British and Italian employers criticise EU social policy

In June 2002, prior to the Seville European Council, the British and Italian employers' organisations, CBI and Confindustria, published a joint statement criticising the current direction of EU social policy.

In a joint statement on EU social policy, issued on 19 June 2002 in advance of the Seville European Council meeting, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and its Italian counterpart Confindustria stated that 'business is losing faith in the commitment of the [European] Commission and some national governments to promote competitiveness and job creation.' The two employers' organisations are critical of the 'disappointing progress' made to date on the 'new social agenda' agreed at the 2000 Lisbon summit (EU0004241F) and accuse the European Commission of continuing to favour 'heavy-handed intervention' which reflect the 'old social agenda'.

Arguing that Europe's labour markets need to become more flexible, the statement calls for a 'reorientation' of the EU's social policy towards a 'different [regulatory] approach aimed at helping national governments reform their labour markets rather than seeking to impose solutions form above'. The CBI and Confindustria favour the development of 'lighter' or 'softer' regulatory strategies - based on methods such as open coordination, benchmarking and exchange of good practice (EU0104209F) - as already happens in respect of the European employment strategy. They also call for the development of a 'broader' approach to social dialogue at EU level, in terms of both content and the use of 'voluntary instruments': 'Too often, social dialogue is looked on as a way to promote the European Commission's objectives - with the Commission punishing employers with further regulation when an agreement has not proved possible.'

The statement says that 'too many recent [Commission] proposals focus on prescriptive, inflexible approaches to labour market regulation'. Particular targets for criticism are:

On the issue of restructuring, the statement notes that the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) 'has said that employers are willing to exchange experience with [the European Trade Union Confederation] on companies' practices for anticipating and managing change in order to promote a positive attitude to change'. However, the CBI and Confindustria argue that 'an effective legislative framework already exists - both at European level and in the Member States - which provides protection and guarantees for workers in situations of restructuring. New legislative measures are therefore not required - nor are solutions from above that attempt to impose superficial, prescriptive approaches.' The statement argues that every company must be able to develop it own responses to economic challenges and to carry out appropriate restructuring measures in order to maintain long-term efficiency.

The publication of the joint statement seems designed to reinforce the Anglo-Italian alliance that has emerged between Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi on the issue of labour market regulation. A joint governmental position paper calling for labour market reform, issued at an Anglo-Italian summit in Rome in February 2002, led to strong criticism from UK trade union leaders of Mr Blair's links with right-of-centre Mr Berlusconi.

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