The condition of the European economy, completing the Single Market, trade and Brexit – these are the top issues for European employers' organisations in the forthcoming months. On 29 March 2017, the Directors-General and Secretaries-General of BusinessEurope, EuroCommerce and Copa-Cogega presented their priorities and debated with the members of the EESC Employers' Group.
"Europe is in better shape than many think" – said Markus Beyerer, Director-General of BusinessEurope. He expressed his hope that upcoming elections in numerous Member States would not result in increased representation for anti-European parties.
He underlined that current developments relating to the Social Pillar are not heading in right direction and that social pillar had its limits. In his view, instead of focusing on creating new legislation, the EU should focus on the pillar that drives the reform process at national level, with a view to improving the performance of labour markets and social systems.
Industrial policy and the urgent need to create strategy for industry based on EUs strengths were also highlighted as being priorities for BusinessEurope for the upcoming months. Mr Beyrer emphasised that there would be continuous support for free trade agreements. In his view, the business community has to show real examples of the benefits of free trade especially for SMEs. He also called on the EU to reflect on its procedure for ratifying trade deals in the future, bearing in mind challenges that CETA faced and is still about to face.
With regard to Brexit, BusinessEurope wants to protect the integrity of the single market. Mr Beyrer underlined that his organisation hopes for a smooth transition and we need legal certainty, but this will depend on how constructive the UK government is.
In connection with the Commission's white paper on the future of Europe, Mr Beyrer highlighted that in his view a solution would entail a mix of the 4th scenario (doing less more efficiently) and 5th Scenario (doing much more together), while scenario 3 (multi-speed Europe) is also considered probable.
"We need to ensure that EU actually delivers, especially on economic policies, to avoid populism" – said Pekka Pesonen, Secretary-General of Copa-Cogeca. He underlined that the farming community is still in crisis due to sector-specific issues. That is why supporting growth and the creation of new jobs in rural areas is of the utmost importance.
There is also potential to use existing tools to fight climate change more effectively. Mr Pesonen underlined the importance of cutting red tape relating to agricultural policy. He also recalled that the single market is a fundamental factor in future development and in the success of European farming.
As regards international trade, Copa-Cogeca supports FTAs, underlining that at EU level trade rules must be respected by our external partners. The organisation supports CETA (even though there were some questions concerning market access) and will get actively involved in promoting the deal. Mr Pesonen reiterated that Copa-Cogeca favours multilateral trade agreements, but the reality is that this WTO process has stalled. Bilateral agreements are therefore the way forward for the moment. He also expressed support for an FTA with Japan and hoped that negotiations would result in an ambitious deal which features agriculture as a key component.
Copa-Cogeca is also focusing heavily on innovation, developing new products and new sustainable production methods. To achieve these aims, broad support for innovation is needed.
In relation to the future of the EU, Mr Pesonen stated that his organisation would like to see communality being defended. A solid Common Agricultural Policy underpinned by effective financing is, in his view, the key to achieving this.
We all should continue to stress the importance of Europe and cohesion, this is our joint responsibility – said Christian Verschueren, Secretary-General of EuroCommerce. The EU's economic performance, its economic convergence and the stability of the currency are at the top of the list of EuroCommerce priorities.
As up to 30% of jobs in the retail sector might be affected by digitalisation it is crucial that the sector adapts to the ongoing change. This could result in creation of other highly-skilled jobs. Labour market reforms are thus fundamental to change: we need to make sure that people are equipped with skills that will enable them to deal with the digital transformation.
The single market is a cornerstone for commerce. Unfortunately in a number of EU countries we are currently seeing protectionist measures that aim to eliminate certain players from the market, thus going against single market principles. According to Mr Verschueren, even though it is currently unpopular to propose empowering the European Commission, EuroCommerce supports the Commission in counteracting practices that hinder single market. Better enforcement of single market legislation would be appreciated.
In areas such as sustainability and food waste, the business community could lead the way. However, employers have to make sure that policies in this field provide fair global competition and that external partners don't gain competitive advantages by not following the ambitious sustainability agenda.
Mr Verschueren also discussed the transformation of the CAP and the possibility of heading towards market-based solutions. If this looks likely, the EU has to make sure that forming communities could adapt effectively to such reality.