On July 1st, Germany assumes the presidency of the EU Council, facing the worst health, social, and economic crisis the EU has seen in its existence. The EU and its member states, crippled by years of austerity and nationalism, stand ill-prepared to face it. Only firm commitment to solidarity and social and environmental sustainability, taking onboard the social partners, can prevent the worst parts of the crisis, and ensure a recovery towards a fairer, more sustainable Europe.
In 2007, Germany assumed the Council presidency amidst a generalised constitutional crisis in Europe, after the referendums in Netherlands and France. Today, as it did 13 years ago, Germany will again hold the presidency at a crisis, and a historic moment for the European Union. If the European Central Bank's estimates of the size of the 15% of GDP depression turn out to be correct, this is three times the magnitude of the last crisis in 2008, likely the worst crisis in peacetime in Europe in the last 90 years. During the months of the lockdown, the bulk of the effort has been led by workers in delivery, supermarkets, sanitation, health or security; jobs that are often underpaid and suffer precarious working conditions. A society which systematically undervalues some of its most essential workers
‘Together for Europe’s Recovery’ is certainly a motto we can all rally behind. The principles of sustainability, fairness, security and common values, innovation, strong global position of Europe, and social and economic recovery from Coronavirus are all fundamental for the foreseeable future. The ongoing pandemic, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives in Europe alone (and more than half a million in the world) has highlighted as well long standing deficiencies of elderly care, healthcare, and health and safety at work; continued austerity policies have left our union ill-prepared. The need for public investment in health and social systems is more evident than ever, and so is the need for adequate fiscal and economic policies in the Euro-area and the European Semester. Furthermore, institutional paralysis at the EU level, together with rampant nationalism and populism, has allowed for a rather slow and ineffective EU level response to the crisis. As the Presidency starts, the much needed EU Recovery Plan stalls in intergovernmental Eurogroup and European Council meetings, seeking an almost impossible consensus with governments willing to forsake the common good for short-term electoral gains at home.
In the face of these massive challenges, the German presidency must push forward with the principles they announced. They must not, however, remain as mere principles. They must be turned into concrete proposals; many of them already starting or drafted, such as the Green New Deal, or the different initiatives under the European Pillar of Social Rights such as a European minimum wage , the implementation of equal pay for equal work, posting of workers, and transparent working conditions. Inequality and divergence within and among member states will only be exacerbated with the crisis, making instruments like a European unemployment re-insurance scheme and common social minimum standards more important than ever to tackle rising poverty levels and curb the populist rise. As the crisis deepens with the pandemic and member states are unevenly prepared to deal with the economic shocks, the need for more permanent schemes of solidarity and social cohesion throughout the Union becomes more evident.
Throughout the lockdown, Trade Unions have been reaching agreements to protect the lives and jobs of workers, and are ready to take part in the necessary effort for rebuilding and reconstructing Europe. The Workers’ Group, gathering input and pooling knowledge and experience from trade unionists from all over the European Union, has prepared a concrete set of measures for a strong, social, sustainable and inclusive recovery and reconstruction plan. We strongly urge the German presidency to take it into account, and focus its work on the 4 pillars laid out: Solidarity, Sustainability, Safeguarding Jobs and Incomes, and Participation. European citizens and workers are in dire need of concrete measures and resources. As the Workers’ Group President Oliver Röpke said, member states and the EU must ensure that in this complex process no one is left behind, in particular ‘the most precarious workers, people of pre-retirement age, women working in low-valued positions and young people, especially those belonging to visible minorities and those with a migrant background. The stronger the recovery measures are and the more they are tailored to the situation of the Member States and their populations, the more credible Europe will be and the more capable to rise to the unprecedented challenges we face in this crisis. It is therefore a matter of social justice and solidarity, but it is also a bulwark against authoritarian drifts that inequalities and social divides may encourage in EU countries once the health emergency has been tamed.’