The Belgian Commissioner for Social Affairs, Marianne Thyssen, came out unscathed from her parliamentary confirmation hearing yesterday (1 October), as untroubled MEPs failed to point out the EU’s weakness on social issues. EURACTIV France reports.
The Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility gave the European Parliament assurances that she would protect social rights and the rights of workers during her mandate.
Marianne Thyssen’s 20 years of experience in the European Parliament worked in her favour during the hearing. She was not confronted with any scathing or uncomfortable questions, and was able to put forward her vision of the EU, which is shared by a majority of parliamentarians.
“I am a firm believer in the social economy, where liberty, responsibility and solidarity come together,” she said.
As a member of the European People’s Party (EPP) and a right-wing politician, Marianne Thyssen played a successful balancing act, displaying surprisingly strong social convictions whilst refraining from making specific commitments for her term in office.
“President Juncker asked me to make sure the word ‘social’ is fully respected and complementary to the market economy,” she said.
The Commissioner-designate promised to concentrate on job creation, access to jobs, workers’ qualifications and social protection, in line with the priorities laid out in her mission letter.
“The crisis is not over when 26 million people are unemployed,” she said, adding that this was “something we can’t accept”.
Assurances on social issues
Thyssen committed to adding more social parameters to the evaluation of EU member states’ budgets, and also linked innovation with social progress.
“When we talk about innovation Europe, we have more in mind than just research and development for businesses. We also have to think about research and development to solve social problems.”
When questioned on the implementation of a guaranteed minimum income, Thyssen declared herself personally in favour of the idea, but admitted that the Commission possessed very limited powers to act.
“If I had to decide what happens in Europe, we would have a minimum income across Europe. But this falls beyond our competences,” the Commissioner said. She added that the Commission would use the tools it possesses to “stimulate member states” to act on the matter.
The issue of social dumping
Jutta Steinruck, the German Social Democrat MEP, raised the issue of “social dumping” arising from the new directive on posted workers, which Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker has already promised to review.
“My priority will be to implement the existing directive,” the Belgian Commissioner responded. “Posted workers will have to follow the rules we agreed on”.
But she did stress the importance of looking into how the directive was implemented, with a view to making improvements. “I know it is a sticky point. We need to look at what is applied and what needs to be changed”.
Weakness on environment and equality
The Belgian Commissioner managed only vague answers to questions on “sustainable Europe”, stressing that Green SMEs and the “circular economy” would help promote green projects. In France the energy transition is raising hopes for job creation.
Martin Schulz had highlighted the pay gap between men and women as an issue in his Commission campaign.
During her hearing Marianne Thyssen insisted that the current laws on gender equality were adequate, but that care had to be taken to ensure they were upheld. When pushed by Constance Le Grip to give concrete measures that would be taken on this subject, the Commissioner replied that she was a feminist, but that “women still need a bit of help”, a response that sounds rather more paternalist than feminist.
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— EURACTIV (@EURACTIV) October 1, 2014