25th May 2019

Barroso to focus on social agenda ahead of elections

  • Mr Barroso has indicated that he would like to be commission president for a second time. (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission has embarked on a social policy drive ahead of the European elections next year.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso - a centre-right politician - gathered his colleagues for a day's discussion on Tuesday (29 April) focussing on "solidarity, access and opportunities and development of the social agenda."

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The following day, the Brussels executive announced that it would table a "social package" before the summer.

The move comes after delays in key social policy legislation as well as a number of EU court judgements that have led to the perception that workers' rights are being undermined in Europe.

"This will be a broader package that will bring together different strands of the societal and the social agenda," said the commission's spokesperson on Wednesday.

The package will contain several pieces of legislation that normally would be made public independently of one another.

It is to include a long-awaited proposal on patients' cross-border health care rights as well as proposals on anti-discrimination and educational issues.

The health care proposal, which is meant to boost the rights of patients looking for treatment in other member states under certain conditions, has been delayed since December, while it recently emerged that the commission is backing away from including gays and lesbians in a forthcoming anti-discrimination bill.

The commission is also expected to announce revised legislation on the European Works Council as part of the package. Dating from 1994, the current law gives workers the right to consultation and information on company decisions.

It applies to companies with 1,000 or more workers, and at least 150 employees in a minimum of two member states. Trade unions have been calling for its revision as it has been poorly implemented by companies.

The commission indicated that it hopes that by presenting the package either at the end of June or beginning of July, it can still get it through the Brussels legislative channels before parliament breaks up in spring next year to start campaigning for the June European elections.

The timing is important to Mr Barroso, an EU official told EUobserver. He has repeatedly indicated that he would like to be commission president for a second time.

But this will depend on how EU citizens vote, as the commission president is to be chosen in light of the elections. If the socialists overtake the centre-right to upset the current balance of power in the EU assembly, then Mr Barroso will not win the post again.

Recent indications from the parliament have shown that left-wing politicians intend to make discussion of recent judgements on workers rights by the European Court of Justice a key part of their election campaigns.

Its most recent judgement in this area compounded the feeling among parts of the electorate that the internal market takes precedence over employee rights.

In the German Ruffert case, the court ruled that a regional law in lower Saxony that states public contracts may only be awarded to companies that promise to pay their employees the minimum wage breached an EU law.

The EU's highest court reached a similar decision in the Swedish Laval case late last year when it found that Swedish unions cannot force a foreign company to observe local pay deals.

These rulings were strongly condemned by trade unions, while left wing MEPs said they are an invitation to social dumping.

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