The voice of workers is needed for the future of Europe - Our priorities and concerns

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Europe is living through one of its most important existential crises, as the slow recovery is met with supply chain disruptions, rising energy prices, and the very present echoes of the pandemic still threatening our citizens lives and our union’s economy and social structure. The path of austerity, poverty and misery, started with the response to the 2008 crisis, is a dead end, and has left behind weaker economies, social support networks in danger, rising inequalities and a generalised lack of trust among citizens, which has helped the rise of populism and extremism in Europe and beyond. The low levels of trust among voters, particularly in some countries, is evident in the low participation in the elections, as much as it can be seen in the critically low vaccination rates, and pose a direct threat to democracy.

However, the momentum for a more social Europe, for a constructive response, is also evidently there, as shown by the Eurobarometer. The commission initiatives on the Pillar of Social Rights and other proposals brought hope that austerity (for the working people, that’s it) policies were coming to an end, and the ambitious recovery plan on the pandemic suggested so.

The Conference on the Future of Europe could be an opportunity for this new path, engaging with citizens, social partners and civil society, bringing in proposals such as a social progress protocol to ensure social rights are protected in the EU, a wide reform of the fiscal framework, or significant changes on the economic governance of the Union. Working people and their families expect decent working conditions and fair wages, regardless of where they live, and regardless of work being an office, a factory, or a digital platform.

But this promise is threatened by the very manner in which the Conference is working: the working groups, where key discussions take place with citizens and social partners, will not feed into the end conclusions of the Conference, risking to make them pointless. Their structure and agenda were also presented in very short notice, not allowing for proper preparation. Trade Unions are a key component of democracy, and their voice represents the interests and needs of most of Europe’s population, its workers. Justice and fairness, ensuring the welfare and wellbeing of the working people is a reality, are fundamental for the stability and future prospects of our societies and political systems, including the European Union. Moreover, only around 50% of the citizens’ panels (which will feed the conclusions instead) are constituted by workers and employees, including the self-employed, making them not representative of the reality of our societies. The question remains for other activities, such as the ‘Going Local’ activities of the EESC, if they will feed into the process at all.

This is a very worrying sign: this opportunity for discussion raised hope, but hope, when frustrated systematically, can quickly turn into disappointment and anger. Promising impoverished citizens in an increasingly polarised society with meaningful participation in the political debate, only to be delivered a mere communication strategy without substance, in which all the important limits were set from the start (such as the negative to consider treaty modifications) is not responsible. If this turns out to be the final result, our best hope is that, indeed, most citizens were just unaware all of this ever happened. Maybe then we can try, with the social partners and civil society, to have a real discussion.

 

EESC Workers' Group Delegation: Oliver Röpke, Reiner Hoffmann, Lucie Studničná, Stefano Palmieri, Ozlem Yildirim, Marjolijn Bulk 

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The voice of workers is needed for the future of Europe - Our priorities and concerns