Thyssen in successful balancing act on ‘social Europe’

[epp group/Flickr]

Marianne Tyssen [EPP/Flickr]

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.

>> Read: EU “has the power” to put in place a universal basic income

14-10-01 Marianne Thyssen Commissioner Hearing EMPL

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”.

>> Read: MEPs approve ‘imperfect but improved’ protection for posted workers

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. Storify on Marianne Thyssen’s EP hearing:

"[Thyssen]’s performance was one of the very best so far. She showed remarkable technical knowledge of the subject matter in her portfolio. I welcome her resolve to address the pressing problems the EU is experiencing in this sector", said David Casa, the EPP group’s spokesman on employment and social affairs, after the hearing.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, announced the distribution of portfolios among his new team on 10 September.

Among the new Commissioners, due to take up their posts on 1 November, are 18 former (prime) ministers. The President has announced that the new Commission will be "very political".

The new Commission must now be approved by the European Parliament, who will interview the commissioners between 29 September and 7 October.

During these two weeks of hearings, the 27 commissioners will be interviewed by MEPs from relevant parliamentary commissions.

Parliament can then accept or reject the whole team.

  • 29 September to 7 October: Hearings of Commissioners-designate and committee evaluation meetings; no hearings on Friday 3 October 2014 and on Monday 6 October 2014 in the morning
  • 7 October: Extraordinary meeting of the Conference of Committee Chairs to evaluate the outcome of the hearings.
  • 8 to 9 October: The Groups will meet on Wednesday 8 October in the afternoon and on Thursday 9 October in the morning in order to evaluate the hearings.
  • 9 October: The Conference of Presidents meets to declare the hearings closed and finalise the evaluation
  • 22 October: Vote in Plenary

Subscribe to our newsletters