July 25, 2021

“On austerity, Europe has changed its software”

The European social model has better protected citizens against the crisis than that of the United States, says Clément Beaune, Secretary of State for European Affairs. The European Union’s priority now is to move forward on social issues, such as training and employment, he explains. But some states are still reluctant to establish common minimum standards.

At the Porto social summit in early May, the Europeans adopted a joint declaration to strengthen social Europe, but this text is not binding. Is it a failure?

I do not think so. During the crisis, the European social model was much more protective than that of the United States, with automatic shock absorbers, the high level of social spending, but also the various mechanisms put in place, such as partial unemployment or public aid to employees. households and businesses. Europeans have realized this and should be proud of it.

The Porto summit took place at this pivotal moment when we are beginning to project ourselves into the post-crisis period, to study how to strengthen the European model to respond to the anxieties of citizens, especially young people. It is not technocratic or distant. The declaration strengthens the basis of social rights adopted in Gothenburg in 2017 and rolled out across Europe, such as parental leave and, soon, European minimum wages. It was supported by the significant involvement of the social partners. The object is to demonstrate that Europe is not a competitive jungle that pulls down to the detriment of citizens: on the contrary, it can and must protect.

Member States are nevertheless very divided on the subject. How to overcome these fracture lines?

You have to be lucid. The EU’s powers in social matters remain limited and, although progress has been made since 2017, a number of states still need to be convinced to get on board. There are two types of reluctance. Those of the Nordic countries, first of all, which are manifested in particular around the directive on minimum wages. They fear that the quality of their social model will be eroded by Europe, or that it will interfere with their national collective bargaining – an unfounded fear.

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The countries of the East, for their part, fear that Europe will destroy their competitive advantages. Obviously, Bulgaria, Romania or Hungary will not be able to meet Western standards in terms of wages overnight. These countries must nevertheless understand that this movement is not against them, but against social dumping. Socially empowering is in their best interest.

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