Proposal For A Real Social Dimension Of EMU

Bente SorgenfreyFor many years, the European Union’s recommendations regarding economic policy have emphasized the need to lead rigorous economic policies. This is, partly, seen in the European Semester and in the country-specific recommendations in general, as well as in the economic requirements imposed on the southern European countries that have been struck very hard by the financial crisis. This trend has sharpened competition between the EU member states and will, in all likelihood, further accelerate the race to bring down a number of different types of costs.

The ETUC describes this approach as a one-sided policy that will devalue employment conditions and damage the European Social Model in favour of increasing the competitiveness of member states through free market forces.

Harald BorstingTherefore, the ETUC has advocated that we strengthen the social dimension in future collaboration initiatives within the EU. We support the ETUC’s advocacy for the social dimension.

Never has the need to take action to stop downward competition on wages and working conditions been more pressing. Equal treatment must apply to all workers and must be a fundamental starting point for all EU legislation in future. The ETUC reiterates its demand for a Social Progress Protocol to be annexed to the Treaties with the aim of securing respect for fundamental social rights.

In general, we know that the general public in Denmark has a limited interest in amendments to the Treaties. We therefore need a thorough debate on the political as well as the constitutional development of the European Union. However, in order to have a fruitful and constructive debate, it is necessary that the EU starts taking initiatives that will strengthen sustainable growth and employment with decent conditions. This is why specific details and realisation of a social dimension will be decisive with regard to the public’s attitude toward European collaboration in the future.

Social dumping is an increasing problem, not just in southern Europe, but also in northern European countries, including Denmark, as it has a direct and indirect effect on the labour markets in these countries. Social dumping not only lowers social standards for the individual, it also makes it more difficult for employees to improve unfavourable terms of employment or completely avoid such terms.

A Social Union, as presented by the ETUC and as a concept as such, is still very open to interpretation. This is why it must be operationalized in the near future. An important part of realising a social dimension – and quite possibly the most important part – is to establish specific initiatives aimed at improving the employment situation.

For this reason, we suggest two small but not insignificant improvements to the present economic governance. (1) The country-specific recommendations should promote the European Social Model rather than challenge national social standards. At the national level, they must be negotiated with the social partners. (2) The scoreboard indicators must include employment and social indicators and benchmarking of active labour market policy. In this way we ensure an ongoing assessment of whether member states comply with the Europe 2020 Strategy.

The requirements put forward by the European Union regarding public spending in a number of countries rest on the realistic assumption that countries with substantial liabilities cannot increase their indebtedness much further. This is why the issue of financing, i.e. taxation policies, is one of the central elements in the realisation of a Social Union.

We are concerned about the existing political understanding in the EU institutions, which reflects an excessive cautiousness to propose a modified and progressive tax system in the member states. It is a misunderstood assumption to expect the EU to emerge from this job- and growth crisis solely with deregulation and neo-liberal instruments. A strong and efficiently run public sector is a precondition for a flexible and inclusive labour market.

Another precondition to realise a social dimension is a binding social dialogue at the European level leading to involvement of the social partners, including the trade union movement, in the EU’s overall crisis management with a view to increasing growth, employment and social equality. This also requires that member states enter into social dialogue at national level.

This article is part of the EU Social Dimension expert sourcing project jointly organised by SEJ, the ETUCIG Metall, the Hans Böckler Stiftung, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Lasaire.