Brussels, 2 December 2016
Dear President of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (CESI),
Dear Secretary General, Dear Congress delegates,
In recent years, speeches about Europe's economy often started with the cliché that we are 'at a turning point'.
Now, we could say that we hope we are at a turning point.
Some indicators point in the right direction: we will end this year with positive growth for the fourth consecutive time since the crisis, and all EU Member States are set to grow next year. The employment rate is now back to pre-crisis levels (it reached 70.1% in 2015). If current trends continue, the Europe 2020 employment target of 75% is within reach. Poverty and social indicators are also starting to improve, indeed starting to go down.
But the turning is certainly taking its time: growth is too moderate, unemployment remains high, namely among our young people, and the reform efforts, for instance in labour markets, are already waning is some areas and countries.
Moreover, external and geopolitical factors are also weighing down the recovery momentum.
So we have to do more to support the recovery, to bring more growth and to create quality jobs.
Above all, we need to do so by investing in people.
The Annual Growth Survey, the EU's annual economic strategy document presented last month, emphasis the need to redouble efforts on the virtuous triangle of economic policy: boost investment, pursue structural reforms; and ensure responsible fiscal policies. In doing that, it puts the focus on social fairness to deliver more inclusive growth. It explicitly calls for an economic recovery that benefits all, especially the weaker in our societies.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Over the last few years, the need for people to be able to adapt to changing economic, technological, knowledge and management realities has increased tremendously. Hence, the need for us to support them in making that transformation has grown.
In a fast-changing global economy, skills will determine Europe's competitiveness and our capacity to drive innovation. They help mobilise and attract investment.
Not everyone has the skills necessary to compete in today's job market. Weak literacy is a problem for one fifth of European adults. One quarter has difficulty with numeracy. Even more disturbing in this digital age is the fact that up to 40% of adults have low or no digital skills.
With the Skills Agenda, the Commission outlined its vision for skills to sustain jobs, growth and competitiveness.
We will focus attention on three priorities:
improving the quality and relevance of skills across Europe;
making skills and qualifications more visible and comparable;
and improving skills intelligence and information for better career choices.
These priorities are translated into 10 concrete actions:
- from the "Upskilling Pathways" to help low-skilled adults acquire a minimum level of literacy, numeracy and digital skills; to a revision of the European Qualifications Framework;
- from increased cooperation to address specific skills gaps and shortages in certain sectors; to a Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, which my Colleague Commissioner Oettinger has launched yesterday.
Let me stress that we are very pleased to see that CESI joined the European Alliance for Apprenticeships last September. Social partners have a key role to play in developing and providing good vocational education and training, apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities.
We cannot do this without you.
Now, let me say a few words about youth initiatives. Investing in youth is a vital part of that effort.
By now, the Youth Guarantee has become a reality across the EU.
Compared with three years ago, there are almost 1.5 million fewer young unemployed in the EU. Almost 900,000 fewer young people not in employment, education or training, so-called “NEET”. The employment rate for young people has started to rise again. These results are encouraging, but the challenge to tackle the very high unemployment of young people remains a political priority.
The Commission will continue to support the full roll-out of national Youth Guarantee Schemes. And the Commission has recently proposed to increase budget resources for the Youth Employment Initiative until 2020.
As part of the Commission's Work Programme for 2017, we will soon launch a broader Youth Initiative.
It will entail, among other things, a European Solidarity Corps, which will create opportunities for people under the age of 30 to contribute actively to society, and to acquire new skills and life experience. Our objective is to get 100,000 young people to join by 2020.
In a very short period of time, digital technology has fundamentally changed the way we work, get information and interact with each other. There is no longer such a thing as 'the digital economy' – the economy is digital. Full stop.
Digitisation has brought tremendous benefits to our lives. It has improved the global living standards. And there is significant potential to improve it further. However, we cannot ignore its downsides, in particular during the transition period when innovation is at its most disruptive and appears to create fewer jobs rather than more, and the risk of social exclusion for some disadvantaged groups.
So we have to make digitisation work, and to work for all of us.
Let me underline three aspects of particular importance.
First, education. The digitised economy requires widespread skills if society as a whole is to participate. We need to recalibrate and upgrade our education systems to provide better digital skills for all and to foster more creativity.
Second, we must adapt our way of thinking, working and policy making into the 21st century, including on issues such as taxation, copyright, social security or industrial development.
We need to make sure that any industry in Europe, big or small, wherever situated and in any sector can fully benefit from digital innovations to upgrade its products, improve its processes and adapt its business models to the digital change. And social dialogue is important in this regard, to make this change happen smoothly.
Third, we need to focus on high-quality public services.
Government services are crucial to create the right environment for citizens and for both businesses and employees to thrive in. Given the important role that CESI plays in public sector, I am sure we all agree on this point.
Modernising public administrations is a way to lighten economic and budgetary pressures; design and deliver necessary structural reforms; remove existing barriers in the Single Market; foster innovation and create jobs. E-government requires profound changes in the way we design and manage government services.
The EU supports these efforts with funding for capacity building, technical standards and tools, analysis, peer exchange, guidance and technical assistance.
The Social Pillar
Ladies and gentlemen,
Europe has a unique social model, in which economic development and social progress are mutually reinforcing, or the ‘social market economy’. It's something to cherish and be proud of. Yet we also need to make it fit for new realities and challenges.
In March, we presented a first outline for a European Pillar of Social Rights with precisely this aim.
The Pillar should be seen as a compass for upward convergence towards more resilient economic structures. It sets out essential principles that can be used to better screen employment and social performance in participating Member States.
Since March, a broad consultation is underway that will close at the end of the year. A Conference will be held early 2017 to discuss the outcome. I would like to thank CESI partners for their input in the consultation.
Throughout the years, we have learnt to appreciate how much social dialogue makes our policies more effective and strengthens their legitimacy.
That is why we have resolutely opted to strengthen the involvement of social partners in the European Semester. We believe in the need to involve social partners whenever and wherever decisions are taken – at EU and national levels – so that your impact can really make a difference.
I commend CESI for the constructive role it plays in EU social dialogue.
Today's Congress is an important event to prepare your organisation for the future and I wish you every success.
Thank you very much.