Thursday, May 30, 2013


Within about a year, from 22 until 25 of May 2014, elections will be held for the European Parliament (EP). In the 27member states of the European Union 754 Members of Parliament (MP’s) will be elected. The MP’s in the European Parliament are like in all other parliaments in the world organized in political party groupings. The European People’s Party (dominated by Christian Democratic oriented parties) is with 270 MP's the biggest one in the EP (36%). The other two classical political movements are represented by the Socialist Grouping having 191 MP’s (25%) and the Liberal Grouping having 85 MP’s (11%). With the elections in sight it is time to start to look to the political programs of the political party groupings in the European Parliament. We start with the EPP, being the biggest fraction in the European Parliament.

The EPP believes that more public spending is not the answer on the actual financial and economic crisis. The EPP does not believe that a further exacerbation of debt and deficit levels is the right way to create growth in Europe and to emerge from the crisis. While recent years have shown that more spending is not the answer, it also has become evident that EU members that took rapid and strong action to reform and reshape public expenditure have seen strong economic growth in the last couple of years. The decline in competitiveness and productivity was one of the causes of the crisis in Europe. The EU economies can only compete in a globalised world if they are strong.

Public investments should first and foremost focus on growth-generating areas, such as education, research and innovation. Transforming the European economy into a worldwide competitive knowledge economy is one of the most important challenges for the European Union in the years to come. Know-how is central to economic growth and job creation, therefore, the best conditions must be created for transforming our society into a knowledge society. Research and innovation, especially centres of excellence, are key elements in this respect. High-quality education, as well as increased mobility for students and researchers, are crucial for improving the competitiveness of the European economy. Public funding for R&D will trigger private investment in research and innovation and make Europe a global hub for the world’s best researchers.

Since the start of the crisis the level of private investments in the EU has fallen with 350 billion a year. Creating the right conditions to get these investments back is one of the most important challenges, says the EPP. Structural reforms are pivotal to improving the conditions for investment, to attracting private capital and to creating the right conditions for economic growth.

The EPP believes that labour markets need to be reformed in order to promote a greater number of people working more and at an older age. High levels of unemployment, and particularly youth unemployment, are a danger for social cohesion and for European integration. An inclusive and active employment policy is needed, better education and better qualifications for the European citizens as well as modern, life-long learning concepts in order to provide access to high-quality jobs. Labour market mobility should be encouraged to allow all citizens to benefit from the largest economy in the world. Remaining legal barriers that hinder labour mobility across all EU Member States must be removed. The EPP wants a better European coordination to provide relevant training to unemployed people, not least to benefit from labour mobility in Europe.

Profound economic reforms at national level are needed, while reforming economic governance at European level. The EU needs strong governance to protect the stability of the European economy. The euro needs to support the Single Market and help the EU maximize the benefits of being the biggest economy in the world. The EU needs strong rules, and these rules have to be respected. The European Commission shall make full use of its powers to ensure that EU countries reform and respect already agreed rules to reduce debt and deficits. The Commission needs effective tools to sanction those Member States that do not fulfil their obligations.

A first set of measures to ensure a stable banking sector includes the implementation of the single rule book, i.e. bank capital rules, the recovery and resolution framework, a rule for national deposit guarantees schemes and a common effective supervision mechanism. The EPP supports the creation of a European Banking Union ensuring a common system for supervision and therefore more stable financial markets.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


The newly elected Pope Francis kisses the feet of prisoners in Rome during the ritual of foot washing that precedes Easter

There are few unions that still rely on Catholic social principles as previously defined in the encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope leo XIII in 1898. That encyclical deals with the situation of the working class and expresses in a number of principles the social teaching of the Catholic Church. The Belgian Christian Trade Union Federation ACV is one of the few trade unions in Europe that every year commemorates the publication of Rerum Novarum on 15 May. The former Dutch Catholic Confederation NKV also had a manifesto based on the social teaching of the Catholic Church. I do not know what has been kept of those principles on since the merger of the former socialist NVV with NKV into the current confederation FNV.

The former International Christian Trade Unions Confederation ICV, the predecessor of the WCL, was also based on the principles of the social teaching of the Catholic Church. Over the years, under the influence of trade unions from third world countries like for example CLAT in Latin America other principles were introduced. Those changes were not always apreciated. President Piet Brussels of the former NKV metal union believed that there were to much Marxist elements in it. Ironically, as already mentioned, years later the NKV merged with a former socialist federation.

The main principles in the papal encyclical are a fair wage, the right to property and solidarity with the weak. As instruments to pursue these objectives were mentioned both government intervention and the formation of trade unions. With this introduction on the functions of government, the role of industry and labor Pope Leo XIII leads The Catholic Church into the industrial era. His plea for trade unions was not only an innovation in ecclesiastical circles, but also to the outside world. Leo's encyclical contains a critique against unbridled capitalism and at the same time condemns Marxism.

The encyclical Rerum Novarum outlined the excesses of the industrial revolution and criticized the society based on capitalism as the cause of the misery. The political ideology of liberalism was also criticized because of her support of capitalism. At the same time the Pope rejects the class struggle and the ideologies that supported it, socialism and communism. Instead, the encyclical emphasized the importance of fair wages and adequate redistribution of wealth and ownership for the workers.

Core values ​​of Catholic social teaching are: human dignity, human development, solidarity, complementarity, charity, subsidiarity and redistribution of ownership and wealth.

Human dignity
This main principle is founded on the Catholic vision of the human person. Central to this vision is that man is created in the image of God and that man therefore has an inalienable individual human dignity. Related is the idea that man is not just something, but someone (a person). The Catholic vision of man considers him capable of self-knowledge, personal development and relationships with others.

Catholic social teaching recognizes that men and women are different, but have to fulfill complementary roles. Both sexes should respect and support each other in their roles.

Solidarity is committed to the public interest and not just to temporarily reducing the suffering of others. It is emphasized that the human being is dependent on other people and that everyone is connected. Men are by definition social human beings.

In the later encyclical Caritas and Veritate (Latin: Love in Truth) charity is highlighted as one of the main principles, which was considered by Jesus himself as a summary of all principles. Because love can not be effective by itself, it should be accompanied by the Truth.
Subsidiarity implies that what people as individuals can arrange must be left to themselves. If individuals cannot do so, then these tasks should be transferred to the local community and if necessary to other, higher authorities. Politically speaking, it is a principle of decentralization.

Redistribution is on the ownership of companies that should be distributed as widely as possible among the population. It also emphasises antitrust measures and the need of cooperative companies and banks.  

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Industrial working conditions in Bangladesh are often very bad, even below every standard of human dignity as we informed in the blog “Fire inBangladesh” of 3 december last year. Now it is only 5 months later and more than 500 garment workers, mostly young women, were buried alive when a huge building collapsed with thousands of workers in it.
What happened exactly still has to be established but as far as we know until now is that the owner of the Rana Plaza building, hired by many small garment factories, knew the building was becoming dangerous but that he did not want to close it. Engineers who checked the building because cracks were detected in the walls of the building, did not take any action. Worse, they were the ones who on demand of the owner, have build another 3 floors on the top of the 5 storey building. On the other side, a bank below in the building decided to close because of the cracks in the wall while the employers of the small garment factories forced their workers to enter the building under threat of a fine.
Who has to be blamed for this human tragedy caused by greed of the owner of Rana Plaza and the employers? Of course on the first place the owner of Rana Plaza but also the employers of the many small garment factories and the authorities who have the responsibility to ensure that the building codes are inspected and labour inspection. But it should be noted, as has been the case many times, that many of those responsible have been bribed with the aim not to report irregularities.
What about the responsibility of the most Western garment companies that want production at the lowest costs? Do they have any responsibility? They must not do business with companies that does not respect the ILO conventions and directives on decent work and working conditions. They must cooperate as much as possible with the ILO and the trade unions to work out a policy in line with international standards as has been developed by the ILO.

The newly elected Pope Francis compared the conditions in which these workers had to work with slavery. “Wages being to low, with just attention for the turnover and concern for personal gains. That goes against the will of God!'' The Pope referred also to his 1 May, Labour Day speech. He called on political leaders to do their best to create jobs. According to Pope Francis “the high unemployment is attributable to economic thinking outside the boundaries of social justice.''
ILO Secretary General Guy Rider should be praised for his quick response to this outrageous disaster by sending a high-level mission to Bangladesh “to offer its support and expedite action by all parties following the collapse of the Rana Plaza Building in Savar, which left at least 380 people dead” (Today we are talking about more than 500 victims). The ILO website informs that the high-level mission is led by ILO Deputy Director-General for Field Operations, Gilbert Houngbo. ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said he was writing to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, urging immediate action to prevent a recurrence of the latest in a series of entirely avoidable workplace tragedies.

“Horror and regret must translate into urgent firm action,” said Ryder. “Action now can prevent further tragedy. Inaction would mean that the next tragedy is simply a matter of time. The ILO urges the Government of Bangladesh and its employers and trade unions to make use of its support and ensure that the Rana Plaza tragedy is the last of its kind.”

We welcome also the statement of the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to consider measures for example through the trade preference policy. The EU now has policies that make developing countries such as Bangladesh, have to pay less import tax. The EU is the largest trading partner of Bangladesh and the clothes made in the collapsed building, were destined for the European and Canadian markets.