European Parliamentary Week 2017 - Speech by Katja Lehto-Komulainen

Speech by ETUC Deputy General Secretary Katja Lehto-Komulainen at European Parliamentary Week 2017; Interparliamentary Conference on Stability, Economic Coordination and Governance in the European Union; Towards a more comprehensive and coordinated social dimension


Mr. Chairperson, MEPs and members of national parliaments, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to speak here today on behalf of the European Trade Union Confederation, the ETUC.


Many workers across Europe are concerned about their future. Their experience is that European austerity has often been used as an excuse to reduce their social security, their access to public security, their working conditions and wages. Collective bargaining structures and labour market models have been dismantled during the crisis and this is still going on.

Now is the time to correct this situation. European leaders must bring an end to austerity and focus instead on sustainable growth patterns and integrating social and economic policy.

The European Union must ensure that social rights have the same status and importance as economic freedoms. Otherwise, people’s frustrations and despair may threaten social cohesion and inclusion.

Allow me to recall something essential. In the ETUC, and this goes back to the nineties, we have supported the single market. We knew the internal market would cause disruption, that there would be restructuring of jobs. But at the same time, we were also given two assurances. One was that the gains of European integration would be shared and that workers losing out in this process of change would be supported. The other was that there would be a Social Europe, a set of minimum binding rules and principles that would avoid “a race to the bottom”, in this way preserving the more advanced national social models while upgrading the others.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Economic and Monetary Union must be matched by a strong social dimension.

The ETUC welcomes the Commission´s proposal for a European Pillar of Social Rights. Trade unions submitted thousands of replies to the consultation. We also welcome the European Parliament’s adoption of the report by Maria João Rodrigues, which takes up many of our demands.

We set out five top priorities on more and better jobs; higher investment; a pay rise; just transition and the European social model. They are intrinsically connected and complementary to each other.

  • Number 1 is more and better jobs. Over 20 million Europeans are still out of work. The rate of long-term unemployment has doubled over the course of the crisis. High youth unemployment is endangering a whole generation. We need everyone to join in the labour market! But we also need to have quality jobs, not precarious employment with no security and no future.


  • Secondly, to achieve that we need higher investment. Public investment, while stabilising recently, has suffered disproportionately under austerity policies in the absence of special Stability and Growth Pact provisions to protect and support it.The ETUC believes that the flexibilities suggested by the European Commission are still inadequate given conditions in some Member States, and calls for a revision of the Stability and Growth Pact. This would allow counter-cyclical policies and economic recovery to take place especially in economic downturns. Private investment, in the absence of expected demand and low inflation, has been postponed and is still below its pre-crisis level. A strong public investment push is needed. The ETUC has welcomed the Juncker Investment Plan. However, total investment under the European Fund for Strategic Investment is scarcely half of the annual sum the Commission considers necessary, and the Plan is failing to meet expectations in mobilising public investment. Funds should be directed specifically to the countries and sectors where they are really needed. We agree on the need for better coordination between the different European schemes for economic development. Europe is now in a low-growth, low-employment, low-investment, low-inflation situation. The ETUC believes that this state of affairs can be overcome by setting up a Euro Treasury in charge of raising funds to finance public investment and to foster sustainable European economic recovery.


  • Thirdly, workers deserve a pay rise. Since the crisis, wages have collapsed in relation to productivity. This has damaged internal demand and created massive inequality. Nearly a quarter of the population lives in or at risk of poverty. We need to promote wealth redistribution, fair taxation, and equal pay for equal work with the aim of upward wage convergence. Better wages are best delivered through autonomous collective bargaining between the social partners, and we need support to build social dialogue at all levels across Europe.


  • Fourthly, workers need to be guaranteed a just transition towards a green economy and digitalisation and automation, to avoid workers paying the price. The Social Pillar proposal rightly highlights the need for skills and training. Every one of us needs new skills at the labour market. But we also need job creation to compensate for the jobs disappearing.


  • Fifthly, we need to restore faith in the unique European social model. Social dialogue and collective bargaining should be promoted and respected all over Europe. Collective bargaining is key to sustainable growth, and equal and universal access to social rights and social protection must be guaranteed. Our trade union colleagues from other parts of the world stress the importance of these issues. As Europeans, we should value our strengths and build on them.  

To conclude,

The social dimension of the EMU should embody social rights. The national social partners’ role should be strengthened and their autonomy respected. The ETUC and its affiliates around Europe will not accept the highest standards being dragged down and lower ones reduced even further, in a destructive way. On the contrary, the treaties commit us to social progress. That is the way forward. Workers deserve it! Let there be social progress!