Social Europe/Dynamic Europe - Striking the right balance

Paris, 13/02/2007

To be checked against delivery

President, Minister, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for the invitation to visit this lovely building in this always beautiful city and addressing a question that is highly relevant to the future of Europe and the future of France.

I became the General Secretary of the ETUC 3 ½ years ago and when I arrived in Brussels, I began a series of visits to the President, Commissioners, the Parliament and so on. One visit was to an old friend who was, and is a senior fonctionnaire in the Commission. His first remark was “why have you come? You are 10 years too late. The Delors era finished then and so did Social Europe. Today it's all competitiveness Europe, economic Europe, perhaps environmental Europe. You will be on the defensive Why don't you go back to London?”. Only a friend can speak to you like that.

And to a degree, he was right. As the Medef representatives here tonight know, there is a virtual block on any more social regulation. UNICE, now known as BusinessEurope, has achieved a de facto moratorium. The Commission tend to deny it but it is the case.

“More Social Europe, we have already get too much Social France, Social Germany etc etc. The last thing we need is more regulation from the European Commission”. That was how it was put to me by a senior Government Minister in the UK. And the UK Labour Government has been particularly busy in its efforts to stop Social Europe. This work has not just been evident on specific measures like protecting the UK opt-out from the Working Time Directive on which one Irish diplomat said to me that it was the biggest diplomatic effort, outside war, that he had ever seen.

And the action has not been linked just to specific measures. Considerable effort has been made to demonstrate that there is no one European social model, only a collection of 27 social models. The aim of this initiative was to say well if that is the case, why is there any social regulation at EU level? Why indeed do we need a DG Employment and Social Affairs and a Commissioner?

The French “non” in the referendum on the constitutional treaty - at least in part a reaction against liberal Europe - had a profound effect on Tony Blair and he made a good speech in the European Parliament on Social Europe during the British Presidency. But the substance of the UK position altered with some new member states in particular in its gang, its position remains essentially unchanged.

We do, of course, keep the social dialogue ticking over with agreements on stress - and I hope shortly - violence at work. But we do not currently get very far with the power-relationship issues - delocalisation, restructuring, the new “locust” capitalism as it was graphically termed by Vice Chancellor Müntefering, working time and so on.

Defensively, we have had victories, especially over the Bolkestein text of the Services Directive, and then incidentally over those elements on the Left which did not want any Services Directive. But the list of achievements is limited as I look back and that I believe has been to the detriment of not just Social Europe but of Dynamic Europe too.

The current problems on the constitutional treaty, on enlargement, and on the apparent growing disenchantment with Europe in some countries are due to the careless handling of Social Europe, of the legacy of Jacques Delors being squandered not just by the Commission but by the member states too. The problem is reflected in tonight's title - social Europe versus dynamic Europe when in fact the two need to be complementary, not antagonistic. Social Europe can be a competitive advantage for Europe, not a hindrance.

The social dimension was central to the post war recovery of the European economies. We did not defer introducing welfare states in order to get rich first. We advanced the two dimensions together. And the Nordic countries demonstrate currently that a high social standard reinforce high economic performance.

For the ETUC, the concept of Social Europe has been central to the development of the European Union. Social rights, social inclusion, social dialogue and an important role for the social partners, have been recognised as key elements of Europe and are among Europe's core values as defined in the constitutional treaty. We support Europe and the constitutional treaty. They are fundamental to preserving trade union and worker support for the European Union, support which frankly has been slipping in some countries.

Why should this be so? It is evident that while a clear majority of citizens support the benefits of European membership, that has been declining (among workers generally but among women and the young in particular). There is disenchantment with unemployment, délocalisation, threats to income security including pensions, and a perceived lack of influence for individuals. These risks turning into nationalism and racism, a rejection of migrant workers, and opposition to EU enlargement.

That's why the argument between those who want a modern European social model, a political and social union on the basis of a social market economy and social rights, and those who want only a free trade zone, characterised by a less regulated free market with weak institutions needs urgent resolution.

While this crucial and currently wide difference in perceptions exists, while many employers, supported by politicians, including of the centre left in some countries, are arguing for more ‘business Europe' (less ‘red tape', lower social standards, more de-regulation, more liberalisation, less trade union influence), it is going to be impossible to find a new base for European progress. The gap in ideology is too wide. If workers feel that social Europe is being wound down, they will regard Europe as a whole as a threat, not as a support. Their natural reaction would be resistance and opposition.

Rather then the EU being seen as a worker's friend in an uncertain world, it risks being seen as the leading edge of globalisation, pushing American and Asian standards at the peoples of Europe. This is an extremely dangerous political position.

Critics of social Europe are missing another crucial point. Within the EU, there is increasingly one labour market across 27 countries (plus the 3 EEA countries). In sectors like agriculture, catering and construction, this is very evident already. If you accept that there is a single labour market with increasing flows of migrant workers, then at the very least regulation is needed to regulate the traffic - not to price migrant workers out of advanced markets but to protect them against exploitation - and to protect indigenous workers too. A single labour market should mean ever closer, more common, standards. Already we have them in the fields of health and safety, equality law and information and consultation. But we need them too on questions such as:

- Temporary employment agencies
- Collective bargaining and the macro-economy
- Delocalisation and restructuring
- Worker participation
- The demographic challenges
- Active labour market policies, now being called flexicurity
- And on migration and mobility

Only this way will we build a dynamic and social Europe. Only this way will we build a strong Europe.