The different direction Europe should take
Leaders attending the EU summit at the end of last week yet again ignored the dangers of the political direction they are following. By endorsing proposals for the deregulatory REFIT programme, they not only cheered up David Cameron (but see below for the reservations, which will be less to his liking), but also failed to take the steps needed to revitalise Europe’s social dimension and reboot the European economy.
And so the European Union becomes ever less popular with the electorate who will vote in next May’s European Parliament elections. Europe’s leaders are risking the loss of popular support for the EU, and it is soon going to be too late to win it back. ETUC General Secretary Bernadette Segol condemned them in these terms:
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) met last week ahead of the summit to agree proposals for a People’s Plan for Europe. Its leaders took that message to the Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment ahead of the European Council. They reiterated our call for an effective social dimension to the EU and for stopping the attacks on workers’ rights to make Europe work for workers. And on Friday, the TUC’s own Frances O’Grady addressed the Institute for International and Economic Affairs in Dublin on the same subject. She said:
“Not surprisingly, ordinary Europeans are getting pretty fed up. If the EU is about little more than protecting the single currency at all costs, privatising services and keeping a tight lid on public spending, then popular support for European integration and the European ideal will diminish as surely as night follows day.”
The ETUC call is for Europe’s leaders to change course, and launch a bold European recovery plan investing an additional 2% of GDP every year over the next decade to re-industrialiseEurope and to create decent jobs, particularly in countries most affected by the crisis. In addition, the ETUC called for social benchmark indicators proposed by the Commission (such as unemployment rates) to carry the same weight in the development of economic policy as the public debt ratios that have reinforced austerity.
And the ETUC called for an end to deregulation and the attacks on workers’ rights. ETUC General Secretary Bernadette Segol said:
“The Commission‘s communication on the “Refit – fit for growth” is unbalanced and risks undermining citizens’ support for the European project. The Commission’s intention was to make EU legislation lighter and to reduce the legislative and administrative burden on businesses, but they are clearly attacking the workplace rights that European trade unions have fought for. In this way The European Commission is destroying key elements of the European Social Model. Europe, Europe’s workers, deserve far more.”
“Inequality is rising. Economic and social divergences continue to grow, within as well as between countries. Support for the EU project is falling dramatically as a consequence.”
However (here comes the slight glimmer of a silver lining), Commission President Barroso wasn’t quite in tune with David Cameron on what had been agreed about deregulation. Following what the Financial Times called (£) a “simmering spat between France and Britain”, President Barroso echoed the three-page French Government submission to the Council, saying:
“I believe we should not call into question established policy goals at European level. It is not about lowering standards in areas such as the environment, that are so important for many of our Member States, or lowering standards in terms of workers health and safety or consumer protection.”