Towards a social Europe

Luxembourg, 05/07/2008

Europe’s trade unions have always been committed to European integration. We backed the internal market project, we supported European monetary union and we were an active champion of the enlargement of the European Union.

Yet our support has never been unconditional! We have always seen the European Union as being bound up with the development of a strong social dimension. Our objective has always been to improve employment and living conditions for people in Europe, to overcome social inequalities and to promote equal opportunities for all citizens irrespective of their gender.

And it is important not to underestimate the successes that have been achieved in the course of over 50 years of European integration. The main factor that has made them possible has been the fact that workers have been convinced of the European project, and trade unions have got actively involved in the construction of a social Europe.

The past few years have seen the European Union suffering a major erosion of its reputation and approval rating among people. One topical and clear example of this is the Irish ‘No’ to the EU’s Lisbon reform treaty.

Current surveys have shown that even the Irish are not actually anti-Europe. What they do feel, however, are doubts, scepticism and concrete fears about whether the way Europe is going at the moment is still addressing their social interests.

The EU constitutional treaty already foundered on the votes from the citizens of France and the Netherlands. And that is not just because it was a bad treaty. In France and the Netherlands, too, the obvious doubts about the social dimension were a deciding factor in the ‘Nee’ and ‘Non’.

As trade unions, we supported the constitutional treaty and also the Lisbon reform treaty. The treaty is better than its reputation, and better than the EU treaty in force at the moment.

What has stopped being convincing for many people is the policy – the national and European policy! And there are good reasons for this!

People feel that the EU has abandoned them to the risks of globalisation, relocations of companies and jobs, and the consequences of casino capitalism, where all that counts is a fast buck and high profits.

The Barroso Commission has been practising social policy abstinence for years! The main focus of its attention is to improve the climate for businesses and to improve competitive conditions, coupled with a far-reaching policy of liberalisation and deregulation.


We have not forgotten what a Commissioner by the name of Bolkestein was up to with his services directive. It took massive protests by the trade unions and rejection in the European Parliament to neutralise this Bolkestein directive. Obviously neither the EU Commission nor the majority of the governments in the Member States have learned from this clear ‘No’ to social and environmental dumping!

In terms of social policy, Europe is marking time. For years we have had to resist social regression and deteriorating salaries and unemployment insurance. In the jargon of many European politicians, this is known as ‘structural reforms’. In practice, this means nothing but deregulation and the constriction of social rights.

This policy has also been backed for over 12 months by the case law of the European Court of Justice.

Dear Colleagues.

This is not only a new experience for workers, it is also a dangerous and unacceptable trend!

That is why the European Trade Union Confederation is backing the demonstration today here in Luxembourg, which is being staged jointly by our member organisations from France, Belgium, Germany and the trade unions in Luxembourg. On behalf of the ETUC, I’d like to thank all of you very sincerely for your commitment!


A policy of social regression in Europe and ECJ jurisdiction that is socially hostile are not taken without objections!

When I talk about a new experience and development of ECJ case law I am explicitly recognising that through its rulings, this court of justice has absolutely played a role in the social shaping of the European Union in past years!

I need only cite the countless progressive rulings on equal treatment or the ruling on the EU’s Working Time Directive.

Obviously, though, the ECJ is changing course at the moment, which the policy did years ago.

It is odd how the EU Commission and the European Council of Labour and Social Ministers reacted a few weeks ago to the ECJ jurisdiction on the Working Time Directive. Instead of promoting the underlying objective of the directive, to protect workers’ health and safety, a new form of working time, inactive standby time, was invented and the maximum working time was set at 60 hours. This no longer has anything to with worker protection. The European Parliament must agree to the amended law. And we can only urge the MEPs not to go along with this social policy ghost-driving!


With its decision against the implementation of the Posting Directive here in Luxembourg, the ECJ has further eroded workers’ rights in Europe. On the grounds that in the opinion of the EU Commission – and this is already a social policy scandal – the labour law provisions here in Luxembourg are in contravention of the Posting Directive, it has complained to the ECJ. The fact that all companies in this country – including foreign ones – must comply with the wage agreements in force here was too much for the Commission. This makes for a subversion of the purpose of the Posting Directive, and a serious weakening of social rights.

It would be wrong simply to blame it all on the judges! In fact the Commission has clearly put freedom of service provision above the protection of workers’ social rights here. And this is the very same Commission that does not consider it necessary to finally set about reworking the directive so that jurisdiction hostile to social rights can be simply rendered impossible! But the Commission is refusing that reworking. This very week it has passed a new social agenda for the 21st century which barely tackles the new challenges of globalisation. The Heads of State and of Government are now being called upon to push for clarification of the Posting Directive. The ETUC has no doubt that what is called for here is swift political action!

The ruling by the ECJ in April 2008 against the Law of Land Niedersachsen on the award of public contracts (the ‘Landesvergabegesetz’) saw the judges defining the regulation in the directive not as minimum protection for employees, but de facto as the maximum permissible protection, and thereby ‘passing sentence on’ workers’ rights!

In the Laval case, too, the ECJ directed a frontal attack last December against Swedish wage autonomy. And the Viking case restricted Finnish workers’ right to strike in the case of job relocations.

The Commission is clearly closing its eyes to these catastrophic social consequences of this jurisdiction. In the social package passed on Wednesday, any requirement to amend the Posting Directive was rejected. In so doing, it is not only robbing itself of its power to shape policy, but also jeopardising the social cohesion that it still seeks to promote in so many green papers and glossy brochures. We are saying loud and clear: political action is needed, and needed immediately!

We will not accept the ECJ putting freedom of service provision above basic social rights such as worker protection and wage autonomy, thereby interfering grossly in national wage autonomy! The ETUC demands that freedom of service provision should occur under fair conditions, and not encourage wage dumping! Political action is needed now for the sake of making it quite clear that basic social rights must not be sacrificed to economic freedoms! The social protection of workers must be given greater priority than the economic freedoms of the internal market.

The EU’s Lisbon reform treaty needs to be expanded. Such a social progress clause must leave no room for doubt as to the importance attached to basic social rights in Europe. This would also give the ECJ a binding principle which would put an end to socially hostile jurisdiction – as we have had to experience over recent months.

Social progress in the EU unquestionably means:

- improvement to employment and living conditions,
- the effective exercise of basic social rights, in particular the right to negotiate wage agreements and as appropriate to implement them with collective measures,
- protection for workers against unfair competition and equal treatment of all workers irrespective of their nationality or other reasons.

And we need to ensure that neither economic freedoms nor competition rules take priority over basic social rights. Basic social rights should prevail if there is any doubt!

We urge the EU Heads of State and of Government to act swiftly and to swiftly pass a social progress protocol.

This would send out an important signal for a 21st-century social policy in which workers’ rights are reinforced! This is the only way to win back the trust of the citizens, and the only way that people can be protected against the social risks of globalisation.

We say ‘Yes’ to a social Europe!

That is why we have gathered here today to fight for a Europe which finally puts people’s interests back into the forefront.