How committed to social rights is Juncker?

21 May 2017

How committed to social rights is Juncker?

Last week the European Parliament political group to which the SP is affiliated, the United European Left (GUE-NGL), had a visit from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. The discussion, which lasted a good hour, focused among other things on social rights. It was striking that Juncker is still trying to distance himself from budgetary fetishism. People, he said, have suffered enough. Now it’s time for investment. When it comes to binding social rights, however, Juncker doesn’t want to know, preferring to stick with the vague principles included in the Commission’s total analysis of the member states which it makes in the framework of European Economic Governance. As for the fight against social dumping, here also the Commission is failing to take any major steps. In the meantime, they want a lot more say over the member states’ social policies. We will have to intensify still further, therefore, our struggle for a social Europe.

It sounds great - Juncker as an ally of the Greeks against the asocial measures pushed by the Finance Ministers under the leadership of Dutch Labour Party man Jeroen Dijsselbloem. He’s not getting away with things that easily, however. For years the Commission too has been demanding that the weaker Eurogroup countries cut their spending, liberalise and privatise. The misery in these countries has only grown greater, despite their favourable economic statistics. But okay, if budgetary fetishism is on its way out, even with someone like Juncker, that’s whatever else a gain

There is, however, no sign of any progress when it comes to making social rights binding, as laid down in the European Social Charter of the Council of Europe (not an EU body, though all EU member states are also Council of Europe members). I asked Juncker why ratification of the Social Charter was not proceeding more quickly. His answer was striking: well, all the member states had ratified it and the Social Pillar was not in conflict with it, so that’s okay, don’t you agree? No, of course I don’t agree: if the European Union does not itself become party to the Charter, an institution such as the European Commission will remain untouchable. The Council of Europe can only take issue with the member states in the event of transgressions of social rights, and not the EU as a whole.

It’s obvious that the Commission wants to show a more social face. With such vague words, however, this will not succeed. Only if and when they recognise the binding nature of the social rights enumerated in the European Social Charter will there be the beginnings of legitimacy. If they were also to address the oppression and exploitation of workers and those forced into a bogus self-employed status, for example by taking measures against corporations which set up postbox companies in low-wage member states, only then will the Commission gain credibility. In these areas we have to act quickly, because Juncker also announced that he supports amending the EU Treaty to give the Commission more powers in relation to social matters. In any case, there are many objections to this, because in the Netherlands we would certainly not make progress were social security to be harmonised across the EU, but with the present Commission’s asocial track record, giving them any power over our social policy is entirely unthinkable.

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