State of the European Union speech: reactions by the Worker's Group president Oliver Röpke

Workers' Group EESC Logo

The speech delivered by von der Leyen in the 2021 State of the Union Address has to be critically received, mainly for what it lacks in terms of ambition and clarity, despite naming virtually all the key challenges Europe faces. Structural reforms are certainly important, but the recovery and reconstruction plan, as our Group's position paper already mentioned, and the EESC contribution to the 2022 Commission Work Programme included, should be focused on fighting inequality and poverty, and regaining jobs lost, paying special attention to vulnerable groups, and to growing in-work poverty. Likewise, further development on the implementation of the Social Pillar Action Plan is missing, as well as further protection for platform workers. This meagre mention to social justice and fairness is reflected in the letter of intent, where the proposals are scarce, including merely implementing the OECD agreements on taxation. These agreements surely are welcome, but the European Union should be a leading force in this. It goes without mention that some Member States will try to resist curbing on tax avoidance, but without political courage from the executive, nothing will be achieved.

The news on banning force labour are welcome, as trade is and has been one of the most powerful tools in which the European Union can shape the world, hopefully, for the better. We expect to see this linked to due diligence, ensuring the protection of human rights around the globe and holding companies responsible for their decisions. So is welcomed an initiative for young people, but again we miss clear solutions to precariousness or unpaid internships.

Closely linked to fairness and social justice is the question of climate change, for only a just transition, both socially and environmentally sustainable, can succeed. The Commission proposals are welcome, but stronger social measures will be necessary, as well as more ambition to achieve our goals and avoid the worst of climate change. This is particularly seen in energy poverty, where beyond funding to palliate the situation, legislative action should be considered to correct the excesses of the energy market. Otherwise, we risk using public funds to sustain the large utilities of our continent. The Commission should however look beyond the apparent horizon, ensuring we have the tools to manage the damage climate change is already causing, and will provoke in the foreseeable future.

Migration is another field where we cannot share the triumphalist tone of the Commission president. The Asylum and Migration pact certainly had a lot of potential, but its current development is severely lacking any solidarity perspective, instead treating migration exclusively as a security problem. We cannot expect to defeat rightwing populists playing in their own field.

Workers' Group President Oliver Röpke stated that 'There is still a lot of work to be done. We have certainly achieved great things together, and it is good to stop sometimes and recognise this. But the road ahead is long, and we cannot rest while millions of Europeans struggle to turn the heating on, when collective bargaining systems are weakened, while some large companies avoid taxes and fossil fuels are still subsidised. We cannot rest when more than half of the world remains unvaccinated. We must use solidarity as a guiding principle to ensure a fairer future for everyone'.

Work organisation