“You were the Chosen One! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness!“
―Obi-Wan Kenobi, to the fallen Anakin Skywalker
After one of the most hectic and crucial times in terms of economic and employment policy in the recent history of Europe, it has been a great disappointment to see how the EU, embodied by the European Commission and DG EMPL Commissioner Laszlo Andor, has been unable to prioritize certain views and has become -by inaction- the worst enemy of workers, social service receivers and people at risk of social exclusion and by extension the whole society. However, there are also things which could be considered as a seed for future good practices. Hereby, a brief analysis from a brief insider who has nothing but thankfulness towards the people working in DG EMPL at the European Commission. People who, on a daily basis, fight against structural deficiencies and would give the shirt off their backs in the exercise of their duties and values. Nevertheless, despite all this work behind the curtains, the main flaws in this policy area at European level are structural deficiencies in terms of lack of competencies, lack of resources and lack of political will. This is a business as usual scenario, if we consider that the last College of Commissioners was also dominated by the European center-right.
There is little to say about the lack of competences. Although, it would be possible to reinforce them through mechanisms such as enhanced cooperation, it is utopian to think of integrating or reinforcing these competences at European level. The competence problem is deep; one of the only tools that DG EMPL can use with all these restrictions is Corporate Social Responsibility as a means to influence corporations’ respect of their worker’s rights. Ultimately this means an attack against human rights, meaning the unilateral prioritization of corporate surplus over the rights to have a right. Thus, as a result of this policy void at the core of socio-economic integration, the weakening of the European Social Model and the European Social Dialogue is a fact. Center-right politics has a natural profound bond with pro-business, pro-privatization and anti-civil society interest groups. Despite the fact that the EC is consistently founding several European-wide trade unions, social dialogue has been deeply restrained due to the lack of political interest at the highest levels namely, as previously stated, due to a weak commissioner, and a lack of resources specifically regarding EC staff reductions and budget shortages. Business associations have seized this opportunity to unbalance the result in policy-making forums because, contrary to trade unions, they can also act as stakeholders in policy-making processes rather than just mere Social Partners. Business does not need social dialogue itself to push forward its interests and, voluntarily or not, the EC has been unbalancing the situation in their favor.
Challenge 1: Reinforce social dialogue at European level
Taking a closer look, the entanglement installed in DG EMPL has led the institution into a severe policy coherence problem. How can an institution whose ultimate spirit should be to promote a “European Social Model with more and better jobs in an inclusive society based on equal opportunities” promote employment through freelancing and self-employment? Although necessary, it has been proven that self-employment does not provide the same level of protection, leaving the policy framework to the law of the jungle. On the one hand, this situation leaves unemployed citizens competing with multinational corporations for income, and fully-fledged employees transforming themselves into formal freelance workers, but in doing so, increasing their precariousness, weakening their protection against abuses, weakening social dialogue, and social protection and social security systems at state level. On the other hand, it simultaneously imposes higher tax and administrative burdens which at a later stage would prevent new freelancers from hiring employees. This could be interpreted as a free market barrier and therefore tackled and removed, but again the political center-right route does not take this road.
There have also been positive initiatives in this area. The green jobs initiative or the youth employment grants seemed to have created a fertile soil for a win-win situation. Even though there is no panacea for the employment problem, creating decent skilled jobs for young people, whilst protecting the environment are always good principles to defend. Nevertheless, these initiatives have encountered obstacles in their implementation phase due to the lack of coherence with other areas such as energy or budget policy.
Challenge 2: Improve internal coordination, policy coherence and adequateness avoiding hermetic ideological stances
In terms of social protection and inclusion, one could see the same privatization trend in the Social Investment Package. There is a complete resignation of the public in favor of the private, creating a huge clash. How can an activity, which naturally produces a deficit, motivate private investment? In the best of the cases, private investment is subsidized by the state. In my opinion, it signifies the first step towards the privatisation of what constitutes the basis of democracy: Public services as education, social protection, basic health care or justice. It is key for the public interests to retain ownership of the basic welfare state, and only allow the private to step in, in adequate cases, from a voluntary, well-intentioned and collaborative perspective and not as a matter of profit generation, which is proven by the current crisis to ultimately lead to more inequalities, social exclusion and social turmoil.
As previously stated, the lack of a consistent model for job creation, social security and protection during the last five years, has lead to a rampant growth of inequalities and rights tensions within the EU. Health care, pensions, social protection measures, social security transfers, as well as the free movement of workers -intra and extra the European borders- have been the cause of these tensions which have been solved on a case-by-case basis depending on the country’s government. The differences between policy directions have proved quite varied from each other. Where some countries’ workers have left the country, healthcare and social protection have been severely restricted, and social models have been weakened, some other European areas have seen their social security contributions increase, producing an extension in social protection schemes and thus, they have seen their national social welfare systems reinforced. DG EMPL has failed to coordinate European Member State policies and discrepancies, and now distrust and divergences have grown between European citizens.
Challenge 3: Improve monitoring and external coordination to create a culture of solidarity which will ultimately lead to a more integrated European Union
If the European Commission had been honest, it should have had clearer slogans for their policies, and the past EC cabinet should have said: “if you want a job do it yourself, you damn lazy communist!” In my point of view, an additional goal for the new Commission should be to focus on the internal work within the EC itself in order to create and promote a culture of decent employment with fair rewards rather than build up policies for the gallery which in the end will solely undermine their own mandate. Although obvious, the next European Commission from 2014 onwards will take continuity as guiding principle and will not change these trends. In conclusion, the greatest challenge of the new Commissioner should be the fight against their own heritage, even internally, in order to recover the ground in the European policy arena lost by the current Commissioner; with the ultimate ambition of producing better and more convergent policies which place European and world workers and citizens back under the spotlight of the EU policy arena, rather than throwing them roughshod below the horses’ feet.
Challenge 0: create quality jobs, with decent and fair rewards once and for all