ETUC critical of EU Presidency Conclusions on Lisbon Treaty

At the June European Council meeting, the European Union offered a number of legal guarantees to integrate Irish voters’ concerns into the Treaty of Lisbon. Although the European Trade Union Confederation firmly supports the main principles of the Lisbon Treaty, it viewed the recent Presidency Conclusions a missed opportunity, in particular the failure to consider a revision of the Posted Workers Directive and the issue of a social progress protocol.

Addressing the Irish no-vote and economic crisis

The failure of Ireland to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon in June 2008, with 53.4% of the electorate voting against the Treaty in a referendum, meant that the European Union (EU) faced one of its severest tests in recent decades. It was widely recognised that overcoming this political challenge would greatly influence the EU’s ability to function efficiently in the future.

The Lisbon Treaty represents an attempt to politically modernise the EU. Signed by heads of state in December 2007, the Treaty is committed to making the EU more democratic and transparent, efficient, socially cohesive, as well as more active in global affairs. Since the Irish referendum, the EU, European Commission and European Council have been in close consultation with the Irish government to consider how to overcome this political impasse. In December 2008, the Irish government presented to the European Council its key demands reflecting the Irish concerns and which should be taken into account, if a second referendum on the Treaty was to be held in 2009. The Irish demands were related to the following issues:

  • retaining a Commissioner for each Member State (the Treaty of Nice sought to reduce the overall number of EU Commissioners);
  • taxation (the Lisbon Treaty retains existing taxation voting procedures and derived EC law);
  • ethics (sovereignty over abortion, education and family issues);
  • military neutrality (respect for Members States’ existing military policy);
  • workers’ rights (emphasis on workers’ rights and social policy).

EU Presidency conclusions

On 18–19 June 2009, the European Council met in Brussels to officially agree ‘on legal guarantees designed to respond to concerns raised by the Irish people’. As demanded, a key section of the Presidency Conclusions addresses the issue of workers’ rights. The key section is entitled ‘Solemn Declaration on Workers’ Rights, Social Policy and Other Issues’. The declaration states that the EU is committed to:

  • social progress and the protection of workers’ rights;
  • public services;
  • the responsibility of Member States for the delivery of education and health services;
  • the essential role and wide discretion of national, regional and local authorities in providing, commissioning and organising services of general economic interest.

In addition, the Presidency Conclusions draw attention to the fact that the main pillars of the Lisbon Treaty – that is, sustainable economic growth with the aim of achieving full employment, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, inclusion and equal treatment, high levels of employment, respect for regional differences and social dialogue – support the EU’s commitment to promoting workers’ rights.

ETUC concerns

Prior to the European Council meeting in June, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) voiced its concern that Europe was missing an ideal opportunity to reconsider revising important labour market legislation in light of recent economic developments. Firmly committed to the Lisbon project, ETUC is concerned at the alarming rise in xenophobia across the EU. In a letter to the heads of state and government (33Kb PDF) on 16 June, ETUC General Secretary John Monks expressed his

disappointment at the reported outcome of preparatory discussions […] The draft we have seen falls far short of giving the necessary confidence that this principle is secured. That can only amplify the concerns of working people throughout Europe, already suffering from the consequences of the current economic and financial crisis that was none of their doing.

In light of recent developments in relation to posted workers, in particular British workers demonstrating against migrant employees in Lincolnshire, England (UK0902019I), trade unionists had hoped that European legislators would indicate a commitment to revising Council Directive 96/71/EC concerning the posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services.

In his letter to the European Council, Mr Monks asked the heads of state to

act boldly in favour of a Social Europe, and in particular revise the Posted Workers Directive so that minimum conditions do not become maximum conditions, to guarantee that its original aims of ensuring fair competition and preventing social dumping are met.

ETUC was therefore disappointed that the Presidency Conclusions did not mention either the need to revise the Directive concerning the posting of workers or to introduce a Social progress protocol (80Kb PDF) to the European treaties as proposed by ETUC.

Commentary

ETUC has announced that it intends to continue to fight, in particular in the European Parliament, in order to ensure that workers’ rights remain at the heart of EU policy. However, with the balance of power in the European Parliament having shifted to the right following the recent elections and heads of state fearful that further labour market regulations might slow down economic renewal, pushing for a revision of the Posting of Workers Directive might prove difficult.

Michael Whittall, Technical University Munich

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