EU policies to tackle the crisis have made things worse, writes Bernadette Ségol. Many in the new European Commission know it, but cannot say it.
Bernadette Ségol is Secretary General of the European Trade Union Confederation.
For a European Commission that acknowledges the European Union is approaching its last chance to save its reputation with citizens, I am alarmed at the lack of urgency to bring about improvements to citizens’ lives.
The politicians tell us there is an economic recovery. But for citizens the crisis is not over. 1 in 2 young people in Spain and Greece are unemployed. Many of the brightest people have left Portugal, Ireland and the Baltic states to look for opportunities elsewhere. The gap between rich and poor has increased. There is high unemployment, more insecure work, more poverty.
EU policies to tackle the crisis have made things worse. I think many in the new European Commission know it, but cannot say it.
The new European Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, has proposed a €315m investment plan. It is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough.
What is worse is that the other so-called pillars of EU economic policy are ‘fiscal consolidation’ – which means cuts – and ‘structural reforms’ which has brought zero hour contracts, more temporary and part time work, lower wages and attacks on collective bargaining.
Trade unionists are not against reforms. We support reforms that create growth and quality jobs – we campaigned strongly for the Youth Guarantee for example – but not reforms which maximise profits at the expense of working families.
Trade unionists do not support cuts in public services or public sector jobs. Cuts are the opposite of growth, and suppress economic demand – which is why growth in Europe is so slow and why unemployed remains persistently high.
To stimulate growth and make up for falling standards of living, workers across Europe need a pay rise.
The EU must put in place effective means to end the driving down of wages and working conditions, and the bringing in and exploiting of workers from other EU countries to drive down wages must be stopped as part of this effort – ‘social dumping’ has no place in Europe’s single market. Trade unionists support freedom of movement on the basis of equal pay and conditions for equal work.
At the same time trade unionists are still waiting to see what the new Commission will do for the ‘fairer’ and more social Europe that President Juncker promised. So far we see no evidence of it. On the contrary, I fear the so-called ‘better regulation’ initiative will be nothing of the sort – instead what we have seen is the delaying or axing of health and safety and other social improvements.
It’s not the way to win our increasingly sceptical citizens. You said it yourself Mr Juncker, it is a last chance. Extremists and anti-Europeans are waiting in the wings.