Brussels summit: it’s the jobs that matter most
The grandly named Council of Europe is half way through a two-day meeting, and you would be forgiven, from the media coverage, for thinking it was a bare knuckle fight between all 27 European heads of government about who gets what out of the budget. Cameron’s spin doctors have been trumpeting his defence of the UK budget rebate, his imposition of austerity on the Commission budget, and so on. But Europe isn’t just a permanent struggle between competing national interests. There are different fault lines that often fail to break through into the predominantly national (if not all nationalist) media. The big issue that faces Europe’s leaders (or ought to, at any rate) is what to do about jobs and growth, about climate change, about inequality.
That’s what the General Secretary of the ETUC, Bernadette Segol, has been telling European heads of government over the last month as she has made an impressive ten-city tour of national capitals, taking in the leaders of Austria, Belgium and Luxemburg, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Latvia, Slovakia, Spain and lastly Italy, and making the case for a new approach to Europe’s economic woes. She has been arguing for a new social road map, and the ETUC’s social compact, to replace the austerity-driven fiscal compact that has brought misery to so many in the Mediterranean states, Ireland and elsewhere. She ended her tour by addressing the European Council itself, where she told them to stop the misleading advertising about a growth programme for Europe, and demanded an end to austerity.
Above all, she called for an urgency and a scale of ambition that would actually make a difference to the living standards and prospects of European workers – especially the young, who are suffering record levels of unemployment which will blight a generation of Europeans if not addressed. So far, the signs are not good. While the European Commission has feathered the brakes on the austerity roller-coaster by giving countries more time to reduce their deficits, veteran Europe-watcher David Gow has drawn attention to the limited nature of the Commission’s proposals.
Despite spending €600bn bailing out European banks, the Commission proposes just €6bn to tackle youth unemployment. The only guarantee that offers is a guarantee of failure and disappointment.
The President of the European Parliament, socialist Martin Schultz, highlighted this in the Huffington Post when he asked “are young people as important as the banks?” and concluded:
“I will be in Madrid on 4 and 5 July, straight after having attended the youth unemployment summit in Berlin. In Madrid, I will be meeting the same young people who last year asked me what we proposed to do for them, now that we had bailed out the banks. And this time, I would like to be able to give them an answer.”
Bernadette Segol, addressing Europe’s leaders, called for a different Europe. She said:
“European economies are trailing behind, growth is very weak, some countries are in recession. The EU’s share of world markets is falling. Others are growing. We stagnate. Real wages are falling; standards of living are falling; poverty and inequalities are rising. Households are not spending: they are frightened. Unemployment rises each month.
“Structural reforms do not constitute a recovery plan. To deal with this calamity, resources are needed; only a real recovery plan and a change in economic policies can fundamentally deal with this problem. Despite our protests, despite people mobilising on the streets, I must unfortunately recognise that we have not – not yet – been able to get our message through.”
The ETUC call for a social compact would marry up a major economic stimulus equivalent to 1-2% of GDP (the German DGB calls this ‘a new Marshall Plan for Europe’) with higher wages and more control of the labour market. It is what the European Council should be discussing, not horse trading over the budget and rebates. They are squabbling while Europe sinks.