A strong public service is even more needed in times of crisis

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Yes, European countries have to cut public spending in order to put their finances back in shape. But this should not compromise essential public services such as education, health care or tax collection, writes Klaus Heeger of the European Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (CESI).

Klaus Heeger is secretary-general of the European Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (CESI), a European umbrella organisation that defends trade union pluralism, and represents approximately 8 million employees. He contributed this commentary in exclusivity for EURACTIV.

"Yes, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy have to avoid bankruptcy by severely cutting their spending. Yes, almost all EU member states have to crossbar their budgets in order to avoid losing control over them. And yes, all eurozone member states will be called to respect extreme strict public spending rules and enhanced external control over budgetary sovereignties in accordance with the new fiscal pact.

But no – regardless of the present and future economic sense of strong austerity measures, especially in times of recessions, and regardless of the question, in how far such top-down imposed measures outside of the EU´s legal framework are reconcilable with the principles of democracy and conferral of powers, such measures shall never, never lead to abolishing the very essence of our democratic foundation and the warrant for the respect of the rule of law: a well-functioning public service.

Public service spending, one may slander, should be the first to fall. Public services are expensive, useless, and eventually repressive, and their employees are too well paid. In fact, they are strongly co-responsible for the debt crisis in many member states and they are obstacle to boundless growth and full-employment.

Yes, an inefficient and corrupt public sector creates unnecessary administrative burden and red tape, unpredictable investment conditions and harms economic development and wealth.

Yes the lack of effective structures in the management of individual EU member states may have been a cause of the debt crisis.

And yes, the public sector is and always will be the first to be discarded when costs have to be cut; by its very nature of being largely dependent from public spending, it will always, by its mere existence, be in a strained relationship with austerity measures.

Accordingly, the Greek government has just decided to spare several billions of euros by sacking tens of thousands of public sector employees. Fine, one may say. The Greeks are on the right track to fulfil the demands of the Troika for further bailout payments from the rescue package.

But could we also see all these 'yeses' from another point of view? What if the 'yeses' could be used to advocate the existence of (high-quality) public services?

To start with: Yes, it is the public sector that designs and implements reforms and shapes the future as a public commodity; without a well-functioning, motivated public sector that works according to an established legal framework, there will be no education, no health care and no social security.

Yes, it is the public sector which ensures the existence of a framework for reliable economic conditions, and which thus lays the foundation for sustainable growth and employment in a competitive Europe.

And yes, it is the public sector which guarantees safety and security in a framework of democracy and rule of law; that very same public sector shall protect our fundamental rights and freedoms – against itself and others.

To come back to Greece: Where will this efficient public sector be after all austerity measures have been implemented? And will Greece be able to recover eventually without it?  

But for those for whom all this is not good enough:

Yes, last but not least – at least not in the frame of the current discussions – there are no austerity measures without a performing public sector as no income will be collected!

Something to think about, isn’t it? Especially in times of austerity… "

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