A new way forward for Europe


In the months following the European elections, Europe will have many challenges to face. For too long now European citizens and workers have been calling for social justice, social dialogue and solidarity to be placed at the heart of decision-making.

So far, their demands have not been heeded by Europe’s political leaders.

Key posts within the European institutions are about to change hands; we will have a new Parliament and a new Commission. It is time to give the European Union (EU) a new way forward, focusing its priorities on the needs of its citizens.

Europe belongs to its people and its citizens, not to a financial, economic and political elite.

Every decision that is made must be aimed at ensuring the welfare of all and a fairer, more sustainable society.

Austerity isn’t working. It must be replaced by job-creating investments, quality jobs.

Nobody really questions the justification of our arguments. But the record of the last few years shows that we are far from achieving our goals.

We hear reassuring words about Social Europe, social dialogue, reducing inequalities, but there has been no action to follow those words.

Our first priority is to put forward specific, practical proposals that will restore workers’ confidence in the European project.

A properly working economy should lead to a reduction in inequality and poverty, and social protection should be considered not as a luxury but as a fundamental part of living well together.

Democracy within the enterprise, collective bargaining and social dialogue are the key pillars that we must defend at all costs.

Faced with an unprecedented crisis, Europe’s leaders showed they were determined to save the Euro and with it, a certain Europe.

This rescue operation is still important of course. But it leaves a bitter taste, because it is Europe’s workers and poorest citizens who have paid the highest price.


“Putting Europe back on track”

If we take the time to examine the figures, we see there has been a sharp rise in unemployment: over 26 million people in Europe today are out of work.

In the euro zone unemployment has risen from 7.5 per cent before the crisis to 12 per cent today, with dramatic peaks of over 25 per cent in Greece and Spain.
For youth, the situation is extremely worrying: 7.5 per cent of them are not in work, education or training.

Similarly, there has been a widespread decline in social protection, public services and collective bargaining, and a generalised fall in wages in 18 of the 28 member states, all of which is exacerbated by unfair social competition in most of our countries.

The result has been growing inequality and poverty. This clearly points to the need for a change of direction, to get Europe back on track.

Social breakdown, austerity policies and drastic cuts in national budgets have all contributed significantly to creating the conditions for a resurgence of the populist movements and the extreme right to which we are opposed.

Such an economic and social climate has shored up doubts about the value of an organisation of European countries. In fact while the euro may have been saved, nothing has been done to protect what is at the heart of our history and our social culture.

But to claim that we can sweep away the EU such as it is – that is to say a return to the nation states – so as to construct a totally different institutional and political organisation, would be to deceive those we represent.

We know that the future of employment does not lie in restoring national borders, that quality employment cannot be developed if we reinstate customs duty within the EU, if we prevent the free movement of people, goods and services.

Our aim is to develop the EU politically, economically, socially and institutionally to make it more democratic, more socially responsible.


Crucial responsibility

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has a crucial responsibility.

In the current wave of optimism hailing a supposed end to the crisis, we have to make ourselves heard loud and clear. While Europe’s leaders are happily welcoming the fact that the euro crisis is behind us, we are saying that we have not yet dealt with the employment crisis.

While Europe’s leaders tell us that the severe austerity measures must continue, we are saying that genuine alternative policies are needed to create jobs for Europeans. Europe has to make a fresh start, focusing on quality employment and sustainable jobs, or it will never get back on its feet.

We are calling for a new way forward for Europe, based on a European model that curbs the freedom of the market and puts social justice, social dialogue and living well together at the core of decision making.

The critical, often very critical, presence of the European trade union movement in its institutional construction is therefore essential.

The ETUC has put forward clear proposals for economic recovery. We propose a major investment plan, to the value of 2 per cent of European GDP per year, to bring about sustainable growth and the creation of quality employment.

This would enable the EU to revive environmentally-friendly, cutting-edge industry and make it a world leader.

The job-creating target areas would including energy conversion, transport networks and infrastructures, education and training, the development of broadband networks, public and private services, infrastructure and housing adapted to the needs of the elderly and social housing.

So far we have not found the political support needed to put these proposals into practice.

The new Parliament as well as the new European Commission and new President of the European Council have a political, economic, social and moral duty to ensure the progress of the European project. The next few months will be decisive.

We will continue to mobilise for Europe to take the new direction that we demand.