Swedish MEP: ‘No free market rules should conflict with trade union rights’

Marita Ulvskog [S i Europaparlamentet]

We want to be sure that the new Commission will not deregulate the labour market, because EU citizens are more important than the market, said Marita Ulvskog.

MEP Marita Ulvskog is a Social Democrat from Sweden. She chairs the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. Ulvskog spoke to EURACTIV’s Ecaterina Casinge. 

The unemployment situation in Europe remains deplorable, with many newly created jobs badly paid, or precarious. What actions do you expect the new Commission to take to improve the situation?

The investment plan is a good first step. Then, for example, a mid-term review of the EU 2020 strategy is necessary.

Striving for full employment is the most fundamental task. Full employment for women and men must therefore be the priority for policy, both on the national and European levels. In doing so, we must also link the economic governance framework better together with the social dimension of the EU. I also wish to see that the EC puts a stronger focus on fair mobility and fair competition.

A reform of current legislation, such as the posting of workers directive, as well as new proposals putting an end to social dumping, is much needed in Europe.

Juncker needs to show us that he means what he says.

Today there are huge problems, especially in the sectors of transport, civil aviation and construction.

The EU must also promote gender equality, by guaranteeing equal opportunities, equal treatment for women, and men as well as fight against all forms of gender discrimination. Women’s participation in the labour market must be increased, as a tool to boost economic growth.

But a good start, of course, is not to create underpaid and precarious jobs. For example, the Commission should avoid facilitating unfair competition and “forum shopping”, like it has done through the proposal of establishing companies with a single member. We also need to make sure that EU occupational health and safety regulations, as well as other EU labour law minimum standards, are implemented and strengthened.

The Commission President says his new investment plan will boost the economy and create more jobs. Do you think he will be able to achieve these goals?

President Juncker doesn’t have the money so far to boost member states’ economies. What worries me, and many Social Democrats, is how he plans to finance his investment plan.

Does it mean that Juncker plans to deregulate the labour market even more in order to attract private investments? Or will he further weaken the health and safety directives in the work place? Will he create more proposals, like the single-member limited liability, or one-euro companies that not only base their headquarters in a country different from where they carry out their business, but also choose a place with the lowest level of trade union rights and taxes?

Wherever the money will come from, we want to be sure that the new Commission will not deregulate the labour market, but invest instead in people and create more opportunities. Otherwise, Europe will never be able to compete with countries such as China, or India.

Another problem is that there are too many differences between member states, and the lack of solidarity and confidence in the political systems makes it difficult to improve the situation.

Social dumping has emerged as a big problem for many member states. Does it come from loopholes in EU legislation, or are member states to blame for bad implementation of union laws?

Both. EU and national legislation comes with loopholes. We, the Swedish Social Democrats, will push for a social protocol in any new labour law at the EU level. The protocol should state that no free market rules could conflict with social and trade union rights because human beings must be more important than the market.

As you know, President Juncker promised to this European Parliament that he will promote equal pay for equal jobs. Equal pay discrimination in the EU is threatening free movement, and we cannot allow this to happen.

Out of all the Social Democrats in the parliament, the Swedish delegation abstained from voting for Jean Claude Juncker. Why?

Jean Claude Juncker was not our candidate. We did vote for the entire Commission, but abstained in voting for him, because he was unclear on many issues important to Social Democrats.

It was impossible for us to support a candidate who was vague on issues such as workers’ rights, gender equality, or safety and health at work. The unveiling of his involvement in Luxembourg’s tax scheme came to us as no surprise. We knew about Luxembourg’s tax practices, and it was another reason to abstain.

There have been too many words from him, and no results so far. When he starts putting people above markets, then we will offer him our support.

You were a legislator in the European Parliament when it adopted numerous laws to drag the union out of the crisis. But the situation is not much better. Do you think you were not ambitious enough?

We, Social Semocrats, have always criticised the proposed and adopted policies for having a much too narrow focus on austerity and deregulation. It has had negative consequences for all EU citizens.

There are also too many differences between member states, and it’s difficult to reach a unanimous decision on how to act. If one strategy worked for Spain and Greece, it was difficult to adapt it to Denmark. The EC was too tough on countries affected the most by the crisis. It didn’t allow them to maintain some sort of dignity and independence. 

We set ambitious goals on gender equality, employment rates, and a strong social agenda aiming for a minimum poverty rate before the crisis. But once the economic crunch struck Europe with very high unemployment and poverty levels, it put a strain on our democracy, and all the goals had to be downgraded.

Unfortunately, in the national and European elections, we saw how people lost hope and turned to extreme parties that offer very simple and provocative solutions.

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