Nicolas Schmit announced on Tuesday (10 December) that he will unveil his proposal for an EU minimum wage framework in early January, following his first Council meeting as a member of the new European Commission.
“This should allow every worker in Europe to have a decent life,” the Employment Commissioner said.
He will put forward the first proposal by 14 January to start conversations with social partners and member states.
Schmit said the Commission legal services are looking at article 153 of the EU treaties, which refers to the role of the EU in supporting member states to improve working conditions, as the legal basis for the establishment of such a framework.
The initiative was one of the main demands made by Socialists during the European Parliament election campaign and has been openly supported in the past by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
During the International Labour Organisation’s centenary conference in Geneva back in June, Merkel said the EU should look at ways to have “comparable minimum wages” to work towards equal working conditions across the bloc.
However, some countries reluctant to move towards greater harmonisation in this area. Schmit has therefore initiated a round of contacts that will take him to Denmark and then Sweden this week, to “dispel any type of qualms that they might have,” he said.
“It is no secret that there are certain members states that concerns when it comes to minimum wage because these are countries that do not have a minimum wage,” Schmit admitted.
The Commissioner said the proposal will “respect the traditions, the cultures and the national systems” and would not “undermine in any way” the functioning of countries where salaries are regulated through collective bargaining which, he added, is ultimately the preferred system.
“None wants to set a specific minimum wage level in the EU,” Schmit explained. Instead, ministers would rather “define the parameters” for the establishment of sufficient minimum wages in Europe.
“I am confident that we will reach an acceptable solution,” that would respect the systems in the Nordic countries, Schmit added, with Finland’s Employment minister, Timo Harakka, who chaired the last ministerial meeting of the country’s EU presidency, by his side.
Besides the minimum wage proposal, in January Commissioner Schmit intends to present a detailed calendar for the main pieces of legislation he will work on in the next five years.
However, he did not give any details on his most eagerly expected proposals, namely the long-time awaited Unemployment Reinsurance Scheme and a regulation for the protection of platform workers.
On platform workers, in particular, Schmit said he is working closely with Executive Vice President for Digital and Thierry Breton, in charge of the Internal Market, as well as member states and social partners and the platforms themselves to see what can be done and how to do it.
Schmit will also launch consultations with all EU institutions to see how to further implement the European Pillar for Social Rights launched by the Juncker Commission in 2017.
“My feeling was that all member states would like a strong social Europe,” the Commissioner said.
“On various issues there might be different points of view, but I didn’t get the impression that there were member states that were calling into question the European Pillar of Social Rights.”
Social security pending
Reforming the coordination of social security in the EU was one of Commissioner Marianne Thyssen’s objectives during her mandate but member states failed to get an agreement during the Romanian presidency, and although both the Council and the European Parliament aimed at finalising the negotiation before the end of the year, the file will still be pending in 2020.
“We had three trialogues on this issue during this presidency, trying to narrow the scope of disagreement to something manageable,” explained Harakka, who announced that the EU lawmakers had decided to cancel the next meeting foreseen for Thursday (12 December).
“It is a difficult file, everybody knows that, and it has been very tricky for all presidencies. We hope that there will be some progress,” he added.
Luxembourg has been one of the countries most reluctant to compromise on the reform.
“I am now the Commissioner, I am no longer a minister from Luxembourg. I fully take on my responsibilities,” said Schmit, adding that “the Commission will try to facilitate a compromise. There are a few remaining problems, but not that many.”
On the decision to cancel the trilogue he said that was Parliament’s responsibility, but, he added, “I think that reflects the feeling that we would not have been able to arrive to an agreement.”
(Edited by Benjamin Fox)