Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe

Budva, 30/10/2007

To be checked against delivery

Thank you for the opportunity to express a trade union perspective on all this.

Let me start by expressing the appreciation of the ETUC to those who have made all this possible.

To the Belgian and Swiss Governments whose commitment and far sighted support has been crucial; and to our hosts, the Republic of Montenegro.

To the ILO and to the Council of Europe whose commitment to social dialogue and tripartite action was very well expressed yesterday and which underpins the whole process.

To the three Belgian affiliated Trade Unions who are here and whose knowledge of and commitment and interest in the Region are highly developed and skilled.

Thanks to you all and I hope that through the conclusions we reach today, we can take the process on to another level. All this is necessary. As many of you have said social cohesion and social dialogue are a necessary part of employment policy. Otherwise development and employment policies will be unbalanced and the power of capital will not be matched by other interests designed to share the outcomes of growth.

We know from round the world what that means – rapidly rising inequality, poor corporate governance, disinterest in the conditions of workers, and over interest in the returns to shareholders and other owners of capital.

That is not the European way and it must not be the way forward for the Region. Instead the European way (based as it was originally on ILO principles) is to promote dynamic economies but at the same time, to promote social cohesion and an important role for the social partners.

It is not a matter as some argue of concentrating on economic growth and when you have achieved that you address the social implications. This must be a simultaneous process.

At present, from our perspective, we can see that countries in the region have established structures for this purpose. Our principal concern is that they do not, with exceptions, operate consistently and regularly. We have some of the form of social dialogue but not the habits and solid commitment to make it work as a consistent process.

The reasons for this are several and some relate to the structures and conduct of the social partners. On our side, as the commitment of the Belgian unions shows, we are seeking to strengthen union capacity in the region but we want this effort to be matched by employers organisations, and for the commitment to be recognised and fully respected by Governments in the region. We have good relations with the South East Europe Employers Forum. We want the process to become regular, not intermittent or occasional.

We very much welcome what Miet Smet said about making our commitment permanent and I very much hope that the funding can be found for this. That would be a real step forward.

One other point, flat taxes. These are funding favour in the region as a way to attract capital and promote economic growth and enterprise. Well, we will see.

But the downside risks are that there will be downward competition between countries on tax rates, and that that in turn will leave states short of resources to fulfil a social cohesion agenda. Regular discussion and dialogue with the social partners on this issue is necessary, alongside the work we are well encouraging on occupational health and safety. That is very important.

The other issues featured in necessary employment and social policy include the governance of the labour market, activation strategies and benefit systems, inclusive labour market policy, effective human resource development, decent work, gender equality, and social protection.

In my experience, what you get out of social dialogue depends on what you put in. Commitment, capacity and trust in the process are all – important, and I hope that will be a key conclusion as we meet in this jewel of the Adriatic.