Luca Visentini speech at Porto Social Summit

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President Costa, von der Leyen, Sassoli,
Heads of State and Government,
Esteemed authorities,
Colleagues from the Social Partners and Social Platform,

We meet today, three years and a half after the Social Summit in Goteborg, where you proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights in the presence of the European Social Partners.

During these years, the European Commission have worked on many important legislative initiatives in the social area.  However, the full implementation of the 20 principles of the Social Pillar is still lacking.

We, therefore, thank the Commission for having set out an Action Plan, we have been advocating for this since Goteborg.

We also warmly thank Prime Minister Antonio Costa for having organised this very important Social Summit today.

We are ready to commit and shoulder our responsibility, to the full implementation of the Pillar. And we expect all of us, European institutions and national governments, European Social Partners and civil society, to make the same commitment.

We are therefore ready to endorse the joint Declaration, which has been agreed over the last days, and we encourage the informal Council to support it tomorrow.

 

Esteemed institutional representatives and colleagues,

We have the responsibility to show to European citizens, workers and businesses that a fairer and more inclusive Europe is possible.  A Europe that protects, where everybody can get equal opportunities, where nobody is left behind.

We need to rebuild our European Social Model, which has been undermined by the economic and financial crisis, by the austerity policies that followed, and by the COVID pandemic.

Europeans cannot wait longer, they expect recovery, jobs and protection.

Together, we need to design a Future of Europe that gives back trust to all. We need to implement the European social market economy that is enshrined in the Treaties.

 

Despite all our significant efforts, the pandemic is still rampant, and we are not yet seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

We highly appreciate the actions taken by the European Commission, and Member States, to ensure the protection of citizens, workers, businesses, and our economies and societies.  But a lot remains to be done to get safely out of this unprecedented crisis.

We need to make sure that vaccines reach most of the population in a reasonably short time, under fair conditions of access, and free of charge.

For this purpose, European trade unions advocate for patents on vaccines to be waved and the TRIPS agreement to be derogated at WTO level. We ask all of you, the Commission and Member States, to be proactive in this respect as a matter of urgency.

 

Our economy and labour market are living in limbo.  We see relatively low levels of unemployment and bankruptcies because emergency measures have protected hundreds of thousands of businesses and almost 40 million workers, but the situation will soon dramatically explode.

Despite the emergency measures, we already see an unprecedented rise in inequality and precarity, since these measures have not reached all workers and businesses.  Small and medium enterprises, precarious, non-standard and self-employed workers, migrants, youngsters and women in many sectors have often not been granted access to income compensation and employment protection measures, therefore falling into poverty.

The recovery funds will start being disbursed, realistically, at the end of the year, and they will take 1 to 2 years to have an impact.  Therefore, it is urgent to prolong the emergency measures for employment and the economy, and to fill existing gaps in their coverage, otherwise we will face a disaster.

ETUC is especially worried that some Member States did not use part of the resources allocated for the emergency, particularly SURE, and are not planning to use all the loans allowed by the RRF, because they are afraid to generate excessive public debt.

As many have rightly said recently, this is the time for good public debt to trigger investment, but also to pave the path to make such public debt sustainable in the long run.

Therefore, the own resources of the EU have to be significantly increased through a reform of the European taxation policy and the introduction of new taxation tools, such as the FTT and environmental taxes.

In this respect, we welcome the Commission’s Communication on the prolongation of the General Escape Clause at least until the end of 2022, and we expect the discussion on the review of the Stability and Growth Pact and the EU economic governance to start immediately.

This must go hand in hand with a strong and ambitious EU industrial policy, and with a broader reflection on how to build a more sustainable and inclusive economic model.

We need to go beyond GDP-only related indicators, towards an approach based on wellbeing and a just transition for a green and digital recovery. As you know, we as European social partners have presented some joint proposals in this respect.

 

I’m insisting on these elements because we are firmly convinced that there cannot be a genuine relaunch of a Social Europe without rethinking our economic model. 

We need to move from the old narrative based on austerity and fiscal discipline, driven only by profits and productivity, to an economy that is at the service of people, offering good opportunities to all, respectful of the environment, of social justice and of individual and collective rights.

For this to happen, it is essential that the European Pillar of Social Rights becomes a compass for the European economic governance and the Semester process.  The Pillar has to be a fundamental part of Next Generation EU and set employment and social conditionalities for the recovery and resilience funding.

For the recovery to be sustainable and inclusive, massive investments have to be targeted to bring about quality job creation and active labour market policies, reskilling and upskilling, and universal and adequate social protection.

Increases in wages and redistribution of wealth are the only way to raise people out of poverty and simultaneously improve productivity – rather than cuts or further austerity, which would instead raise more and more inequalities and divisions in society.

To make our economies more sustainable, to meet the objectives of the Green Deal, to manage the digital revolution, we need to protect people through a just transition.

Just transition is not only training and skills.  It means creating quality work opportunities in those communities where existing jobs are going to be disrupted; just transition means helping workers and their families with training and social safety nets; it means involving institutions and social partners in all processes of transformation.

We want the Pillar, the social dimension, to be one of the milestones of the recovery, together with the green and digital aspects.  Thus changing nice slogans into real hope for people.

 

That’s why we support the Action Plan, and particularly the 2030 headline targets it sets: we have failed achieving the targets of the EU 2020 Strategy, we cannot risk failing again.

Upward social convergence on employment, skills and the fight against poverty is the minimum we have to achieve in the new decade, and this can be done through an appropriate mix of legislation, policy and action, at European and national level.

We know how much some of you are willing to protect subsidiarity and national competences.  Rightly so, when national systems and practices work well in improving living and working conditions of citizens.

But when, on the contrary we face divergence, inequalities, unfair competition, well than that’s the time for cooperation, coordination, exchange of best practices.  It’s the time for better and more ambitious legislation, for earmarking European and national resources for upward convergence, economic and social cohesion.

We support the rule introduced in the RRF for a significant portion of investment be channelled to the green and digital targets, but we would like to see the same rule for social targets, starting from the ones set out in the Action Plan.

There is no social upward convergence, there is no implementation of the Pillar, without adequate resources for social investment, without social conditionalities in the RRF, in the Multiannual Financial Framework, and in the Common Agricultural Policy.

There is no social justice without radical reforms of our legal frameworks.  We appeal to all of you to support the important legislative initiatives the European Commission has included in the Action Plan.

We need an ambitious Directive for adequate minimum wages if we want to guarantee fair wages and stronger collective bargaining to all European workers.

We need a Directive on Pay Transparency if we want to address the gender pay gap in the workplaces.

We need a Directive to protect platform workers, but also to ensure equal rights to all precarious, non-standard and self-employed workers in Europe.

This is just to mention three of many proposals in the Action Plan, that need to be delivered if we want to turn the 20 principles of the Social Pillar into reality.

 

We expect the same ambition and commitment at national level.

In the National Recovery and Resilience Plans, in the national reforms, in the national policies.

And as we as social partners are ready to cooperate and support at the European level, we can assure you that all our members are ready to do the same in each and every Member State.

But for us to be able to do so, we have to be involved through effective dialogue.

We strongly appeal to all of you to fill the gaps that still exist at national level, where too often social partners are not involved, or poorly consulted and just formally.

Social partners are the main actors of the economy and the labour market all over Europe, through our negotiations and action we can significantly help achieve the targets of the Pillar, to build a fair, sustainable and inclusive European society.

Dialogue between institutions and social partners, autonomous social dialogue, collective bargaining and participation in the workplaces, are essential values and instruments of our democracy and way of life.  We should all fight to defend them, at European and national level.

We expect all of you to promote all forms of dialogue with us, and be sure we will be ready to cooperate and deliver, to build together a fairer and inclusive Europe for all.

Thank you very much for your attention.

07.05.2021
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