28th Mar 2023

EU employment summit short on results

  • A strike by metal workers in Brussels in December (Photo: EUobserver)

The European commission and ministers from the Czech, Swedish and Spanish governments agreed a loose set of proposals to boost employment on Thursday (7 May) but failed to come up with concrete measures to tackle Europe's worsening jobs crisis.

Speaking after a specially convened employment summit in Prague, commission president Jose Manuel Barroso defended the meeting's outcome saying several new ideas had been put forward that would be placed before EU leaders at the June European council.

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The drive for greater "flexicurity" is a very recent agreement he said, a measure that seeks to give employers greater flexibility over worker contracts while at the same time providing better retraining opportunities and social support for those who lose their jobs.

"The world will not be the same after this crisis," he added. "There will be winners and losers and the question for Europe is which side do we want to be on."

As well as improving re-training opportunities, the meeting's final statement highlights the need to modernise social security networks and continue the fight against protectionism.

However ministers also re-iterated the potentially conflicting need to maintain sound public finances as European governments become increasingly concerned about the future implications of their spiralling debt.

Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose government will take over the EU's rotating six-month presidency in July, stressed the fact that 23 out of the EU's 27 member states now had excessive budget deficits.

"I think we will see now a turnover to more of a ‘reform' discussion and of course this will also be a focus during the Swedish presidency," he said.

Employer and trade union representatives who attended the summit refused to sign the final document, instead issuing their own list of priorities.

"There are some responses to the social agenda [in the final communiqué], but its not enough," the head of the European trade union confederation, John Monks, told EUobserver on the sidelines of the meeting.

A recent commission forecast predicts 8.5 million EU citizens will lose their job over the course of this and next year.

A question of looking?

One man who will lose his job shortly is Czech prime minister Mirek Topolanek whose government lost a parliamentary vote of no confidence in March.

Asked how he felt about this Mr Topolanek suggested anyone could find a new job if they looked hard enough.

"I'm going to lose my post as prime minister but I'm not going to be out of a job. If you look for work you will find it and I think the same applies for everybody."

He added that it was up to business to create new jobs and in particular small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

Mr Topolanek's views are not shared by everyone.

Conny Reuter, the president of Social Platform representing around 40 European social sector NGOs told this website that Mr Topolanek's comments were "unacceptable".

"There are a lot of people who lose their job who don't have the prospect to find another," he says. "I think the citizens will feel this is some kind of provocation."

"This is certainly not a contribution to show that the European Union can bring solutions and policy orientations in the time of crisis."

He added that the summit clearly could not be considered a success, firstly because of the successive downgrades in importance of the people attending, and secondly because the question of greater social inclusion had not been addressed.

It was originally intended that all 27 EU leaders would attend the summit but the format was changed in March at the leaders' request.

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