28th Nov 2020

Scandinavian model must comply with EU rules, says McCreevy

  • The commission will be "fair and impartial" (Photo: European Commission)

EU commissioner Charlie McCreevy has defended his stance in a labour law row between Sweden and Latvia, saying he does not question the Scandinavian social model, but wants to see it respecting Europe's internal market.

The internal market commissioner appeared before the European Parliament on Tuesday (25 October), after MEPs had asked him to explain recent remarks he made on Sweden’s employment relations.

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Mr McCreevy told parliamentarians he found it "extraordinary" that he had to justify his statements in support of freedom to provide services - referred to by the Latvians - as he merely defended the basic EU's rules on the internal market.

"If members of this house expect me to creep around quietly and not upset some member states and some members of the European Parliament then I am afraid they are going to be disappointed," he said.

What is the internal market?

The commissioner suggested "The real issue for me is what do we mean by an internal market?"

"Maintaining barriers and trying to pretend that competition does not exist or can be kept outside the borders is not an option."

"I think the commission should be fair and impartial," he said, adding he would continue to take such a stand.

"Just because Latvia is a new member state and one of its smallest states does not mean its concerns are less important," he added.

The whole issue was sparked when the commissioner, during a recent visit to Sweden, sided with a Latvian construction company which had refused to take part in Sweden’s collective wage agreements.

The case is due to appear before the EU's top court to test its compliance with EU freedom of movement law.

In some quarters, Mr McCreevy’s words were interpreted as an attack on Sweden’s social model by Brussels.

Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, who was also summoned to appear in plenary by MEPs, said the EU executive is still waiting for a questionnaire from the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice.

This questionnaire will be the basis for the commission outlining its case.

"Our response will definitely not be an attack against Sweden's or Scandinavian social model, but at the same it will respect and defend the rules spelled out in the European treaties," said Mr Barroso.

Mixed reactions among MEPs

The commission's statements sparked a mixed reaction in the parliamentary chamber.

The conservatives and liberals backed Mr McCreevy and accused their left-leaning colleagues of populism.

"It is not politically clever to simply accuse Brussels of everything," said the leader of the centre-right, EPP, Hans-Gert Poettering.

He also rebuffed suggestions by a Swedish minister that Stockholm would withdraw its support for the services directive in reaction to the commission's stance in the dispute, stressing it was "unacceptable, as the case has nothing to do with the directive".

However, the Socialists argued the whole debate was about the quality of jobs that Europeans want "and they want to see European, not Chinese or Asian standards," said the Socialist leader Martin Schultz.

Mr Schultz advised the commission president to "put the brakes" on "neo-liberal" commissioners such as Mr McCreevy or the Dutch Neelie Kroes, in charge of competition, to demonstrate support for the European social model and to receive the group's support.

Carl Schlyter, a Swedish Green MEP, suggested his country wants to see protection of all workers, not just the Swedish against the Latvians.

"[The] EU is like a football team, and you are a coach," he said to Mr McCreevy. "You have to ensure that all players in the team play together, not individually against each other. Every player has its own individuality and they all have to play by the same rules," he said.

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