Luca Visentini reflects on the March 2016 Tripartite Social Summit

source: European Council

Europe’s economy still suffers from insufficient growth, and unemployment levels remain unacceptably high. Very low inflation rates are close to sending Europe into technical deflation.

We appreciate recent efforts by the European Central Bank, but very little of the quantitative easing money has gone into the real economy so far. It has largely benefitted the banks. It’s time to change the macroeconomic course of Europe towards higher investment and internal demand.

We welcomed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s investment plan, but we still think it’s not enough – in terms of both quantity of public money available and quality of investment.

The most significant areas for economic recovery: infrastructure, innovation, quality public services, the human factor, social cohesion, are still not properly resourced. And neither are the countries and sectors of the EU economy that are most in need.

We believe the Commission and Member States must make additional efforts. Initiatives for strengthening the EMU should encompass options such as a European Treasury and the mutualisation of part of the debt.

The ETUC supports flexibility in the stability pact, but we would like to see governments using all available resources to invest in the economy and in society, instead of reducing taxes.

Without boosting internal demand, Europe cannot recover or escape the trap of deflation. We will continue to campaign for higher wages in Europe as a key priority.

We therefore encourage EU leaders to come back to macroeconomic decisions, which cannot be further delayed, and abandon austerity in favour of investment and support for demand.

We strongly believe – and all existing studies show – that negotiations between the social partners on wages and working conditions are the best tool to boost competitiveness and productivity. There is evidence that countries with strong social dialogue and collective bargaining perform better economically.

So the Commission and Member States must start to encourage and support industrial relations and social dialogue at all levels, instead of decentralising and dismantling them through the Country Specific Recommendations.

The ETUC is ready to discuss the issue of Competitiveness Boards. But we demand a broad definition of competitiveness, not limited to labour costs, and any new structures should not interfere with the social partners’ autonomy in setting wages, but rather focus on how to achieve economic recovery and sustain inclusive growth and quality jobs.


The social partners have delivered a very important joint declaration on the relaunch of social dialogue. Our 2015-2017 Work Programme, together with joint initiatives in different fields, show we are ready and able to deliver.

But we also need the Commission to deliver better support for our autonomous agreements, better enforcement of social dialogue and industrial relations at national and sectoral levels, and better involvement of social partners in tripartite dialogue and economic governance.

That means the Commission including us not only in the Semester process - which is happening - but also in macroeconomic unbalance procedures and programmes, starting with Greece.

We are asking the Commission to implement social partner agreements, to separate better regulation processes from social dialogue, and to support capacity building with adequate funding.

We are asking Member States to recognise our role in discussing and implementing National Reform Programmes and Country Specific Recommendations at national level. This is simply not happening in most countries at the moment.

The social partners agreed a number of policy statements in preparation for the Tripartite Social Summit.


The statement on an industrial policy for Europe underlined the need to increase the share of manufacturing sectors in the EU economy in order to reverse the very dangerous trend of recent years. Europe has almost destroyed most of its productive potential.

The need for a proper industrial policy for Europe goes together with managing restructuring processes and a just transition towards sustainable growth and quality job creation.

In this context it is important to state that the ETUC rejects a legalistic approach to granting Market Economy Status to China, without taking full account of the interests of European businesses and workers.

The new digital economy frontier brings opportunities and challenges for us all. But a joint contribution from the social partners is vital to prevent job losses and boost job creation. We can inject innovation into the economy and the labour market, and we can encourage the right skills and adapt labour and social protection systems to the work of the future.


The ETUC is ready to contribute in a very constructive way to economic and social policy-making. We have shown this in responding to the recent initiatives on the Pillar of Social Rights and the revision of the Posted Workers Directive. Although we have some serious criticisms of the method and content of these proposals, we appreciate the spirit that inspired them.

President Juncker has called for equal treatment in the workplace and upward convergence on social standards, and these are our principles too. We will work constructively to make them a reality, and try to find common ground with the employers too.


The social partners are already making a major contribution to welcoming, integrating and accelerating the inclusion of refugees, as well as tackling problems that can arise with native workers. Yet most Member States are refusing solidarity and avoiding their responsibilities, openly infringing European and international humanitarian principles, and threatening the survival of Schengen and the European project itself.

The ETUC will continue to back the Commission’s agenda for relocation and integration, and all genuine efforts launched by a few countries, starting with Germany.

On the other hand, we oppose the agreement with Turkey, which appears more and more as a hypocritical attempt by the EU to circumvent international obligations, and a fast track for Turkey to access the EU without respecting its fundamental principles.


The ETUC asked Council President Donald Tusk to deliver the social partners’ declarations to the heads of states and governments, and regretted that it was not possible to find time in the Council’s agenda for us to present them. We hope this will be possible at the meeting in June.


Without boosting internal demand, Europe cannot recover or escape the trap of deflation. We will continue to campaign for higher wages in Europe as a key priority.