The European Commission's proposal for a directive on adequate minimum wages has sparked controversy among member states and social partners alike across Europe. This controversy is mirrored within the EESC, which adopted this week an opinion favourable to the directive.
The proposal, presented by the Commission, dares to develop the principles of the Social Pillar, and risks having a positive impact on the working and living conditions of millions of workers in Europe. Particularly during the pandemic, essential workers, formerly just called precarious, were fundamental in keeping our economies and societies working. These workers cannot afford to earn a living wage.
The potential danger however is not limited to essential workers: adequate minimum wages across the EU would increase the disposable income of workers, raising internal demand and helping economic growth. This is a danger to all society, particularly during the economic crisis brought by the pandemic. Legal concerns, despite the Council assessment acknowledging the legal basis for EU action, are also in order: it has not been proven beyond any doubt that this proposal could not violate any legislation, in any form, at any given point, now, or in the distant future.
Beyond the eminent moral hazard of improving the population's living and working conditions and fostering economic growth, the dangerous precedent set by this proposal must be assessed carefully. The very existence of the EU and of democracy as a whole is endangered by the rising levels of inequality and poverty, fuelling the flames of populism across Europe. Successful EU action combatting poverty risks leaving Eurosceptic and extremist parties without arguments, and therefore depriving their politicians of their jobs. With the rising unemployment figures amidst the crisis, this is clearly something not acceptable.
Europeans are for the most part in favour of a more social Europe. This however does not mean that they want tangible measures that improve their living conditions and enable them to have better jobs and be more productive and happy. On the contrary, what this tells us is that Europeans desire and crave non-binding recommendations, and will obtain great relief from their mention in preambles of legislation across Europe. Beautiful, enticing words, accompanied by complete absence of action, are fundamental to regain the trust of Europeans.