Bulgaria: New alliance rejects European Commission recommendations
A national alliance of unions and civil organisations in Bulgaria has criticised recommendations on pension reforms and the minimum wage contained in the European Commission's Annual Growth Survey. The alliance argues that more accurate economic data is needed and that the period of the European Semester should be extended to improve the quality of analysis and policies.
A national alliance has been established in Bulgaria to increase the influence of trade unions and civil society during the European Semester. The Bulgarian National Alliance for a Democratic, Social and Sustainable European Semester was formed in May 2014 by the two largest Bulgarian trade unions, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria (KNSB/CITUB) and the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa (CL Podkrepa), together with a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
The alliance members believe that if they coordinate their efforts, they can stimulate more effective and useful participation in the European Semester, the annual process during which the European Commission analyses the fiscal and structural reform policies of every Member State, makes recommendations, and monitors their implementation. Although social partners and other civil society representatives can seek to influence the process, their impact often remains fragmented and unpublicised.
The alliance decided to act after the European Commission made recommendations in its Annual Growth Survey, at the start of the Semester, on the:
- reform of the pension system;
- rise in the minimum wage;
- impact of minimum insurance thresholds on the employment of low-skilled workers.
The Commission also warned of the emergence of macroeconomic imbalances caused by an excessive increase in labour costs. These views were sent to the Bulgarian government and were also expressed at meetings between ministers and representatives of the European Commission.
The alliance commissioned a report to gather the views of all its members and this was presented at a conference, Quality of the European Semester, in Sofia on 17 December 2014.
In it, the trade unions rejected some of the recommendations put forward in the Annual Growth Survey, including its proposal for a comprehensive review of minimum thresholds for social security contributions to ensure that low-skilled workers are not priced out of the labour market. Both KNSB/CITUB and CL Podkrepa say the rise in the minimum wage and minimum insurance thresholds will have no negative impact on the employment of low-skilled workers.
The report also concluded that policy decisions in Bulgaria are taken primarily on the basis of distorted economic data (253 KB PDF), which leads to an inefficient implementation of social policies.
The report said a more realistic picture of a state’s growth, economy and society could be achieved by:
- identifying critical risks for the individual countries and making social impact assessments;
- introducing a system to allow civil organisations, academic institutions, trade unions and NGOs to monitor and reduce the effects of austerity policies on social sectors in Bulgaria and to weaken the influence of the Annual Growth Survey.
It also recommended extending the period of the European Semester, concluding that one year was too short for the preparation of any adequate analysis and consequently the quality of policies and their social impact suffer.
In a recent speech, the president of KNSB/CITUB, Plamen Dimitrov, said the Semester had become an instrument to put pressure on Member States’ fiscal policy, instead of fulfilling its original purpose of coordinating policies to achieve the objectives of Europe 2020.
The report was prepared by Douhomir Minev of the European Anti-Poverty Network Bulgaria (EAPN) in Bulgaria. It was based on opinions of alliance members, and its analytical work was based on consultations with academics. The report focused on the Annual Growth Survey, with a detailed analysis of the the national reform programme's specific recommendations for Bulgaria and the position of its trade unions and the civil society sector. As yet, there has been no reaction from any employer organisations or the government on the alliance’s initiative.
Apart from the two union confederations, other members of the alliance are:
- Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (Bulgarian Women's Lobby);
- Democratic Union of Pensioners – 2004;
- Solidarity Bulgaria;
- Union of Economists in Bulgaria;
- ‘Bulgaria is You’ association;
- Alliance for Children and Youth (ACYBG);
- Health and Development
- National Federation of Employers of Disabled People (NFRI);
- National Alliance for Social Responsibility (NASO);
- Institute for Family Policy;
- Blue Bird Foundation;
- Future 21;
- National Network for Children;
- Information Centre Against Poverty;
- EAPN (coordinator of the alliance).
The alliance should be acknowledged as an important initiative of the two main trade union confederations and civil society organisations in their search for greater influence on the policy debate and agenda in Bulgaria.