ESC conference debates EU anti-crisis policies

In early October 2009, the joint conference of the Economic and Social Council of Bulgaria and the European Economic and Social Committee was held in Sofia. More than 170 participants representing the parliament, the government, state authorities, the academic sphere, employers, employees and civil society organisations discussed the current economic and financial crisis and its consequences for labour markets in Europe.

The joint conference of Bulgaria’s Economic and Social Council (ESC) and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) was held in Sofia on 5 and 6 October 2009. The main topics discussed during the conference included the labour market situation in the European Union (EU) and the impact of the financial and economic crisis on it, as well as the assessment of these trends and anti-crisis measures introduced by the EU Member States in cooperation with the social partners and other interest groups. The analysis of the labour market situation in the EU shows that the global economic and financial crisis has continued to expand in 2009, with the labour market being one of the most severely affected areas.

Focus of conference

The conference was organised in two sessions focusing on the anti-crisis measures introduced in the different EU Member States and on EU policy for jobs and renewed growth.

Impact of crisis and measures to activate labour market

The President of the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD), Sonny Portelli, opened the discussion on the consequences of the crisis and measures to activate the labour market. He highlighted export and tourism as the sectors of the economy most affected by the crisis in Malta. The President of the ESC of Bulgaria, Lalko Dulevski, remarked that the crisis had different consequences for each Member State, which he believes could represent a threat of a rise in protectionism in many instances. The EESC members – namely, the employer, worker and other interest groups – already approved the international measures to cope with the crisis; they also emphasised that national government measures should also be oriented in two directions:

  • measures with an anti-cyclic character for labour market protection;
  • long-term measures, concentrated mainly on the realisation of infrastructural projects.

A member of the EESC employer group (Group I), Bojidar Danev, described the current economic situation in Bulgaria. He introduced the notion of ‘labour market contamination’ due to the fact that in recent years a growing number of tax-subsidised workplaces and low qualified employment emerged in Bulgaria. A member of the EESC worker group (Group II), Plamen Dimitrov, followed with a presentation on the consequences of the crisis for the Bulgarian labour market. According to Mr Dimitrov, the unemployment rate in Bulgaria will reach about 11% and the government will have to focus its activity on measures to combat unemployment. He highlighted that all funds of the social security systems registered a deficit. In reply, Bulgaria’s Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Totyu Mladenov, emphasised that an optimised package of passive and active labour market measures will be introduced over the next year, and it is planned to fund these measures not only from the state budget but also through the European Structural Funds under the operational programmes.

EU policy for jobs and renewed growth

The members of the EESC were actively involved in the different parts of the debate. The Programme Manager in the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities at the European Commission, Resa Koleva, highlighted that the four criteria set out in the European Economic Recovery Plan – effectiveness, efficiency, timeliness and purpose – should be included for the evaluation of all measures. Coping with the negative consequences of the crisis required a fast activation of the employment measures and the simplification of the framework of their financing by the European Social Fund (ESF) and European Globalisation Adjustment Fund. Also representing the EESC, Vladimíra Drbalová, presented her opinion on the European Commission Communication New skills for new jobs, stressing that the improvement of skills and a better match between skills and labour market needs is the best way to enhance workers’ adaptability and create inclusive labour markets. EESC member Gunta Anca addressed issues regarding access to employment for disabled people during the economic crisis. According to her estimations, 78% of disabled people are currently unemployed.

Commentary

On a whole, the participants from the EU Member States seem disappointed by the impact of anti-crisis measures undertaken to date and are pessimistic about the future. A summary of the proposals and statements made during the conference have been included in the final conference report which will be discussed during the annual meeting of the presidents and the secretaries-general of the economic and social councils of the EU Member States and the EESC in November 2009 in Sofia.

Lyuben Tomev, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR)

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