Democracy in a society is not as much about majority as about the respect for minority.
First Vice-President Frans Timmermans
On 6 June the House of the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), hosted a Citizens’ Dialogue with First Vice-President Frans Timmermans. Lizette Risgaard, President of the LO welcomed the First-Vice-President and in her opening words urged the EU to be at the forefront of protecting labour standards.
The discussion in the cosy venue took place in a relaxed atmosphere with a roomful of very active participants and touched upon a wide range of issues, from migration, and the simplification of EU legislation through to development policy and the EU’s role in the world to basic values of the EU, the EU budget and the fight against climate change, as well as the redefinition of the roles in our societies in the wake of the fourth industrial revolution, just to name a few.
First Vice-President Timmermans kicked off the debate by explaining his stance on the refugee crisis and the migration challenge. He explained that the migration challenge is here to stay and we will only be able to really address it through wholistic solutions, including providing sustainable solutions for African countries that take into account the new challenges of the fourth industrial revolution.
At the same time he also warned that we should make a clear distinction between refugees and migrants and not to turn our backs on those in need in order not to lose touch with humanity. Participants were wondering whether the EU is addressing the push factors from third countries through the EU development policy, and proposed that all EU policies be examined from the perspective of their impact on developing countries.
Others urged for more openness towards Africa, and made the case for shaping a joint future for the two continents that are connected in so many ways. At a later stage of the debate as the discussion returned to Africa once more, the First Vice-President underlined that whatever we do, we need to strengthen our budget for international expenditure and part of the proposal should support education and training, - a sort of Erasmus in Africa.
The discussion continued with the EU’s role on the global stage, and responding to questions on taxation, the First Vice-President warned that whereas earlier individual countries were able to cope with large companies, today there are international players that are so big that they outperform states and can therefore dictate the conditions.
This puts our social model at risk, he cautioned. In this context, a participant was calling for more progress in responsible business conduct, while another one was wondering whether there has been any progress in the corporate tax transparency proposal, requiring multinational groups to report on profits and tax paid country-by country.
Turning back to challenges within the EU, several participants expressed their concerns regarding the latest developments in Poland and Hungary and were asking what the Commission is doing to protect the rule of law, and why it is acting alone, where Member States a participant asked.
The First Vice-President stressed the importance of rule of law for the survival of the EU and explained that so far there has been a tendency of non-interference by other Member States, but the tide is turning. Continuing on internal challenges, questions were raised about the EU’s actions to increase labour productivity in all Member States. In his response First Vice-President Timmerman confirmed that increasing labour productivity is one of the main goals in order to be able to achieve convergence within the EU.
“We need to make sure people go to work in another country because they think it is interesting, it’s nice, and not because it’s a necessity” – he said. At the same time he warned that with robotisation and Artificial Intelligence we will need to rethink the role of labour, and labour productivity will emerge as a different concept.
First Vice-President Timmermans concluded the discussion by stressing that “Nothing threatens us more than looking for someone to blame if things don’t go well. We are wrong if we think we can prosper by excluding others.”
The event in Copenhagen was part of a series of Citizens' Dialogues that involve the whole European Commission and take place in all EU Member States.