21 and 22 January 2015: 504th plenary session

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EESC declaration in tribute to the victims of the terrorist attack against the satirical newspaper ''Charlie Hebdo''

Statements by members of the Workers' Group

Georges Dassis

Georges Dassis, President of the Workers' Group, expressed his agreement with the afore-mentioned declaration and informed the Assembly that the Group had reacted to the events of 7 January by issuing a declaration that was published on the website of the Committee, according to which it expressed its sympathy to the relatives of the victims and called workers all over Europe "to mobilize to combat terrorism, fundamentalism, fanaticism and racism that threaten liberty and democracy."

He added that this attack not only targeted a newspaper but the freedom of expression in the EU territory as well. Certainly, national governments immediately announced measures to reinforce security, as an answer to citizens' fears. Nevertheless, the latter also yearn for freedom of expression, in fact, freedom as such, and we should on no account sacrifice this freedom in the name of security.

Georges Dassis concluded by stressing that it is necessary to apply concrete measures at national but, more importantly, at European level in order to make existing inequalities disappear, so that all citizens can live a dignified life and their freedoms be safeguarded.

Presentation of the work programme of the Latvian presidency-in-office of the EU Council

On the 22nd of January 2015, the plenary session was enriched by Zanda KALNIŅA-LUKAŠEVICA, Parliamentary Secretary at the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the framework of a debate about the programme and priorities of the Latvian Presidency.

Statements by members of the Workers' Group

Pēteris Krīgers

Pēteris Krīgers recalled the actions that the Latvian Government and civil society organisations undertook in order to prepare Latvia for its adhesion to the EU. Democratic freedoms were indeed attained, but this is just one side of the coin: the other is that the country lost one third of its active population and suffered a serious outflow of capital.

Afterwards, the crisis erupted and the austerity measures adopted affected the country very strongly, particularly the weakest classes of the population. Latvia had to turn to Scandinavian banks and Swedish pension funds, for example, and wages diminished by 50% while prices rose. In addition, numerous workers did not receive their wages for one year.

Fortunately, social dialogue was maintained and, in this regard, Pēteris Krīgers thanked the previous Latvian government for having encouraged cooperation with trade unions, even though the latter were mainly reduced to giving explanations to workers on the unpopular austerity measures of which they were the victims.

Today, the economic situation has slightly improved but the country faces a moral crisis as citizens believe neither in their government nor in the European project anymore. Most of the time, it is about big European values but very rarely is it about the man in the street. According to Pēteris Krīgers, it is important for civil society to become more involved in this process of reconciliation with the citizens.

Finally, Pēteris Krīgers highlighted the importance of social partners and asked the Latvian government to consider them as one of the components of political life.

Georges Dassis

Georges Dassis, President of Workers' Group, observed that the programme of the Latvian Presidency is extremely ambitious and quite rightly. But if it proves to be impossible to make progress in all fields, it could choose the most fundamental issues in order to guarantee progress in some fields at least.

Among the priority subjects, Georges Dassis mentioned the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy, that faces great difficulties for the moment, the need for a real common agricultural policy to prevent the rural exodus and the import in Europe of products of first need, the implementation of a European energy policy – a subject for which no progress has been made either – and the establishment of a real neighbourhood policy.

Finally, Georges Dassis stressed that the attractiveness of the EU as a place of liberty, prosperity and economic and social cohesion has started to fade because of the current policies that go against the interests of the European population, especially the poorest. He asked the Latvian government to cooperate with other governments to firmly demand from the financially strongest governments to safeguard economic and social cohesion above all.

Georges Dassis closed his intervention by inviting the Parliamentary Secretary to continue the dialogue on the progress made by the Presidency during the extraordinary meeting of the Workers' Group in Riga on the 1st of April.

Economic growth and social solidarity in Europe

On the 22nd of January 2015, the plenary session also welcomed Ms. Vaira VĪĶE-FREIBERGA, former President of the Latvian Republic, during a debate on economic growth and social solidarity in Europe.

Statements by members of the Workers' Group

Dumitru Fornea

Dumitru Fornea pointed out that his country, Romania, which faces a similar situation to that Latvia, shares the concerns of the latter regarding the political situation but also the energy dependency on Russia. For this dependency to be reduced, it is necessary to continue the initiatives that the Polish and Latvian Presidencies undertook in order to forge cooperation ties with central Asia in the energy sector, a move that could at the same time contribute to the democratic development of that region.

Dimitru Fornea concluded his intervention by underlining the need to fight for the creation of a European energy network so as to achieve security of supply and meet the socio-economic needs of the European population.

Pēteris Krīgers

Pēteris Krīgers stressed that the Latvian population in its big majority supported the adhesion of the country to the European Union and that many political decision-makers including the former President had promoted this path out of conviction. However, other politicians had more personal and less altruistic motives and the economic crisis exposed an underlying moral crisis that led to a big part of the population losing its confidence in the pursuit of the public good.

For Pēteris Krīgers, the problems that Latvia has encountered during the last ten years are partly linked to the inability of political leaders to reconcile the moral and ethical norms with the real world.