Commission has ‘plan B’ if Portugal’s presidency ends with no minimum wage consensus

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. [EPA-EFE/LUIS VIEIRA]

The European Commission is weighing up a “plan B” should Portugal fail to reach consensus in the Council on the definition of minimum wages before the end of its term presiding over the body, 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 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,” he said.

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 EU Commissioner, 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,” he said.

“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,” Schmit pointed out, speaking about the various stages of the negotiation.

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

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 member states.

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.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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