18th Jan 2019

Employment commissioner nominee fears jobless recovery

  • The crisis showed the strength of the European social model, says Mr Andor (Photo:

Europe's social model is the lodestar for the left-wing employment commissioner nominee, with Hungary's Laszlo Andor repeatedly emphasising the continent's renowned social safety net throughout his hearing before European Parliament deputies.

"Europe has undergone the greatest crisis since depression, with the weakest bearing the brunt," he told MEPs. "And the recent crisis has highlighted the strength of the European social model."

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"People are ultimately what Europe is about, and we forget this at our peril."

The 44-year-old economist gave what was widely regarded as a dry but competent performance to the chamber, with his presumptive opponents from the right of the house even calling him "very smooth," albeit with the caveat, echoed by the centre-left and liberals, that he failed to lay out much in the way of detail.

The core of his presentation and responses to the deputies' grilling were concerns about the growing unemployment resulting from the crisis, particularly amongst the young, and his worries that what should be a cyclical fall-out could turn into structural unemployment and a "lost generation."

"The big threat is the jobless recovery. The fact that even if industries become profitable again, a return to growth may not necessarily result in hiring more employees."

Fears about the threat to pensions from an aging population, the exclusion of immigrants and the Roma, "green jobs" as a response to the crisis and the buzzword "flexicurity" were the commissioner-designate's other motifs.

As regards two of the more controversial elements of EU employment policy in recent years, the Working Time Directive and the Posted Workers Directive, he said that for the former, a sectoral approach may be a solution to the controversy and for the latter, he was more non-committal, saying simply that bringing together the "social partners" - Brussels code for labour and management - to hear their views was necessary.

But while the commission's employment portfolio has in the wake of the crisis acquired a greater prominence, it remains a dossier with a limited range of tools, as the member states remain reluctant to accord much responsibility on social matters to Brussels, a restraint upon the office Mr Andor had to impress upon activist deputies on a number of occasions.

"Even in boom periods, unemployment in some countries reached a level of 10 percent or more and we have to find ways to reduce this level. Much of this work is done at the member-state level, but co-ordinating policies should help this," he said.

The generalities imposed by this limitation frustrated some deputies who wanted him to provide a more "visionary" strategy, as one MEP put it, beyond talk of the EU Globalisation Adjustment Fund, the European Social Fund, microcredit, performing more research and analysis and setting social provision targets for member states.

German deputy Thomas Mann, the social policy spokesman for the centre-right European People's Party, said afterward of that Mr Andor appeared "very smooth in general questions, [but] insecure and devoid of ideas in detail."

Hungarian centre-right deputy Csaba Ory was more cutting in a message sent out via Twitter: "He was talking, but saying nothing. He lacks concrete ideas and practical solutions in several areas."

A senior EPP source however told EUobserver that Mr Andor is likely to get a pass from the centre right: "It was not a brilliant performance, but acceptable."

The centre-left was more enthusiastic: "We thought there could have been more detail, but Barroso has kept all of them on a very short leash, not wanting to hold himself hostage to fortune. And there were lots of noises that we liked. I think he will be a popular commissioner," Irish Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa told this website.

While it was thought heading into the hearing that Mr Andor was going to be made something of a target by the centre-right for his former editorship of a left-wing academic journal described by the right-wing Hungarian press as "neo-marxist," the expected bunfight failed to materialise.

Only one British Conservative MEP from the anti-federalist ECR grouping in the parliament raised the issue.

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