To be checked against delivery
President, this is my first visit to Bulgaria since the country's accession to the European Union. May you go from strength to strength as new members of the European Union so far have always done. I had hoped to come to the Podkrepa Congress but for family reasons, I had to go to London at the last minute. I am pleased that today my visit is a jointly planned one by the two unions. I am pleased too that we are supporting your campaign for the release of the Bulgarian nurses in Libya.
The ETUC has also welcomed our joint victory in the Council of Europe a few weeks ago, when the supervisory body of the Social Charter condemned the Bulgarian government for not respecting the right to strike in the public sector.
20 years ago, Spain was still emerging from the dark years of Franco. Ireland was a backward nation, characterised by emigration. Today, they are among the fastest growing economies in the European Union, and Ireland, is with Luxembourg, the country where a worker's earnings are the highest, and it is now a major magnet for immigration. Of the new member states, it is apparent that the Czech Republic and Slovenia are already well on track to follow the Spanish/Irish route. And others are following.
But to do that, the other new member states have to accept all the EU package, not treat it as an à la carte menu from which they can pick what they want and ignore the rest. It is particularly important that Bulgaria and Rumania - and they are not alone - are strong enough to outlaw effectively endemic, systemic corruption. This seems to be a characteristic, almost a normal one, of past Communist regimes.
Yet it is not a feature of the world's or Europe's most successful nations. Kick out corruption must be one of the key campaigns of the Bulgarian trade unions. It is perhaps the biggest barrier to prosperity and progress that the country faces.
Now that Bulgaria forms the eastern boarder of the EU, ETUC eyes are looking further east, not necessarily to expand the EU further, but to assess our relations with the “other” Europe, the countries of the former Soviet Union, including Russia and the Ukraine themselves.
For this reason, we have recently, with the new International TUC, established a Pan European Regional Council, the new executive secretary of which is Grigor Gradev, formerly of course of this Union. Grigor has a big job and I know you will join me in giving him every help and assistance.
Bulgaria is joining the EU at a time when there is some signs of scepticism about the project; and in some countries, a developing public mood which is more susceptible to the simplicities of nationalist and protectionist rhetoric than to the more complex processes of strengthening European integration; and there is a mood, too, less willing to recognise that globalisation has benefits, as well as drawbacks.
In the economic sphere, unemployment has been too high in many countries, and while there has been recent, welcome improvements, many of the new jobs are precarious and low paid. Additionally, real wage growth been negligible in some key countries.
It is also evident that there is a trend towards more and more short-termism among financial investors with private equity, hedge funds and others treating enterprises primarily as vehicles for speculation rather than investing in new products, new services, high productivity, and sustainable technologies.
Social Europe too has been affected. A majority of the Commission, most employers, and some member states have combined to stop progress on measures such as working time and temporary agency workers. Indeed, at times, some Governments have questioned whether there is a Social Europe at all, ignoring the 60 or so legal measures which have been introduced already on health and safety, European Works Councils, equality and information and consultation. Instead they have argued that Europe does not need a social dimension, carelessly forgetting the need to win popular support for the project of European integration.
The result is that Europe has been damaged recently. As Jacques Delors has said “no-one falls in love with a single market”.
Social Europe has been crucial to a successful Europe in previous years. It must become so again.
In fact the ETUC recognises that in the 50 years since the Treaty of Rome, the EU has made quite remarkable progress. Generally, welfare states, and public services have become the best in the world. Peace has been maintained in the EU, accompanied by greater prosperity. In spite of its limitations, European integration has helped new member states reduce the gap with existing members.
Despite all the difficulties, the ETUC remains absolutely committed to work for a Europe which is both “more” and “better”; a Europe which is integrated around rights and values including peace, liberty, democracy, fundamental rights, equality, sustainable development, full employment and decent work, social dialogue, the protection of minorities, universal and equal access to high quality, public services, and a successful economy which supports social progress and employment protection.
Our Congress will be held next month in Seville and will be a new stage in our development towards an organisation which is stronger, more cohesive, and more influential in benefiting the workers of Europe and the world. Moving on to the offensive needs an organisation which can criticise and mobilise, of course, but can also propose, negotiate, and act. Strengthening European trade unionism and the capacities of the ETUC will therefore be central to the task of making our offensive effective and productive, and carrying through the main thrusts of our Strategy and Action Plan:
We plan to go on the offensive on five broad fronts:
We must develop an effective strategy of organisation to help affiliates increase the numbers of members. And, also, we need a stronger ETUC, more able to lead campaigns and to promote more solidarity
Next we want a true European labour market with more and better jobs, full employment and European minimum standards in areas such as pay, working conditions, trade union rights, and health and safety, combat and reverse the rising trend towards precarious work.
We want to help raise real wages and promote the cause that Europe's workers need a pay rise and, we want to prioritise the elimination of the wage gap between men and women, we want to fight ‘délocalisation',
We will promote a higher quality social dialogue - so crucial here in Bulgaria - and more intense consideration of how to develop and co-ordinate European level collective bargaining
We will expose and combat “casino capitalism” and short-termism more generally
And we want a stronger EU with a defence of the substance of the Constitutional treaty including the Charter of Fundamental Rights
We also want a positive approach to enlargement towards the Balkans and Turkey based on full compliance with the requirements of EU membership and with fundamental rights. We are watching developments in Turkey especially closely.
Friends, these are great challenges. I do not underestimate them but we can overcome them and we will. But remember for Bulgaria as for every European country, it is not just a question, to paraphrase Jack Kennedy, of what “Europe can do for us” but also of “what we can do for Europe”. We are all in it together.
Good luck for the future.