DGB greets Lisbon summit targets
Prior to the extraordinary European Council summit on employment, economic reform and social cohesion, held in Lisbon in March 2000, Germany's DGB trade union confederation published a statement agreeing with the overall line of the Council's proposed decisions. While DGB merely sought some amendments to the targets to be set by the summit, the chair of the BDA employers' confederation rejected the idea of quantitative EU targets as instruments of an overly centralised economic policy. Meanwhile, in the run-up to the Lisbon Council, DGB had already presented a set of proposals for German employment policy in 2000.
The European Council held an extraordinary meeting on 23-24 March 2000 in Lisbon with the aim of agreeing a new strategic goal for the European Union, in order to strengthen employment, economic reform and social cohesion as part of a "knowledge-based economy" (EU0004241F). The current Portuguese Presidency of the European Union had prepared draft conclusions prior the meeting, and the German Federation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) made comments on this text, asking the German federal government to bring up some proposals in the discussions in Lisbon. The summit subsequently adopted a set of conclusions, laying down a 10-year economic strategy, including specific targets in some areas.
DGB proposals for Lisbon summit
In its statement on the Lisbon European Council, DGB welcomed the overall strategy of the summit, which aimed at economic growth and greater social cohesion, new and better jobs and stability of prices. According to the Council Presidency, this goal requires not only a new framework for a competitive European economy but at the same time a modern "European social model" which differs from that of the USA. DGB supports the goal of promoting an average annual economic growth rate of at least 3%. This quantitative goal should be laid down in the basic elements of economic policy so that the actions of all economic actors can be matched against it. Further, DGB agrees with the European Council in supporting the shift to a digital, knowledge-based economy, prompted by new goods and services, which will become a powerful engine for growth, competitiveness and jobs. DGB states that technical change requires social and institutional reforms to open up the great employment potential of innovations. It refers to the high importance of "knowledge" and pleads for investment not only in technical equipment but also in new educational concepts and further qualification of teachers. Although the European Council wants to strengthen the spread of communication technologies through the European initiative "eEurope", DGB regrets that the European Commission and Council seem to give innovative forms of work and business organisation low importance. DGB believes that at least a minimum level of social standards is necessary in this area, especially in view of the enormous increase in teleworking. In addition, DGB does not understand why the proposals do not connect strategies for an information society with requirements for sustainable development, and why topics like protection of the customer, social regulation of telecommunications and guarantees for "pluralism of opinions" do not appear on the summit agenda.
DGB supports the opinion of the Commission and Council that there is no need for further institutionalisation of EU action in this area. Considering the fact that employment, structural change and macroeconomic coordination have already been covered in three processes - agreed in Luxembourg in 1997 (EU9711168F), Cardiff in 1998 (EU9806109F) and Cologne in 1999 (EU9906180N) - it is obvious that enough instruments are available for the "European employment pact" and that they only need bringing together. Political decisions can be integrated into the three "legs" of the employment strategy at the next European Council in June 2000.
DGB greets the fact that the importance of the social partners is underlined in the Lisbon conclusions. It stresses that technical and structural change require legal instruments to guarantee participation rights, not only at national level, but also at European level. Finally, DGB believes that the necessity to adapt systems of social protection to social changes should not lead to a consensus around a lower level of protection. DGB will monitor the extent to which the principle of subsidiarity and national responsibilities are observed in this area.
While DGB seems to be content with the European Council proposals overall, the chair of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (Bundesvereinigung der deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA), Dieter Hundt, rejects the plan of the European Union to set a goal for an average economic growth rate. According to statements he made in an interview on 23 March, Mr Hundt sees quantitative targets as instruments of a centralised economic policy, which should be rejected by the German government. Otherwise, such a policy would lead to an expansive monetary and economic policy with no positive effects. Mr Hundt emphasises that he is aware that a minimum of European coordination is required, but believes that this must not disguise the fact that solutions, such as structural reforms, must be found at national level to solve the problem of unemployment. In this context, he recommends the idea of a low-wage sector to create new jobs.
DGB proposals on employment policy
Meanwhile, on 23 February 2000, DGB presented a set of proposals for employment policy, entitled Labour 2000. DGB aims to achieve major improvements in the labour market by the following means:
- distribution of work through working time policy. DGB favours a three-pronged policy of reducing the number of years that people work during their lives - including flexible regulations for partial retirement - extending part-time work for men and women, and reducing overtime hours;
- a sweeping "qualification offensive". First, this means that enough training posts should offered to young people. Second, vocational training should be modernised and, third, every person should be given the opportunity for further training. DGB recommends the implementation of a "job-rotation" model in Germany in order both to bring unemployed people into work and to allow employees to make use of further training measures;
- a new impetus for eastern Germany. Besides a continuation of financial aid from the government and prosperous federal states (Länder), DGB supports regional structural policy combined with an effective promotion of public investments and innovations;
- an "ecological modernisation" of economy. This should be achieved through a mixture of state measures influencing the market economy, such as ecological taxes and legal regulations to improve environmental standards. Measures such as environmental conservation or redevelopment of heating systems could, it is claimed, create 500,000 to 1 million new jobs; and
- European coordination of employment policy, which should comprise both strengthening economic growth and innovation, as well as supporting active promotion of employment. At national level, DGB recommends raising public investments in chosen sectors like conservation, public infrastructure and urban development, and a higher tax burden on high incomes. Economic growth should be oriented towards quality and structural change. In this context, DGB points out the importance of information and communication technologies, personal services and the modernisation of the public sector. Furthermore the quality of labour market policy has to be improved.
Although many employers' associations, trade associations and economists demand further deregulation and flexibility of labour markets, annulment of collective agreements, socially unequal budget cuts and withdrawal of government intervention, DGB expects the current "red-green" government to continue with the current employment and labour market policy. The DGB proposals are aimed at providing an orientation for unions within the national (DE0001232F) and regional (DE9905107F) alliances for jobs, in collective bargaining, and in other areas such as economic policy and the public sector.
Altogether, the results of the extraordinary summit in Lisbon are very general. Although the "magic number" of 3% annual economic growth is included in the Council conclusions and has already been met with protest from BDA, it should be underlined that this is only a recommendation and not a binding formula. The same applies to the goal of lowering the unemployment rate. Given that arguably no real strategy was worked out at the summit, these goals seem to be more or less a case of the EU heads of state and government "paying lip service". Innovation, modernisation and "new" technologies can be seen as the "buzzwords" for a political attitude, which aims at making the EU "the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion."
Therefore it is not surprising that DGB's proposed amendments to the European-level strategy also seem to be weak and only hint at the social dimension of each development and its effects on work and the organisation of work. By contrast, the DGB proposals for German employment policy are put in more concrete terms, but also raise questions with regard to their translation into political practice. (Alexandra Scheele, Institute for Economic and Social Research, WSI)