Anniversary celebrations at ETUC and UNICE look to the future

While ETUC celebrated its "silver" anniversary in February 1998, UNICE looked back on 40 years as the organisation representing employers' interests in the European Union. Both events looked to the future role of the respective organisations.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) celebrated its 25th or "silver" anniversary in February 1998 with a conference entitled "New times - new unions". The event, jointly hosted by ETUC and the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) from 5-7 February, also aimed to start a debate on the ETUC in a changing society - a debate which is set to culminate in the next ETUC congress in 1999. Speaking at the conference, ETUC president Fritz Verzetnitsch stressed how far ETUC had come, from being a "platform in search of a common denominator" to a "full trade union player" on the European stage. He also highlighted the important role played by ETUC in initiating and supporting the development of European industrial relations, involving not only the trade union leadership, but also the grassroots.

In his address, Emilio Gabaglio, ETUC general secretary, outlined the way forward for the European trade union movement in its role as a lobby organisation vis-à-vis the European institutions, as well as a trade union "player". He argued that the existence of an "employment chapter" in the EU Treaty (EU9707135F) and the social policy Protocol annexed to the Treaty (and due to be incorporated), along with the employment procedures agreed at the November 1997 Luxembourg "employment summit" (EU9711168F), showed that the ETUC has been an efficient lobby. However, Mr Gabaglio stressed that ETUC still has too little sway over macroeconomic policy and needs to do more work building up alliances. He also argued for European-level negotiations to be stepped up to enhance the unions' abilities to deliver their members' demands and consolidate that right at national level - "Europe must not be an afterthought, but a permanent aspect of trade union policy."

Speaking at the conference, former European Commission President Jacques Delors argued that Economic and Monetary Union would founder without a stronger social dimension based on employment growth.

On 19 February 1998, the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) celebrated its 40th anniversary, as well as marking the retirement on 10 April of its long-serving general secretary, Zygmunt Tyszkiewicz. Speaking at the event, Commission President Jacques Santer underlined the important role played by the European employers' organisation in supporting the process of European integration: "Viewed from the European Commission, UNICE has been a valued and trusted ally. Not only in good times, but also in bad". He also highlighted the important role played by UNICE in the successive enlargements of the European Union, and the major role it will play in future in facilitating the complex process of accession on which the Union is currently embarking. President Santer underlined the importance of social partnership for prosperity in Europe and urged UNICE to progress this process in accordance with the subsidiarity principle. He appealed to business leaders to become more innovative in involving employees as stakeholders in business. The celebration was attended by ETUC general secretary Emilio Gabaglio.

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