EESC INAUGURAL PLENARY SESSION 29 October 2020
Speech by Oliver Röpke, EESC Workers' Group President
Recovery for the Future of Europe
Dear President, VPs,
Dear colleagues and friends,
On behalf of the Workers' group, I would also like to give my warmest Congratulations to Christa Schweng on her election as EESC President, as well as the two Vice-Presidents Giulia Barbucci and Cilian Lohan.
I am convinced that the new leadership, together with all members, with all the three groups and with the employees of the committee, can master the great challenges that lie ahead of us.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This new term of office starts at a time when it is hard to exaggerate how grim the situation looks:
Our fears of a second wave have become a reality, with many economic sectors again grinding to halt. One country after another, the virus spreads, with massive costs in lives, a toll on our healthcare sector, and growing figures of unemployment. Again, the now-called essential workers, which were just precarious ones until this crisis started, are keeping our societies and countries running.
Again millions of citizens, families, workers, entrepreneurs or artists are faced with a terrible situation: concern for their own health, fear of losing their jobs, worries about their personal and professional future. This, dear colleagues, can quickly result in a toxic mixture, also in political terms.
In these times, people need support and clear decisions. And they need a voice that pushes their interests.
I am convinced that the EESC can be that voice. In this effort, the EESC can and must be at the forefront, as it has been in the past.
As the Secretary General of the ETUC, Luca Visentini, has pointed out the gravity of the situation for workers cannot be underestimated or fully assessed, and I will not go over the distressing figures and predictions that our countries face again. As Trade Unionists, we are very familiar with the consequences, beyond aggregated figures.
We must remember the sentence, 'never waste a crisis': this is not only an opportunity to learn, but particularly a chance for a fundamental change of course: Return to business as usual is not an option.
As Workers´ Group we are convinced that:
Solidarity must be the guiding principle of any recovery strategy. The European Pillar of Social Rights provides the basis for social recovery, but only if properly implemented. We need an ambitious social agenda for Europe, where sustainable jobs with decent living wages are the rule, where upwards social convergence is a reality and where the internal market is not an instrument to undermine social rights. All of this based on social dialogue and done together with the Trade Unions.
Recently, our committee has adopted opinions on key initiatives for a more social Europe, particularly in terms of decent minimum wages, a framework directive for minimum income, common standards for unemployment insurance, as well as same rights for posted of workers, the gender pay gap, among many others. The result of these debates will largely decide our future, and if the European Union will prove itself not only a guarantee of a strong internal market, but also of social and workers’ rights. The EESC should continue to explore, using its broad expertise and civil society, leading the debate on the social agenda in Europe.
This crisis has shown that we cannot just think of a recovery, we need to think what kind of Union we want to build. The tools we need to make all of this a reality exist already: civil society dialogue, social dialogue, collective bargaining, social partner involvement in policymaking. Without the workers’ voice, there cannot be any sustainable recovery.
This is what we, as Trade Unionists, see as fundamental for a sustainable and just recovery, and the key role the EESC must play. But this is not just our view: the EESC has adopted most of this as opinions in the past. Current initiatives on fair minimum wages or the Next Generation EU show that the European institutions have realised the need for a social Europe. Member States in the Council need to stop bickering and adopt the MFF, allowing these vital resources to flow to the ones who need them the most.
In turbulent times, this house not only faces these enormous challenges, but we also have to constantly review ourselves critically. We believe that the EESC must indeed adapt to the times, working closely with the other institutions, policymakers, and civil society, to provide outreach our work and maximise its impact. Change is unavoidable and can be healthy, and the EESC, acting always within the mandate the treaties set for us, must do its best to be useful to our citizens and civil society.
I can assure you that the Workers Group is 100% committed to have a strong voice together. Despite all the political differences, we are committed to constructive cooperation. We are also committed to a new style in this house, a style of trust and mutual respect.
I am very happy that all three group presidents have committed to this path.
And I would like to add and emphasize that we need a stronger ethical framework in our House. We have learned our lesson and all of the new EESC leadership - including the Workers Group - is committed to swiftly start a fundamental reform of our ethical standards.
To conclude, let me say from a trade unionist's point of view that this institution is essential for workers' interests. There are others who can organize strong voices, but there are those who need our voice of solidarity. This is what my group will always try to achieve in this new mandate.
I wish all members a successful start into this new mandate!