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Address by Martin Territt to the Information Consultation in Irish Workplace Forum
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Address by Martin Territt, Director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland,

to the Information Consultation in Irish Workplace Forum,

Croke Park, Dublin,

21 June 2010

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 and solidarity.

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 collectively.

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 cohesion.

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:

  1. 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 workers; and
  2. 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 levels.

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 targets.

But work does not stop here - national targets must be underpinned by concrete policies and actions. Work will start immediately on innovation and energy policies.

(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 partners.

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 consolidation.

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 poverty reduction.

The Commission's 2010 work programme also reflects this reinforced social dimension. I will give you a few examples:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 against poverty'.
  6. 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 Commission.

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 work experience.

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 job-creating growth.

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.




Last update: 30/10/2010  |Top