A preliminary assessment by the European Trade Union Confederation reveals major shortcomings in the national reform plans:
- Superficial consultation with trade unions because the time allocated was too short and because the process is driven by departments that are not familiar with social dialogue.
- Watering down of the previous employment strategy. Precise targets on active but positive labour market policies are not broadly taken up by the national reform plans (for example the target of assisting people before they have been unemployed for one year).
- Instead, there is a tendency to focus on even more labour market flexibility without paying much attention to the security of the workforce. Policies to tackle situations of excessive flexibility and insecurity of workers are mostly lacking.
- Neglect of the social dimension. Only a few national reform plans identify social cohesion objectives as a key concern.
- Macro-economic policies ignore the need to ‘dynamise' the economy by building a robust recovery.
- Well-intentioned targets for more innovation, research and development leave it unclear how these will be financed.
These weaknesses have to do with the fact that the Commission sees its role as limited to encouraging ever more intense competitive pressures without providing Europe with a framework that prevents “cut-throat” competition. As a consequence, the original European idea of cooperation between Member States is being replaced by Member States competing with each other on all sorts of issues (social dumping, tax dumping, competitive wage moderation, competitive flexibility).
John Monks, ETUC General Secretary, said: “The Commission needs to understand that excessive competition at the expense of working conditions leads to less, not more productivity and innovation. Workers who feel insecure or even exploited will be less willing to invest in productivity and will resist change ”.
For the Lisbon process to work, and to address the all too widespread sentiment amongst workers that Europe has become a threat to their living standards and working conditions, the Commission needs to show leadership by devising European policies that put workers' rights, social policy and Social Europe centre stage. In the coming weeks, the ETUC will make further proposals on this.