Concluding Remarks. Stay the Course
by Kris Peeters (Belgian federal Minister)
Belgium has always been a staunch supporter of a stronger social Europe. The consensus view in my country is that Europe is more than a market and the deepening of the single market must be accompanied by a gradual harmonization of minimal social standards. Ultimately, it is a question of fairness. Fairness for our workers who rightly resist social dumping. And fairness for our companies who demand a genuine level playing field when competing in the internal market.
From the outset of the mandate of the current European Commission, it has been clear that the push towards a more social Europe would, for the first time, be a real priority. As President Juncker stated: “A united, stronger and more democratic Union must be built on fair jobs, inclusive growth and equal opportunities.” And this time, the EU went beyond words. Thanks to the strong conviction of the current President of the European Commission and of course Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, social Europa has become more than a slogan.
For example, we have the agreement on the revision of the Posting of Workers Directive. After years of painstaking efforts, a final 14 hour-long negotiation in Luxemburg in October 2017 led to a fair and balanced conclusion that made ‘equal pay for equal work in the same place’ a reality. It is a clear sign that the EU protects the basic rights of its workers and opposes a race to the bottom. And it is a crucial step in countering the narrative of populists in Western Europe. We also have the European Pillar of Social Rights. As Marianne Thyssen states, the Pillar should become our social compass, guiding our legislative and other actions in the direction of a fairer European Union and convergence between member states.
It is time to put our money where our mouth is. Before the European elections in May 2019, we should translate as many of the priorities of the Pillar into action as possible. I see at least three areas that should be prioritized.
First, as underlined above, social Europa has become a reality. It is crucial that this reality is now translated into our institutional architecture. We should therefore agree as soon as possible on the creation and basic outline of a European Labour Authority. Apart from other tasks its main added value would be to enhance cooperation between national inspection services and to enforce the rules we agreed in the Posting of Workers Directive.
Secondly, we should reach an agreement on at least three of the legislative texts that are currently on the table: (1) the Work-Life Balance Directive that is coherent with the national law on ‘manageable work’ that we introduced in Belgium, (2) The Directive on predictable working conditions that gives an outline of the basic rights of any employee and will be important in guaranteeing minimal fairness in a labour market that is becoming increasingly flexible (3) and the Directive on the Coordination of Social Security Systems that is linked to the Posting of Workers Directive.
Thirdly, the Pillar of social rights should not only be translated in an institutional and legislative reality, but into a financial one as well. I therefore welcome the proposal of the Commission for the creation of a new headline on ‘investing in people’ in the next Multiannual Financial Framework. Other headlines of the MFF should take into account the stronger social dimension as well.
In general, it is my strong conviction that we should not only focus on budgetary discipline, but also on social convergence. The Pillar of Social Rights is a step forward and it should be an integral part of the European Semester. The Social Scoreboard is an important milestone in this direction. We should now turn these social parameters into hard conditions. Like the 3% threshold for budgetary deficits that makes sure everyone is in the same fiscal ballgame, we could define certain social thresholds that every member of the EU or the Eurozone should respect.
Because, once again: for CD&V it is only natural that when we deepen our internal market, we also provide the same quality of social protection. That we ensure fair rules and that we protect against social dumping. In the past few years, under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker and Marianne Thyssen, the EU has made a giant leap forward in this direction. It is up to us to defend this acquis in the upcoming European election campaign and to make sure the next European Commission stays the course.