted they had given their vote to far-right parties. 

When they were asked about the reason behind their vote, trade unionists mentioned job insecurity, precariousness, and the fear of losing their social protection safety net.

“This is what a broken social contract means,” ETUC secretary-general, Luca Visentini, told the Brussels audience. 

Europe has turned a corner since the 2008 financial crash and the ensuing sovereign debt crisis that followed in the eurozone. “But the legacy of the crisis is very strong and has a name: inequality,” said the EU’s economic affairs Commissioner, Pierre Moscovici.

The European social contract “has to be totally revised,” the Commissioner told the audience.

Europe is currently going through deep economic and social transformations, driven by  a range of factors including demographic change, the digital revolution and the energy transition. Those evolutions require a response at the European level, Moscovici said. “The question of fighting inequality is national but also European,” he argued.

On the trade union side, Visentini argued for a move towards wage harmonisation in Europe to support job creation. With similar levels of productivity across the EU, current wage disparities between EU countries “is harming the potential of the single market,” he warned.

“We need to recreate a middle class that was destroyed during the crisis,” Visentini stressed. And for that, “we need collective bargaining,” he said.

Moscovici agreed. After ten years of structural reforms and belt-tightening, Europe needs to take care of its people, by reforming the social protection system and reducing inequalities, he argued. 

Luca Visentini called on the new European Commission to build on the Social Pillar launched by the Juncker executive. For instance, it could work towards the universalisation of social protection systems, and make sure the self-employed and other non-standard workers are covered as well.

Five takeaways from the EU’s economic recommendations to member states

While the public finances of all EU member states are now officially out of the “red zone”, the European Commission on Wednesday (5 June) still had tough economic policy recommendations for Spain, Italy, Belgium, Greece and Germany.

A more inclusive growth

“In many parts of Europe, and this is the case of Spain, Europe was a promise of prosperity, not only in terms of GDP but also in terms of welfare for the people,” Spanish Finance minister Nadia Calviño told the audience.

“Inclusive growth should be very high on the agenda of the European Commission,” she stressed.

Indeed, economic growth cannot come at the expense of people and the ecology, said Valdis Dombrovskis, EU Commission vice-president for the euro. “Europe does not need growth for the sake of growth but for improving the well-being of its people. Growth needs to be inclusive and sustainable,” Dombrovskis said.

Europe should also be at the vanguard when it comes to fighting climate change, Calviño added. “We have to make sure that the transition is fair and we take care not only of the companies but also of the people,” the Spanish finance minister stressed.

Gita Gopinath, chief economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), agreed, and called for social and climate aspects to be integrated in economic growth measurements. “What needs to be changed is the framework that we use to measure growth,” she argued, saying “growth doesn’t necessarily come at the expense of inclusiveness”.

Gopinath argued for continued reforms at the national level but also on the completion of the Banking Union and the Capital Markets Union that were launched during the eurozone crisis. “These reforms are very important to build resilience,” she pointed out.

Visentini insisted on the need to finalise the reform of the Economic and Monetary Union that member states failed to complete during last week’s meeting of EU finance ministers.

A fully-fledged Economic and Monetary Union is essential to achieve social policy goals, Commissioner Moscovici argued, citing further developments on the Social Pillar launched in 2017, a stronger cohesion policy for poorer EU regions, and the introduction of social indicators in the European Semester of economic policy coordination.

“We need a full eurozone budget with a stabilisation function. As long as we don’t have that, we won’t have convergence in the eurozone,” Moscovici said.

EU election 2019: What next for Social Europe?

In November 2017, the European Commission launched the European Pillar of Social Rights, which resulted in 25 legislative initiatives. Ahead of the EU elections this week, EURACTIV looks at what the main political parties have on offer for social Europe.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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