Luca Visentini speech to EU Social Summit

TSS Group

Dear Presidents, Prime Minister,

Vice President, Commissioner, Ministers,

Colleagues from the social partners,

This is the last Tripartite Social Summit of the current European Commission, and also the last for Donald Tusk as President of the Council.

I would like to warmly thank Donald for the support and leadership you have shown in organising and driving the TSS over the last years. You have done this giving great consideration to the social partners’ ideas and proposals.

I would also like to thank Jean-Claude, Valdis and Marianne for the work you have delivered on economic and social cohesion in Europe, during your term of office.

For more than 15 years the EU didn’t deliver any new legislation on social issues; on the contrary it faced austerity, cuts and dramatic unemployment.

To you goes the merit of having rebuilt our social market economy, by launching investment, helping social partners in revitalising social dialogue, and delivering the European Pillar of Social Rights. The latter framed an impressive bulk of new legislation, from posting to work life balance, from working conditions to social protection, from skills to health and safety.

You have brought Social Europe back on track, thank you for this.

Of course, there are also things we didn’t agree with, but we always tried to provide constructive criticism.

There are a few final efforts we ask you to make, together with the new European Parliament and in coordination with the incoming Commission.

It’s about finalising the revision of the Regulation 883 for the coordination of social security.

It’s about progressing on the Mobility Package and towards a fair transposition of the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive and of the Work Life Balance Directive.

It’s about making the reform of the EU voting procedures through the Passerelle Clause.

And last but not least, it’s about speeding up an ambitious agreement for the new European Budget and MFF.

The latter is particularly urgent, because we should avoid the situation we faced in 2013, with almost one year delay and gap in funding; and also because we need more money to cope with all the new challenges and tasks that the current and future Commissions are rightly assigning to the new Budget.

I would also like to thank the Finnish Presidency, for having prioritised relevant issues like the ones we are going to discuss today.

My colleagues will be outlining out points in detail in the three panels. I just want to underline some of these points at this stage.

When we speak of just transitions, we use the plural, because we are convinced that whereas it is primarily about the carbon-neutral economy, it is also about the digital and artificial intelligence transition.

To us just transition is not only about providing funding, although the Just Transition Fund announced by Ursula Von der Leyen is a proposal we, together with the European Parliament, have supported for years.

Just transition to us is a governance process, one that includes investment for the creation of alternative job opportunities; one that fully involves the social partners and local communities in policies and action that make sure that nobody is left behind.

When we speak about skills, we of course support skills improvement to match the needs of the labour market and to face the challenges posed by transitions.

But we also emphasise the necessity of training paths to be framed in the governance I just mentioned earlier; and the right to access to continuous training to become binding for every worker in Europe.

Finally, an industry policy fit for the future should include investment in technology, innovation and quality job creation.  It should also include the need to protect workers in the digital economy and take their right to organise and collective bargaining out of the scope of competition law; this is particularly important for non-standard and self-employed workers.

We are fully committed to implement these priorities and to engage in dialogue with employers to deliver possible common action, as we are successfully doing in the social dialogue negotiations on digitalisation.

There are two additional points I would like to bring to the attention of the Finnish Presidency.

The first is about the need to address the downward wage spiral and divergence we face in Europe, which are not only massively increasing inequality and unfairness, but also harming the competitiveness of the single market.

This is becoming very urgent and cannot be ignored any longer.

That’s why we have proposed to the employers to open a dialogue on how to strengthen and further develop collective bargaining in each EU country; and that’s why we support the two major initiatives announced by the new President-elect on fair wages and pay transparency.

We expect that everybody will do their utmost for these initiatives to be delivered soon, including the current and the incoming Presidencies of the European Council.

The second point is that for such initiatives to be delivered, as for the other principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights to be implemented, we need full involvement of social partners at all levels.

The TSS is important but it is not enough.

The TSS needs to be strictly linked to the EU summits and to the Macroeconomic Dialogue, in a way that the social and the economic dimensions are connected and consistent with each other.

The social partners need to be involved in the informal EPSCO and the informal ECOFIN; we deeply regret that neither of these Council’s bodies have done so during the Finnish Presidency.

There is still time to recuperate, so we appeal to the Finnish government to take our demand into account; we also appeal to the Croatian and German governments to make sure that such mistakes are not repeated next year.

To conclude, let me address the two most dramatic issues of the day, Brexit and the invasion of Syria.

I think none of us can predict what’s going to happen with Britain in the oncoming weeks, but I would like to raise some warnings from our point of view:

  • We urge the avoidance of a no deal Brexit, to do so would likely mean extending the October 31st deadline;
  • We urge the negotiators to keep to the negotiating mandate, which means that a level playing field with no fiscal, social or environmental dumping should be guaranteed, including full respect of the Good Friday Agreement and more generally full protection of European and UK workers;
  • We ask the EU to ensure that the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund is able to support workers before they are made redundant as a consequence of Brexit; and is able to help small and medium size enterprises;
  • We require the European Commission and Member States to involve both social partners in Brexit related preparations.

On Syria, we urge leaders to take strong and effective measures tomorrow so as to drive Turkey to withdraw from the Kurdish territories of the country.

As we have pointed out in the letter we have sent to Donald, Jean-Claude and David Sassoli, which was distributed to you today, an embargo on export of weapons is not enough and sounds like an unserious commitment.

Freezing of funds, sanctions and stopping the accession process should be considered at this stage.

People’s lives, human rights and the actual existence of a population are at stake, without mentioning the re-emerging risks of terrorism and of a new refugees’ crisis.

This cannot be dismissed for purely economic or diplomatic reasons; the European Union is the only international power that can make a difference in this tremendous scenario.

Thank you very much for your attention.