Friday, January 25, 2013


A tete a tete between Bundeskanzler Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande. Germany and France together are the axis around which the European Union is running

The French socialist President Francois Hollande surprisingly announced on the 12th of January a historical social agreement between Government, employers and employees on reforms of the labour market. Past december the negociations had failed. Some unions had announced they would not sign any agreement that introduces a kind of flexibility on the labourmarket. However, in spite of this, there is an agreement today. Flexibility will be introduced on the level of dismissal of employees. It will be easier for companies to get rid of employees in times of crisis. However, it will become more expensive – and thus less attractive – for employers to hire employees on a temporary contract. In return, the unions had done that employees get easier acces to training and a supplementary health insurance.

From the 5 biggest unions three of them have accepted the agreement. The unions are now going to consult their members. The agreement becomes confirmed as soon as the majority of the unions agrees. The big question is whether the agreement is good enough to get out of stagnation the French economy. Unemployment in France, according to new European figures, has risen to 10.5 percent, against 5.4 percent in Germany. More than a quarter of the French youth is unemployed. The French budget for 2013 takes in account of 0.8 percent growth but optimistic minded economists expect at best this year no growth and no shrink economy.

Prime Minister David tries to escape from the eternal British dilemma to remain independent as a Great Nation or permanently join the Europe Union.

English Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron announced a referendum will be held about Europe, to be held between 2015 - 2017. Before that he wants to negotiate with the EU on the distribution of powers between the EU state members and the European Commission. He wants less power for Brussels especially on EU directions as for example the legal protection of temporary workers and on working time which says that a working week should not be longer than 48 hours. The euro-critical think tank 'Open Europe' considers that this 48 hour working week cost 32,8 billion pounds, because employers must hire more workers. This makes the UK less competitive compared to other non-European countries.

He himself declared to be in favor of the UK to stay in the EU but the “democratic approval” for this in his country is to small. That is why he proposes the referendum. He outlined 5 principles to be basic for the European Union: competitivity, flexibility, more powers for the member states in stead of Brussels, democratic representativeness and responsibility. Since its membership of the EU, the UK has tried to limit the EU to a bussiness community based on a more European free market. Even the 10 years social democratic government of Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997 – 2007) could not change fundamentally the UK position in the EU.

As a former imperialistic power with a strong island identity, the UK has problems to accept they belong to the European continent and that they have to accomodate economically and politically with Germany, France, Spain, Italy etc. Besides this they feel a strong kinship – politically, economically and cultural – with the US. However, the United States have given already the message to Prime Minister Cameron, that it is very important that the UK stays in the EU. The US have warned that if the UK would leave the EU its relations with the USA itself will be damaged and the UK would become isolated on international level.

ETUC Secretary General Bernadette Ségol fights for a Social Europe.

The European Trade Union Confederation ETUC headed by the French General Secretary Bernadette Ségol reacted very critical on the speech of David Cameron: “We are very concerned that Mr Cameron wants to retain the benefits of the single market, while bringing into question EU competence to deal with subjects of vital importance to European citizens and workers including “the environment, social affairs and crime”. Workers rights are an integral part of the single market, because we need a Europe for citizens, not just for business. We must avoid the downward spiral of competition based on lowering basic standards at work that he is clearly advocating”.

TUC General Secretary Francis O'Grady sees the speech of its prime minister about the EU referendum as a distraction. “We need a government that focuses all its efforts on jobs, growth and living standards - the problems that face ordinary families every day of the week. 'The Prime Minister's call for a possible referendum in four year's time is a distraction, creating uncertainty for business investment and making recovery even more difficult. It's clear that he wants the UK to remain in the EU but on the basis of scrapping vital protection for workers. Yet all of Europe's most successful economies - in or out of the EU - have better rights at work. 'Instead ministers need to find the time to 'think more deeply' about getting the economy moving.”

So what will it be in the future? Will the EU become a community of citizens of just a bussiness community? There are the conservative, nationalist and leftist forces who want the EU to limit itself as a bussiness community. The EURO crisis around Greece has shown that nationalistic sentiments, not to say national prejudices are playing an important role in national politics, both to the right and the left. These political forces do not want to loose any national sovereignity to Brussels. On the contrary they believe that national sovereignty guarantees more national prosperity and progress than Brussels.

On the other side, most European trade unions united in the ETUC want to develop a social EU which in practice means more European labour laws and a common European labour market. But trade unions don't have seats in the national parliaments or the European Parliament. Yes, their members are voters, but as history has shown trade union members never vote as one political block. Trade union members have common interests as workers but as citizens, they have different political opinions and loyalities. At present, most trade unions are not even involved in national debates on the future of the EU. Therefore it is time for the unions to start talking with their members about what kind of EU they want: the EU as a bussiness community with the free market as the heart of it or a social EU based on common labour rules and a common labour market? Unions have to make up their mind if they do not want to stand on the sidelines of the political developments in Europe.

No comments:

Post a Comment