Tripartite Social Summit discusses responses to economic crisis

At their autumn Tripartite Social Summit, the social partners focused their attention on the key issues related to the economic and social situation in Europe. The main concerns raised were about the nature of economic recovery, the continued risk to jobs, the posted workers directive and the need for regulation of the financial services sector. According to Commission President Barroso, employment and social protection measures will play a key role in the EU 2020 strategy.

On 29 October 2009, the Tripartite Social Summit met ahead of the autumn European Council of Ministers. These twice annual meetings provide an opportunity for an exchange of views between the social partners, the European Commission, heads of government and employment ministers. The agenda of the October meeting was split into two parts: the first part dealt with the recent economic and social situation in Europe, while the second part focused on the social partners’ Joint work programme 2009–2010 (407Kb PDF). The social partners were united in their concerns over the nature of economic recovery in Europe, although they emphasised different priorities that should be adopted in the short term.

Employers call for better financial regulation

For the largest employer organisation at EU level, BusinessEurope, its Director General, Philippe De Buck, called for a new Commission operating under Lisbon Treaty rules as a way of preventing new obstacles from impairing the functioning of EU institutions under the current difficult economic and social circumstances. Mr de Buck underlined that, to achieve economic growth, the Council needed to take decisions about access to finance, as well as on structural reforms of labour markets and social systems. BusinessEurope forecasts a further loss of 10 million jobs in 2009–2010, with young people being particularly affected. In his address to the summit (95Kb PDF), Mr de Buck emphasised that the employer organisation strongly supports programmes that would boost employment levels and productivity growth through education and training.

The European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Union Européenne de l’artisanat et des petites et moyennes enterprises, UEAPME) was cautious in its assessment of the impact of the recession, estimating that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were likely to reduce investments and staff levels further over the next months. UEAPME’s President Georg Tofi warned that this would ‘trigger not only a further decrease in employment and turnover, but also a reduction of Europe’s future growth potential’. In a press release (317Kb PDF) on 29 October, the employer association called for ‘better, stricter and independent financial supervision, but also rules that cannot be bypassed by the new “sophisticated” financial products that are likely to appear in the future’.

Representing the public sector employers, the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) called for a swift ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. The President of CEEP, Carl Cederschiöld, highlighted in his speech (86Kb PDF) at the summit that CEEP would join BusinessEurope in underlining the central role that education and training should play.

ETUC emphasises need for youth scheme

For the trade unions, the General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), John Monks, echoed the employers’ concerns over the impact of unemployment, particularly on young people, whom he described as the recession’s ‘disproportionate and blameless victims’. He called for a new European recovery plan to include a Youth Guarantee scheme to aid young people’s access to employment.

ETUC’s other main concern was that exit strategies from the crisis were likely to be implemented too quickly, with ‘savage cuts in public expenditure’ being planned by some Member States which would ‘choke off the recovery’. In his address at the summit, Mr Monks emphasised that European-led solutions, rather than national ones, were key to prevent nationalistic responses to the crisis. ETUC also supports other measures brought forward at the Tripartite Social Summit, including: a European investment plan, a strong and concrete social policy agenda, more funds to combat climate change, increases in the activities of the European structural funds and greater regulation of financial services.

Priorities regarding climate change

All social partners referred to the need to address climate change issues. For BusinessEurope, this means finding ‘global solutions and – at the same time – to avoid moving manufacturing industry out of the EU’. UEAPME’s priority in this regard is to concentrate ‘on promising new sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency’. CEEP also declared that its members are committed to addressing climate change. However, the public sector employer organisation argued that more needs to be done. It therefore called for the setting up of a consultative committee on climate change, directly involving the social partners.

Opposing views on posted workers directive

On issues related to posted workers, the social partners held different positions. For BusinessEurope, problems related to posted workers could be dealt with at national level. ETUC, on the other hand, argued that the recent decisions of the European Court of Justice, such as in the Laval case, created real risks of protectionism and required amendments to the EU Directive 96/71/EC concerning the posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services.

The European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, agreed that it is not the time to abandon efforts for recovery and that exit strategies need to be implemented in a coordinated way. He also supported calls for a European ‘strong, green and inclusive economy’, involving active social partner participation. In his introductory statement at the press conference after the summit, EC President Barroso underlined that ‘employment and social protection measures must have pride of place in the new EU 2020 strategy’.

Sonia McKay, Working Lives Research Institute

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