Ladies and gentlemen,
At the outset I would also like to congratulate Congress for participating
in this initiative, which is part of a European Commission funded project led
by the Bulgarian Trade Union Confederation.
Over the course of my intervention, I will address the EU's approach to
workers' rights in the context of Europe 2020. This is a very broad canvas, but
a very important one in the context of the dire financial and economic
situation in which we find ourselves.
At the outset it is appropriate to recognise the major contribution that EU
policy and legislation has made in the field of social policy over the last
number of decades.
For the last 30 years, the European Union has worked towards achieving a
high level of employment and social protection, improved living and working
conditions and economic and social cohesion.
The adoption of legislation setting minimum requirements has improved labour
standards and strengthened workers' rights and – as I hope you will agree – is
one of the European Union's most significant achievements.
Initially, EC labour law was designed with the aim of ensuring that the
creation of the Single Market did not lead to a lowering of labour standards or
distortions in competition.
Today, labour law also has a key role in ensuring a continuous improvement
of living and working conditions throughout the EU.
Most recently, we have seen the Lisbon Treaty give legal effect to the
Charter of Fundamental Rights. This gives legal status to a range of individual
and collective rights supporting the values of human dignity, freedom, equality
Specifically, Article 28 on collective bargaining states:
"Workers and employers, or their respective organisations, have, in
accordance with Union law and national law and practices, the right to
negotiate and conclude collective agreements at the appropriate levels and, in
the cases of conflicts of interest, to take collective action to defend their
interests, including strike action."
Overall, the experience in Ireland from an EU policy perspective has been
positive and progressive.
What of the future?
The launch of Europe 2020, the new strategy for sustainable jobs and growth
across the EU, could not come at a more challenging time.
The last two years of economic and financial crisis have been tough for
countries across the European Union, including Ireland. We have seen a 4%
contraction of GDP across Europe and forecasts show a likely increase in
unemployment to almost 11% by the end of the year.
The economic recession eradicated a significant proportion of the progress
we have achieved over the last decade. And even today, when we had thought to
have seen the worst of the impact of the crisis, there are new problems looming
on the horizon. Capital markets are forcing Member States to put in place
austerity plans which go beyond what most people would have envisaged just a
few months ago.
Ladies and gentlemen,
(The Europe 2020 strategy)
The crisis has clearly shown that our economies are interlinked and that we
face common challenges. We have learned that the EU can work best if we act
The Europe 2020 strategy, proposed by the Commission and endorsed by the
Heads of State of Government at the European Council last Thursday (June 17th),
aims to lay the foundations for a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy that
is capable of delivering high levels of employment, productivity and social
The three priority areas of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth are
fundamentally interlinked, making Europe 2020 much more integrated than the
Lisbon strategy. And although the employment and social components are
primarily linked to the inclusive growth pillar, they are also essential parts
of the "smart" and "sustainable" pillars.
In order to ensure effective implementation and monitoring, the Commission
has put forward five headline targets. Two of which are in the employment and
social policy fields, namely:
- Promoting jobs by raising to 75% the employment rate for women and men aged
20-64, through greater participation of young people, older and low-skilled
- Promoting social inclusion, by aiming to lift at least 20 million people
out of the risk of poverty and exclusion.
The other headline targets aim to increase investment in R & D to 3% of
GDP, meet the EU's climate change and energy objectives and improve education
Member States should now, in close dialogue with the Commission, rapidly
finalise their national targets, taking account of their relative starting
positions and national circumstances. It is crucial that every Member State
defines ambitious national targets that contribute to the European headline
But work does not stop here - national targets must be underpinned by
concrete policies and actions. Work will start immediately on innovation and
(Strengthen the social dimension of EU's political agenda)
When taking up his portfolio, the new Commissioner for Employment, Social
affairs and Equal opportunities, László Andor gave a clear commitment to
strengthen the social dimension of Europe’s political agenda, echoing the
emphasis put by President Barroso on social issues. Commissioner Andor also
pledged to strengthen the social dimension with the cooperation of the social
The Commission's short-term priorities are to make a credible exit from the
crisis, to pursue the reform of the financial system and to ensure budgetary
In addition, fighting unemployment and fostering job opportunities are at
the core of the immediate agenda.
The crisis showed the strengths of the European social model, and it was
widely acknowledged that welfare states acted as automatic stabilisers.
However, the financial and economic crisis has led to a further substantial
increase in public debt in a number of European countries. Let's face it:
current levels are very high.
Nevertheless, the Commissioner has also been very clear in this respect:
Measures to counter the further deteriorating of public debts must not affect
support to essential public services, nor reduce the need for solidarity with
the most vulnerable members of the population.
Europe has to strike a delicate – and sometimes difficult - balance between
providing adequate support for individuals, reducing social inequalities and
preventing poverty and at the same time ensuring that our social protection
systems are financially sustainable in a period of high public deficits.
For this reason, we must not lose sight of long-term challenges if we wish
to secure the sustainability of our social model over the next decades. Ageing
populations; fast-changing technologies; climate change and other environmental
challenges all have to be addressed – and sooner rather than later.
As you know very well, responsibility for employment and social policy lies
mainly with the Member States. But the European institutions must support the
Member States and use all the instruments available. And the European
Commission is ready to do so.
(A reinforced social dimension within the Europe 2020 Strategy)
We are committed to a reinforced social dimension of EU policies.
Yes, we will need growth to overcome the crisis. But our strategy makes it
clear what kind of growth we need: smart, green AND inclusive. Employment and
social cohesion are therefore at the heart of the strategy.
Consequently, the Europe 2020 strategy will be more integrated than the past
Lisbon strategy. The three reinforcing priority areas are very interdependent
and there are obvious strong inclusive components in the "smart" and
"green" growth pillars. For example, improving the quality of
education, training and lifelong learning is essential for creating quality
jobs but is also vital for the objectives in the "smart" growth pillar
to promote knowledge and innovation and for the '"green" growth pillar
to support the transition to an eco-efficient economy.
In addition, Europe 2020 confirms the relevance of the flexicurity
principles to ensure an appropriate balance between flexibility and security.
The integrated design of Europe 2020 underlines that flexicurity is not just
about 'more flexibility', but emphasises that transitions in our labour market
must be also be safe.
Furthermore, four out of the 10 proposed integrated guidelines and three out
of the five proposed headline targets of the Europe 2020 strategy refer to
employment, education and social affairs. There is a direct link between the
proposed guidelines and the targets on employment, educational attainment and
The Commission's 2010 work programme also reflects this reinforced social
dimension. I will give you a few examples:
- The first main strand of the 2010 Work programme is devoted to
"tackling the crisis and sustaining Europe’s social market economy". It
puts the social situation at the top of the agenda against the background of
the recession. The 2010 Commission work programme also stresses a Citizen’s
agenda and building a Citizen’s Europe.
- Secondly, within the smart regulation agenda, the Commission will step up
its work on social impact assessment and ex-post evaluation, notably in the
employment and social fields.
- Thirdly, the Commission is committed to address the concerns expressed with
regard to the Working Time Directive and the Posting of Workers Directive. On
Working Time, we have launched a broad debate and we are actively exploring all
the issues. On posting, we are committed to improving its implementation and we
are working on a legislative proposal to this end.
- Fourthly, we are preparing a Communication on Youth Unemployment for the
second half of this year, to address the currently very difficult situation of
young people on the labour market.
- Also, by the end of the year we will be presenting our plans for concrete
actions under the EU2020 flagship initiatives, in particular the 'youth on the
move' initiative, the 'agenda for new skills and jobs', and the 'platform
- And finally, later this month the Commission plans to launch a Green Paper
consultation on the future of Pensions, a topic that – in the context of an
ageing population and the tighter public budgets – deserves to be placed high
on the European agenda.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The sheer size of the task to overcome the crisis and prepare our economies
for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth means that no-one can shoulder the
burden alone. Instead, the Europe 2020 strategy and its implementation are
built on a partnership approach, which is extended to social partners.
The Commission is convinced that real ownership at European and national
level and a coordinated response involving social partners will be crucial for
the success of this strategy.
As you know, the Lisbon Treaty has confirmed and further strengthened the EU
social dialogue: it recognises the role and autonomy of social partners; it
institutionalises the Tripartite social summit; and it highlights that the
promotion of social dialogue commits the Union as a whole and not just the
To this end, it is the Commission's firm intention to include all
stakeholders, and especially social partners at European and national level, in
the definition and implementation of future policies aimed at achieving higher
levels of employment and stronger social cohesion.
The involvement of social partners is necessary at all levels and with
regard to all policy priorities: making flexicurity a win-win situation for
workers and enterprises alike, promoting entrepreneurship, enhancing the access
to training, improving the anticipation of skills needs, strengthening
education and fighting poverty.
At the European level, the Commission will give a key role to social
partners in the 'Youth on the move' flagship initiative, aimed at promoting
young people's entry into the labour market through apprenticeships, or other
Another key role will be given to social partners in our 'agenda for new
skills and jobs'. We would like to involve social partners in the work to
identify ways to better manage economic transitions and to fight unemployment
and raise activity rates.
Finally, a flagship initiative a 'European Platform against Poverty' is
devoted to combating poverty. The aim is to ensure that the benefits of growth
are widely shared and that people experiencing poverty and social exclusion are
enabled to live in dignity and take an active part in society. We will need the
active involvement of the social partners in order to make this a success.
The Lisbon Treaty strengthens the role of social dialogue on a European
level. This brings about new responsibilities, not just for the European
institutions, but also for the social partners. I encourage you to fully use
the possibilities offered by the Treaty, including the capacity of social
partners to negotiate agreements.
In conclusion, I would like to underline that the new Europe 2020 strategy
has two main goals: to deal with the short –term effects of the economic
crisis, and second, to tackle the longer-term challenges facing Europe. The
Commission is committed to address as a priority the employment and social
dimension of the crisis and to put Europe back on the path of sustainable and
Inclusive growth, which means empowering people through high levels of
employment, investing in skills, fighting poverty, modernising labour markets,
training and social protection, and building a cohesive society, is at the
heart of Europe 2020. Delivering these priorities is the big task ahead for
Europe and its member states.
Thank you for your attention.