Tripartite Social Summit

Brussels, 13/03/2008

To be checked against delivery

Presidents, ladies and gentlemen, we are pleased to be at this tripartite social summit this morning. These events are an important reminder of the need for Europe to have an effective social dimension. It is vitally important that Europe is successfully economically and environmentally but it must also be successful socially.

And let me politely blunt, the social dimension has been becalmed in the past decade. There has been activity in the Commission and in the social dialogue, but the broad picture is of limited activity and few headlines, with the growing impression that social Europe has somehow stopped.

Worse, we now have two important legal cases in the European Court of Justice where, to simplify, the single market has trumped the fundamental rights to bargain and to strike. These cases – the Laval and Viking cases – particularly affect Sweden and Denmark and we will have to deal with them, with difficulty, in those countries. The result will be more rigidity and legalism and will not help flexicurity.

But their effects go wider. As Europe integrates, and there is more and more cross border migration of people and businesses, so we believe that a union cannot now strike lawfully to try to obtain for migrant workers employed by a migrant business equal pay for work of equal value in the host country – unless perhaps there is a law specifying that agreements are generally applicable. That principle too will be tested in another case, the Rueffert case, in a judgment in early April.

So, Presidents, in our view, Social Europe is in retreat and do not be surprised when the voices calling for protectionism become more strident. Note the recent Ohio primary when the two Democratic contenders both attacked NAFTA, a single market without a social dimension. It is no use countries in Europe criticising protectionism while at the same time stopping progress on social Europe. I don’t say Ohio today, Europe tomorrow but I do say that support for the single market is dependent on support for Social Europe. That is the deal – and its not working for us at the moment.

If there is no protection, there can be protectionism.

We want it to work on the Lisbon strategy which we support. The guidelines should have had a greater social content as we understand was proposed by the Commission. These were rejected by certain member states, an action which we regret.

Europe, of course, faces a difficult economic period after a job recovery although too many were precarious jobs – a point the General Secretary will follow up on shortly. We want Social Europe and the social partners to assist in the battle against carbon emissions and to plan the employment and social consequences of what all this means. It will not be easy to meet the targets and to minimise the consequential disruption but we must try in a determined way to do this.

Social Europe is not an optional extra but a necessity. Fundamental rights are not second class rights, subservient to the market. These points must be in the minds of Europe’s leaders when you meet later this week and at all times in the future. We need progress on temporary agency workers, working time and European Works Councils. We need proper regard for our fundamental rights.