'Doubts about benefits of EU are growing'
By Honor Mahony
Rising unemployment, bleak economic prospects and continued austerity is making people question the benefits of the EU, Europe's top trade unionist has said.
Speaking ahead of Thursday’s (14 March) EU summit, Bernadette Segol, head of the European Trade Union Confederation, said the current policies “have failed.”
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“We are in a double dip recession. Unemployment is up, up and up. When is growth going to come?”
Segol, who met top EU politicians for a ‘social dialogue’, said she tried to convey a sense of “urgency” to leaders about member states where “doubts about the benefits of the European Union is showing more and more.”
Her words come as EU leaders meet for their traditional Spring summit, focusing on boosting the economy.
They are gathering amid grim statistics. Eurozone unemployment is at a record high of 11.8 percent. And the euro area is set for a worse-than-expected 0.3 percent contraction this year.
But most governments, led by Germany, continue to stick with the austerity route of slashing public spending and raising taxes to rein in budget deficits.
The draft conclusions for the summit acknowledge that unemployment is the “most important social challenge facing us.”
It also makes a reference to the “flexibility” of the rules underpinning the euro when it comes to balancing public investment and fiscal prudence.
But the necessity of “fiscal consolidation” continues to be emphasized.
Ahead of the summit, EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso stressed that member states need to progress with structural reforms as a way of ensuring growth.
But Segol disagreed. Structural reforms put the “burden” on workers already paying for the crisis, she said. What is needed is more investment, possible if there was “political will.”
She also chided Markus Breyrer, Director General of industry association BusinessEurope, for being complacent about the future of Europe’s Social Model.
“We are not that confident. Policies that are being implemented are attacking industrial relations system, are putting pressure on wages, are weakening public services, and weakening social protection. These are the core aspects of the social model.”
Outside the summit venue, meanwhile, thousands of people protested against austerity.
“Competitiveness pact: No. Austerity Pact: No. Solidarity Pact: Yes” read one large banner in front of the European Commission.