14th Aug 2022

Social summit gives taste of things to come

  • John Monks: reconsider and redraw the services directive. Preferably start again (Photo: ETUC)

A pre-summit meeting between representatives of unions, big business and the Presidents of the Commission and Council was almost entirely hijacked by a debate over the services directive, foreshadowing the likely outcome of the meeting of EU leaders.

Ostensibly meeting to discuss the relaunch of the so-called Lisbon Strategy – the EU’s economic reform agenda – it was clear that the services directive had dominated the discussions.

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Secretary-General of the European Trade Unions Confederation (ETUC), John Monks, set the tone at the post-meeting press conference when he stated, "we would like the Commission to reconsider and redraw the services directive and preferably start again".

Pointing out that over 80,000 people had marched against the directive in Brussels at the weekend, he nevertheless stressed that the services directive and the Constitution were different issues.

Breaking into French – an ironic gesture to the French referendum campaign which has linked the two issues – the British Secretary-General said, "ils ne sont pas la meme chose" (they are not the same thing).

He said that he backed the Constitution – although admitting that some of his members were opposed to the Treaty.

Changes to be made

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who is also current head of the European Council, said that changes would have to be made to the draft of the controversial directive as it stands.

"Anyone who thinks there can be no change to the document has got things completely wrong", he said.

"Speaking for my own country, we could never vote in favour of the text in the state it is in at the moment".

Commission President José Manuel Barroso emphasised that his organisation is no longer in charge of the redrafting procedure and that it is up to the Council and the European Parliament to suggest changes – which will then be examined by his staff.

But he also stressed, "we do not want a directive that lowers our social standards".

He was joined in this by Mr Juncker who said, "yes to liberalisation of services, no to social dumping".

The services market accounts for up to 70 percent of the European internal market.

Those opposing the directive - including the Unions, France and Germany - say it will lead to a reduction in wages and working conditions - mainly due to its central axis, the 'country of origin' principle.

This means that service providers may operate anywhere in the EU under their own domestic rules.

But there are also many - including several of the new member states - who are in favour of adopting the directive as they believe it may help reduce unemployment.

Lisbon sidelined

Although the Lisbon process was sidelined, there was still some discussion on how to boost the flagging EU economy.

The Secretary-General of UNICE – the business organisation – said that the strategy had to be focussed on jobs and growth, adding that this strategy was "not only for companies but also for those who work for companies".

Mr Monks said, "it’s a mistake to suggest that social policy needs to be moved down a bit and competitiveness needs to be moved up the priority list. The two things work together".

There was also some congratulations for Mr Juncker’s efforts at achieving a deal on the Stability and Growth Pact – or as Mr Monks called it, "the services and growth pact".

Mr Juncker himself said dryly, "I had difficulty in containing my enthusiasm as I noted the overwhelming welcome of the agreement reached on the Stability and Growth Pact".

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