Tuesday 16 October 2012

Employment and Social Affairs Committee on Economic and Monetary Union

The European Parliament's Employment and Social Affairs Committee adopted an opinion last week on its position on economic and monetary union, pushing, naturally enough, for employment and social matters to be given more weight when it comes to European economic policy. You can read it here: PDF. The non-binding opinion was adopted on a vote of 27 for, 16 against and 1 abstention.

The Committee's basic attitude is reflected in this paragraph (p.6):

"...any upgrade of the role of the Commissioner for economic and monetary affairs will need to be echoed by an upgrade of the role of the Commissioner for employment and social affairs so as to ensure a balanced approach of the social market economy, in the same spirit the EPSCO Council [Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council in the Council of Ministers] should be upgraded and organized in a euro zone formation."

The opinion calls for minimum social benchmarks and for the Commission to look into the feasibility of introducing a minimum unemployment allowance for the Eurozone. The Committee also calls for an "integrated employment and social policy framework", and that increased worker mobility should be complimented with access to social protection and the portability of pension rights.

The recommendations reflect some of the amendments in the parliamentary reports on the 2-Pack of legislation: a Social Pact, employment and social benchmarks to make up part of any troika programme, for there to be a representative of the International Labour Organisation added to the Troika, and making the European Semester more accountable to the European Parliament. Cooperation on tax is also cited as necessary to prevent the free movement of capital from undermining tax systems - probably the most controversial idea if it gained any ground in public debate: tax competition versus certain common bands to prevent an undermining of tax systems within the internal market.

The European Conservatives and Reformists hit out against the opinion:

"The document also called for a minimum unemployment allowance and integration of civic initiatives, trade unions and other social groups at all levels of political decision-making. Such a populist proposal would, however, cut back on powers of democratically elected representatives in favour of lobbying organizations."

While I don't agree with everything in the opinion (there's a crazy paragraph on linking access to capital to the potential for employment in the investment) , I would support support some minimum social standards. The problem we face at the moment is that the policies at the EU level are far too focused on sovereign debt and the banking system, to the determent of employment and social policies (and the internal market has by definition a social dimension) - and while introducing minimum social standards is necessary to make the internal market work for all and to help preserve the Member States' own powers in this area, there needs to be political debate and support for these programmes.

I hope the parties that voted for this opinion will put these ideas and policies into their manifestos come election time so we have a chance to vote on them.

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