October 28th, 2012 • This week during his speech in Strasbourg Herman van Rompuy showed his ‘social face’, or muttered at any rate at the end a few words on the need to combat unemployment and poverty, adding at the same time that these were wholly the responsibility of the member states. Because of the imposed austerity measures, the member states have, however, ever increasing problems in maintaining their national systems of social support, let alone strengthening them. If Van Rompuy were really socially minded, he would be arguing for the adoption by member state governments of tough agreements on social policy, even if that meant the 3% norm for budgetary policy becoming more nuanced.
It’s a bit like what happened in the Netherlands. Local authorities have an ever greater responsibility for welfare payments, so due to the Law on Work and Welfare (WWB) and the Law on Social Support (WMO), the local authority is now fully responsible for such payments and for complementary provisions. At the same time the state is constantly reducing payments to local councils, so that they are required to undertake more tasks with less money.
You see something similar at European level. The member states are hemmed in by strict financial rules monitored by the Commission, which also decides whether they have macroeconomic imbalances: wages must not rise too quickly and pensions must remain ‘affordable’. At the same time the Eurozone countries are forced to pour money and financial guarantees into the emergency funds. And the Commission wants first and foremost more money for itself, because European investments are, in its view, absolutely essential, as well as more efficient than national expenditure.
So the member states are burdened increasingly by measures imposed by Brussels, yet remain 100% responsible for their own social policy. It is the member states which must provide their unemployed with adequate support payments and help them to find jobs. It is the member states which must combat poverty and provide assistance and other services. You can, however, not on the one hand bleed the member states dry and on the other tell them that they are fully responsible for social policy. That’s why it’s important that agreements are also reached between heads of government regarding their social policies. That would mean that these same heads of government would be forced during their meetings to show their true colours. Are they really interested in the fight against poverty and unemployment, or are they blinded by budgetary fetishism? As long as they do not make their reasoning explicit, they will be just as hypocritical as their chairperson, Herman van Rompuy.