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A Europe that protects?

Extraordinary meeting of the Workers' Group

Democracy under attack: trade union strategies against right-wing populism and nationalism

In 2016, the Juncker Commission presented its third annual work programme "Delivering a Europe that protects, empowers and defends".

A Europe that protects should guarantee the protection and participation of all European citizens. The Commission understands this as safeguarding both internal and external security as well as the social protection of citizens. In this framework, the proposal for a "Pillar of Social Rights" is of particular importance.

People are questioning whether the benefits and the challenges that come with open markets and societies, with innovation and technological shifts, are evenly spread. Their trust in Europe’s ability to shape the future and to deliver fair and prosperous societies has been eroded.[1]

The Austrian Presidency adopted the motto "A Europe that protects" and integrated it in its work programme but, so far, this has not reflected the wider, more inclusive meaning used by the Commission. 

In the meantime, the European Union prepares for the 2019 elections to the European Parliament. The neoliberal policies of the past years have exacerbated inequalities and poverty creating discontent and mistrust as a result. Right-wing populists and nationalists are gaining ground, while xenophobia and attacks against democratic institutions but also trade unions are on the rise. Restrictions on free speech but also populist hunger for power – it is by no means just autocrats who have been tightening the screw of repression. Governments in democracies have also increasingly been trying to govern with a hard hand.[2]

The Social Pillar has still not led to tangible improvements, on the contrary. Even certain EU Member States' governments are undermining existing social rights and trying to attack and weaken trade unions. The current political, economic, and social climate makes it increasingly urgent to improve jobs and living standards and to defend democracy.

Taking this discussion to the seat of the EU-Presidency this period, the Workers' Group will hold its extraordinary meeting in Vienna. The meeting will be shaped by contributions among others by Wolfgang Katzian, President of the ÖGB, and Hannes Swoboda, former head of the S&D Group in the European Parliament. Raimund Löw, renowned journalist and historian, will introduce the topic "Nationalists on the rise – Europe globally on the defensive" with important interventions by representatives from Austrian and European trade unions, researchers and journalists. The state of the EU and the role of the Austrian Presidency will be assessed on the basis of these contributions, together with the strategies being deployed by trade unions in Austria and across the European Union to face these threats and fight them at the root.

[1] REFLECTION PAPER ON THE SOCIAL DIMENSION OF EUROPE, 2017

[2] See the scores of the current Bertelsmann Stiftung's Transformation Index (BTI)