February plenary session debates

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Opinion on the "Role of Turkey in the refugee crisis"

The situation of refugees in Turkey was raised several times by the members of the Workers' Group who voiced deep concerns about the human rights situation in that country and insisted that the upholding of EU fundamental values and respect for human rights and democracy should be the basis for all negotiations with Turkey.

During the examination of this EESC opinion, the Workers' Group members pointed out among other issues the complexity of the situation, mentioning on the one hand that currently Turkey was hosting about 3 million refugees that needed to be properly assisted and integrated and that this was a huge challenge for one country to face alone. On the other hand, there was the thorny issue of human rights violations in that country. The role of Turkey in the refugee crisis was raised several times by the members of the Workers' Group who insisted that the upholding of EU fundamental values and respect for human rights and democracy should be the basis for all negotiations with Turkey. The urgent need for the EU to agree on a common asylum policy given the humanitarian migratory catastrophe that was unfolding at its external borders was also underlined.

Opinion on the "Lessons learnt for avoiding strict austerity policies in the EU"

The catastrophic effects of austerity programmes that caused a huge economic, social and territorial fracture among and within the Members States were strongly denounced by the members of the Workers' Group who called for an abandoning of austerity policies and for deepening the Economic and Monetary Union.

The opinion is based on information missions carried out by the EESC in Ireland, Greece and Portugal, three countries that have been or still are under a financial assistance programme. During the discussion, the members of the Workers' Group stressed that this was an important piece of work as it was outlining the different deficiencies of the austerity programmes imposed that took back these countries 20 years. They criticised the catastrophic effects of the adjustment measures on internal demand and the economy, the massive indebtedness they caused, the economic, social and territorial fracture they created among and within the Members States and called for an abandoning of austerity policies and for deepening the Economic and Monetary Union to address the social deficit and ensure democratic accountability.

Debate on the future of Europe with Natalie Loiseau, French Minister for European Affairs

For the Workers' Group, the construction of a social Europe is crucial and the Social Pillar should serve to make Europe more cohesive and more responsive to workers' aspirations.

On 15 February 2018, the plenary session welcomed Natalie Loiseau, French Minister for European Affairs, for a debate on the future of Europe. Ms Loiseau focused on the citizens' consultations proposed by President Macron mentioning that they were fully in line with the EESC's activities. The Workers' Group members welcomed the idea of the EESC's involvement in this activity, but insisted that much more needed to be done to reconcile citizens with the European project. The construction of a social Europe was crucial and the Social Pillar should serve to make Europe more cohesive and more responsive to workers' and citizens' aspirations. Gabriele Bischoff, President of the Workers' Group, stressed that growing inequalities had destroyed people's confidence in the EU and that this trend had to be urgently reversed especially in view of next year's European elections. Engaging with people where they lived in order to keep in touch with their concrete problems was very important. In this respect, citizens' consultations should by all means be prevented from becoming public relations shows attracting mainly cosmopolitan elites. Anne Demelenne, former FGTB General Secretary, was concerned about the gap between political discourse and the actual measures taken to deregulate the labour market, expressing her dismay at the extreme flexibilization of labour, the dismantling of social protection systems and the undermining of social dialogue. She also underlined the need to translate the European Pillar of Social Rights into a budget. Andrej Zorko pointed out that the situation in the neighbouring Western Balkan countries also had an impact on the EU and that the Social Pillar should be implemented there too. Candidate countries should be assessed on more than their economic or political profile: the social dimension had to be considered as well.