Social Dialogue Summit

Brussels, 29/09/2005

To be checked against delivery

I have listened with great attention to the previous speakers and especially to the “founding fathers” of the European Social Dialogue, a feature of the European social model that distinguishes Europe from the rest of the world.

They have pinpointed the difficulties, the successes, the failures; nevertheless, they all agree - we all agree - that a lot has been achieved. But that is our nature, in the trade unions we always want to achieve more and better, to move forwards and not backwards, to make sure that our agreements at the European level are fully respected and implemented by our members at national, sectorial and company level. That the results of the European social dialogue make a difference - for the better - in the way companies operate and in workers' satisfaction with their jobs and conditions.

Today, the EU has 25 Member States. It will continue to grow. The democratisation of countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the integration of the two Mediterranean islands represent new challenges for the EU and for the social partners at all levels. This concern has been taken into consideration into our current work programme and it will certainly be a key feature in the future one. We have a shared responsibility in creating the necessary conditions that will allow for strong and independent social partners to fully take part in the European social dialogue and to promote the culture of partnership at other more decentralised levels.

After the internal market, the Euro and the enlargement the EU has a new objective, agreed by the heads of State and Government and supported by the social partners back in the year 2000: the Lisbon agenda, an agenda that seeks to combine economic growth with full employment, social inclusion and economic and social cohesion.

An agenda that calls for the adaptation and not the destruction of the European social model, that seeks to define a new development strategy for Europe in order to make a success out of the enlargement process and at the same time helping Europe to face with success the challenges posed by societal changes in our Continent but also a globalisation process that cannot be stopped but must be regulated in a different way.

The Constitutional Treaty is an important vehicle in moving this agenda forward; its main objective is to adapt the institutional arrangements to an enlarged EU.

The current economic and social environment lived in Europe, the high levels of unemployment, the sense of insecurity, the democratic deficit that still characterises the European integration process together with the complexity of the European construction have not helped in the promotion of the political and of the institutional agendas. But this cannot mean that the European integration process stops or that instead of becoming an economically and socially integrated area, Europe privileges only the one of its pillars. It cannot mean either that it does not take into consideration the financial consequences of an enlarged Europe through the necessary increase in the EU's budget.

These are all areas of great concern for the trade union organisations. How to fight unemployment and to create more and better jobs, how to promote workers' skills and qualifications, how to improve the functioning of the labour market in a way that replies both to the needs of companies and workers, how to promote gender equality and non discrimination in all spheres of life, including in the labour market, how to anticipate the consequences of the demographic challenges, how to eliminate the fears felt by workers in relation to the disappearance of their jobs, their move elsewhere or restructuring.

These are some of the issues that the social partners have been jointly dealing with in the past and should continue doing so in the future. Perhaps doing less in terms of quantity but producing more and better in terms of quality. We should enter into a new phase of the social dialogue, one that will allow for a better coordination between different levels of social dialogue. But also one phase where public authorities at all levels are more supportive of the work done by the social partners.

ETUC knows which are our responsibilities. We are ready to assume them. But not at any price or under no matter what conditions. We are ready to enter into discussions with the employers' organisations but with the clear conscience that this will be a win-win operation.