Trade unionist: Von der Leyen has to deliver on Social Europe ‘if she wants to gain trust’

Oliver Röpke, president of the Workers' Group of the European Economic and Social Committee. [EESC]

The Workers Group of the European Economic and Social Committee welcomes Commission president-elect Ursula Von der Leyen’s openings on social policy, but if she wants to be trusted, she needs to prove herself, its president Oliver Röpke told EURACTIV.

“In the field of social policy, there are some ambitious proposals by von der Leyen but if she wants to gain trust among citizens and workers in Europe, she has to deliver,” Röpke pointed out.

He insisted: “We should see it in the first month.”

Röpke urged the president-elect to move from words into concrete proposals and called her to build an alliance with the social partners. 

“The trade unions and the Workers’ Group are ready to contribute to this,” Röpke said.

The president of the Workers Group defended the European Pillar for Social Rights as “the main achievement of the Juncker Commission,” and encouraged the newly elected president to build upon the basis of the pillar. 

“Of course, we would have liked it to be more ambitious,” Röpke admitted but stressed that “it still is an important step forward.”

“What we see now with regards of the new Commission is that this pillar can serve not only as a compass but also, I would say, as the basis for a social action program for the future,” the EESC member said,” and that’s what we absolutely need.”

A more social budget for a more Social Europe 

The Workers Group in the EESC advocates for the integration of the Social Pillar in the ongoing reform of the Economic and Monetary Union. Like others before, they defend the need for a stronger social dimension in the EU’s economic and fiscal policy. 

A timely report requested by the group proposes to increase the allocation to the European Social Fund and exclude it from the macroeconomic conditionality – which makes structural funds dependent on respecting the European economic governance rules- and to make sure the EU budget responds to the social priorities of Europe. 

The “socialisation of the EU budget,” Röpke explained. “We have to include more social aspects also in the economic policy, and the MMF. I think this is out of the discussion,” Workers Group president argued. 

The report also points to the need for a European unemployment scheme -that has been backed by the Commission president-elect- and a reform of the Stability and Growth Pact, to include a Social Imbalances Procedure. 

The Workers Group also supported the need for a stabilization mechanism within the so-called Eurozone budget that seems, however, politically dead. 

Röpke argued that using the flexibility that the EU’s fiscal rules allow, as announced by von der Leyen, is a step forward but it is not enough. 

“We still have the opinion that we need to reform the Stability and Growth Pact,” he stressed while defending the need to increase public investment, particularly that linked to social policy. Holding member states accountable for their social performance is needed in this sense. 

A challenge for von der Leyen 

The president of the Workers Group defended the need for a roadmap to implement the Social Pillar. However, as most of the social policies remain a national competence, this has always been a struggle. 

“I think we need more social convergence and we can’t achieve social convergence without minimum standards in social policy and social protection,” Röpke argued.

In spite of the growing trend of those who advocate for less European integration, the president of the Workers Group is confident. 

“I think there’s not a fundamental change to the recent mandate of the Commission,” he said, “If you look to the posting of workers directive, we had so much resistance…  and it will definitely happen again.”

“But we can’t wait for the for the slowest country, we have to go forward,” Röpke stressed. 

“if you talk about most social fairness, if you talk about stronger collective bargaining structures in the member states, and this is a key demand of trade unions and of the workers’ group, then you would be talking at the same time about decent minimum wages in member states,” Röpke said. 

“I’m sure some of the some of the proposals will find to support even maybe in countries who are not always favour of more integration,” he defended. 

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