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President, delegates, fellow guests, thank you for this invitation to tell you about the ETUC's ambitions for a stronger Europe and for a strong ETUC.
For us, Europe is essential to our collective futures. An ambitious, powerful ETUC must be a central ingredient.
After World War II, Europe was in the eyes of its founders - Monnet, Schuman and of course Spinelli - a peace process designed to stop the tribes of Europe fighting each other. The first half of the 20th century was the bloodiest in world history with two world wars devastating our continent and much of the rest of the world.
The second half of the 20th century, in contrast, was a period of peace in Europe - apart from the terrible Balkans story and a revival of some ancient problems in Northern Ireland and the Basque country. The EU was a significant contribution to that general peace.
By the way, we should never take it for granted. When Signor Tremonti recently likened the Italian-French-Belgian dispute about the future of Suez - the Franco-Belgian utility - to being like 1914, it was a reminder that European rivalries could flare explosively. So we can never afford complacency.
Not only has Europe been a peace process, it was a prosperity process. Through the single market in particular, two marvellous things happened. There was a rise in general living standards, with Western Europe having the best welfare states, public services, and worker rights in the world, combined with strong economies and high living standards.
And the poorer countries rapidly closed the gaps on the richer ones. Italy led this process in the 1950s and 1960s and has been followed spectacularly in the 1990s by Spain and Ireland in particular.
But now Europe resides at a crossroads. Will it go forward, as we want it to, to become the shaper of a new world order, bringing justice and equality into globalisation, as well as renewed prosperity and progress in Europe?
Or will its momentum evaporate and Europe fall back towards little more than a free trade area of nation states, each jealous and competitive with each other. What happens on the EU constitutional treaty will be crucial to that.
The ETUC is at a similar crossroads too. I know well that Italian trade union colleagues are in the vanguard arguing for the ETUC to become a “real” trade union, capable of bargaining with Europe's employers and able to shape Europe's labour market, welfare states and economic performance.
At the moment, we are more a confederation of national and industry federations concentrating on influencing European institutions, and working the Social Dialogue process with Europe's employers.
We have had successes - and UIL and other Italian trade unions have played a conspicuous role in those successes.
We have secured fundamental changes to the Services Directive - the so-called Bolkestein directive - making it an acceptable way forward for Europe, not a vehicle for social dumping and a race to the bottom between member states.
We have stopped the ultra liberal Ports Directive.
We have a new work programme on the social dialogue with employers.
We brokered a deal on REACH, new environmentally friendly regulations on potentially dangerous chemicals.
But the wind against social rights continues to blow.
Yesterday I read the interview by Mr Trichet of the ECB on the economic situation in Italy in which he insists on the importance of wage moderation and the need for the new government to respect the rules of the stability pact.
He is forgetting two things however:
- Firstly that the Pact is a Stability and Growth pact - he has omitted the idea of growth, and without growth only monetary policy remains with the risk of worsening working conditions and labour market rules, together with an increase in precarious work and a decrease in labour costs.
- Similarly, he is calling for wage moderation, but under the Berlusconi Government Italian workers lost a great deal of their purchasing power. The problem in Italy today is that wages need to be increased, not decreased, so as to relaunch the internal market and to support growth.
We have broad points of contention with the ECB and after this latest interview I am ready to prepare a joint letter in answer to his claims.
Can we go further? Well I agree with Italian trade union colleagues that we must. But how? Is it a matter of rules - at the next ETUC Congress in Seville changing the rules to give more power to the ETUC to direct the activities of its affiliates? Or is there a different route forward?
In my view, our future does not depend primarily on our rules. The kind of rule changes under consideration to give the ETUC more constitutional power are more likely to divide us. For those federations which are not bargaining agents in their own country, they cannot transfer to us what they do not possess at home. So is there another, more productive route? I think that there is.
First we must campaign together for a stronger framework of trade union rights at European level. At present Social Europe does not establish a right to strike on European issues. Everything is dependant on national laws - laws of varying quality.
To enable us to direct our strength we need the power to mobilise industrially. Practically this means campaigning for a stronger, or a parallel measure to, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, currently part II of the draft EU Constitution. This would be a tough campaign but we need these rights to combat the new casino capitalism where financial institutions direct the activities of the world in the name of shareholder value.
We used to think that great industrial companies ran things - companies like FIAT and Pirelli - and their banks followed meekly. Now the banks, the hedge funds, and the venture capitalists have grown in power and control much more - and trade unions must match it.
Second, we must continue to work strongly with the European Parliament. This has emerged as a much more powerful instrument and has been a good friend in our campaigns on services, ports, working time and REACH. It can be the same friend to us on organising migrant workers.
Third, if we can, I would like alliances with the better kinds of employers who object to being dictated to by ever more short-termist financial institutions.
This will never be a love affair but we need to deepen our relationship.
Finally, we need to step up our work on Europe's economic framework. We need an economic policy to complement monetary policy. We should not be afraid of a vanguard group of countries being prepared to push ahead on some key subjects like taxes on employment and corporate governance structures.
And nor should we be reluctant to have groups of unions, say the Eurozone unions, pushing ahead to co-ordinate collective bargaining.
My good colleague, Walter Cerfeda, is working on this at the moment and I am pleased to see a revival of the so-called Doorn process involving Belgian, Dutch, French and German unions in co-ordinating bargaining activities.
So we are at a crossroads. And with the help of you, we shall not falter or take a wrong turn. We shall advance, sturdily, pragmatically but ambitiously to fight for workers and to fight for Europe.
Thank you for your help.
Good luck for the future.