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“Europe will see an even more integrated labour market”
How do you assess the European Year of Workers’ Mobility? Has it received the desired attention?
Our expectations have by far been exceeded and the Europe-wide response has been very positive. The European Year has strongly contributed to the recognition of ‘Free Movement’ and ‘Mobility’ as fundamental values of our society.
Given the support by the EURES network for the European Job Fairs - how do you see this kind of labour market initiative developing? Could they become a regular annual element on the European events calendar?
At first we expected around 30 events, but eventually ended up with more than 500 in about 300 locations. This fantastic foundation must of course not be lost. I intend therefore to present a concept on turning ‘European Job Fairs’ into annual fixed events.
The 2004 enlargement round left us with 10 new Member States largely excluded from most of the ‘old’ EU-15 labour market. Some EU members – both ‘old’ and ‘new’ - are now considering imposing comparable restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria. Do we have to remind the EU Member States of our ‘four freedoms’?
More than half of the Member States has entirely implemented the free movement [of people principle]. It is only a question of time when the remaining ones will follow. Since the last enlargement round, we have seen declining unemployment rates and higher economic growth in the old EU-15. These are clear indicators of the positive effect [of applying fully Single Market principles.]. To enhance this timely limited success, we will have to complete the aim of Free Movement. But the Member States will still maintain the right and responsibility to impose certain restrictions.
The system of ‘flexicurity’ has been celebrated for its remarkable success in Denmark – and is even mentioned as a role model for all European labour markets. However, you have been wary of simply copying ‘flexicurity’, considering the diverse structures of our national social systems. Aren’t all EU members fighting similar phenomena, like youth unemployment and under employment of elderly people? Can you identify certain reform elements for application across Europe?
The European labour market is much more coherent than some might presume. Positive labour market policies should not be copied, but adapted to local conditions. However, any modern labour market policy should always aim at protecting the labour force itself rather than simply the work place. Special attention should also be paid to the time period between jobs. This critical period has to be facilitated and supported to promote labour force mobility.
Employers often assert that far reaching protection of workers against dismissal, a central tenet of our social market economies, is a major obstacle to job creation. Can the two be reconciled?
Social protection must not be equated with regulations protecting worker’s rights. Countries like Austria or Denmark are characterised by rather low protection in the work place, but backed by a strong social protection system. Hence, it doesn’t have to be a contradiction. But there is, independent of the respective system, a clear need for strong, functioning social partnerships to ensure an appropriate balance of interests.
2007 has been named the “European Year of Equal Opportunities for All”. Which issues in the upcoming year will be most important for European employment policy?
Definitely, [we will emphasise] equal opportunities for women and men, as well as for disabled people and an improved situation for minorities of ethnic or any other background. Closest attention must be paid to measurable inequalities such as different income for equal performance. All decision makers must be aware of the fact that equal opportunity is an important factor for competitiveness. But we also must not undermine our diversity, which has strong creative potential.
What is your medium- and long-term vision for the European labour market? Which major changes do you expect for the upcoming years?
We have to understand that the main pressure on the labour market is caused by brisk technical innovation rather than by globalisation. New technologies equal new products and services, and job specifications experience much shorter life spans. This development causes much shorter, even if less extreme, economic cycles. Successful labour market policy will have to respond to this development with swift reaction and targeted action.
I am also convinced that Europe will see the development of an even more integrated labour market, characterised by enhanced free movement and exchange of labour force. This development has to be actively supported and facilitated. Obstacles must be overcome, while preventing at the same time any form of social dumping. Enhanced economic growth must never be an argument to play out employers against each. To summarise, we will see development towards a common labour market employment policy in an ever more fragmented labour market.
The Eures News & Information Bureau conducted this interview with EU Employment Commissioner Vladimír Špidla on occasion of the European Job Fairs taking place across Europe the 29th of September.