Recently, hundreds of lawyers specialised in social and labour law have signed a manifesto to protest against the systematic attacks on social dialogue and social justice of the European Union; an attack that could lead to the disappearance of the European Social Model.
The European Social Model is not doing well. In the past, some have even announced its demise. However, it remains the element of value that still distinguishes us from the United States or China. It is our asset. Social dialogue and collective bargaining are the markers of the European Social Model. There was hope to see the model restored to the taste of the day at the time when the EU, in its configuration limited to the EMU, asked itself whether it would be useful to rethink and to promote ‘the social dimension of the European Economic and Monetary Union’. In the meantime, the model undergoes unprecedented attacks. Social and wage inequalities are increasing between member states and within individual countries. The fear is real that the European Commission sacrifices 60 million workers on the altar of the sacred economic governance. Can Europe survive while being indifferent to workers ?
So there is an urgency. Even in Belgium, recognised as a country that is traditionally very supportive of the European construction, scepticism is growing especially in the world of labour. And that is understandable. Europe is increasingly seen as a threat. As it was shown by the latest Eurobarometer, the two principal concerns of Europeans, and Belgium is no exception, are unemployment and the current economic situation. And yet Europe remains largely deaf to these appeals. Confined to what we could call a real autism in favour of austerity policies and structural reforms, she does not want to, or is incapable of hearing the increasing number of voices of reason that call out to loosen the budgetary straitjacket and to invest in favour of employment. The IMF has recognized its errors. The ILO continues to talk about the risks of social instability and Europe agrees to talk about it, but acts far too timidly. Where are the achievements of the pact for the recovery of employment that was adopted in June 2012 by the European Council ? Where are the effects of the decisions, ever so loudly announced, on youth employment, the package of measures for social investments or the fight against tax evasion ?
Meanwhile, the social situation has become intolerable. Unemployment and job insecurity increase, especially among young people. Will we accept to speak of a lost generation? Wages stagnate. Protection systems and public services are being undermined and the labour law is being challenged. The crisis is surely more acute in some countries than in others, but we are all concerned.
Almost five years have passed since the onset of the financial crisis and yet workers continue to suffer directly from its effects. If a change to revive our economy is not initiated, the medium-term prospects are far from optimistic. The latest economic outlook presented by the Federal Planning Bureau announced a growth again revised downwards for 2013 (0,2% instead of 0,7%) and is counting on extremely modest forecasts for the next five years.
A real European Union – and a fortiori economic and monetary union – needs to rediscover a strong social dimension. The contribution of the Belgian government at the June Summit will certainly go in the right direction but, again, when will there be final decisions and moreover, will the words be followed by concrete and swift actions? In the meantime, we continue to be very concerned and mobilized about the national socio-economic situation. Public services and the system of social protection are put under pressure by budgetary constraints. The freedom of collective bargaining has been harmed. And the protection against dismissal is under attack.
The Belgian trade unions demand that a key role is given to the social partners to draw up the social dimension of EMU. Remember that the Belgian trade unions (and employers’ organisations) have, throughout the evolution of the EU – made significant contributions to the development of the socio-economic dimension of the EU. These contributions have often been realized in transitional periods. This applies in particular to the realization of the 1991 social protocol of the EU, as it is integrated into the Maastricht Treaty. Social dialogue is thus anchored in the social chapter of the EU Treaty in the context of the internal market and the initial launch of the EMU.
Without a change of course, without putting a stop to the wide ranging austerity policies and without economic recovery in favour of employment, the democratic support for the European construction will continue to deteriorate, including in countries such as Belgium. A Europe that disregards the majority of its workers, its unemployed and its pensioners simply has no future.
This contribution was written before the publication of the Commission recommandations to the member states. It is part of the EU Social Dimension expert sourcing project jointly organised by SEJ, the ETUC, IG Metall, the Hans Böckler Stiftung, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and Lasaire.