Macro-economic dialogue at political level – structural reform and competiveness Boards

(15 June 2016) With the European social partners the Dutch Presidency wanted to consider what structural reforms Europe needs. It organised an extra-ordinary meeting of the macro-economic social dialogue. It also wished to continue discussion with the employers and union organisations on the Commission proposal to establish National Competitiveness Boards.

The ETUC delegation underlined:

  • To recognise that austerity measures contribute to increased inequalities, lack of internal demand in the EU economy, collapse of investment, repressed wages, dismantling of bargaining systems and negative impact on social protection, pensions and welfare systems
  • That growth in the EU economy has to come from investment and wage increases to create jobs as unemployment remains at unacceptable levels. The ETUC investment plan offers a larger positive boost compared to the Juncker Investment plan. And strengthening bargaining systems and improving minimum and low wages will contribute to demand. Public services like health, education need investment. Countries with strong industrial relations and welfare systems do perform well.
  • ETUC is open to discuss and consider such reforms. With social dialogue at all levels, sector, national and EU. Changes in the way the European macro-economic dialogue works should be considered to make it more effective. Trade unions report that the social dialogue at national level is often a mere process of information rather than discussion, that there is no dialogue at sectoral level. There is a lack of negotiations to come forward with balanced and broadly supported proposals.
  • ETUC rejected the competitiveness Board. The proposals of the Commission were focused on cost competitiveness. The focus on unit labour costs would lead to interference in bargaining and the autonomy of the social partners. This point was also stressed by all employers. ETUC argued that we need a broad concept in which many factors that can contribute to competitiveness and productivity are considered. The focus needs to be on creating jobs and contributing to the well-being of workers and our communities.

The Presidency informed the social partners that they had listened to their views. The Council has taken into account that there needs to be a broad concept regarding the state of the national, Eurozone and European economy. It speaks of productivity boards. While employers agree that a broad concept is needed, the corporate employers (BusinessEurope) keep on hammering the focus has to be on cost-competitiveness and unit-labour costs should not be forgotten. The trade union side but also CEEP (public service employers) and UEAPME (Small and mediumsized companies) stress the need for investment and including in public services and infrastructure. We were also informed that the Council had taken a position on the joint statement of the social partners to strengthen the social dialogue in the EU.

Present at the meeting were the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of the Economic and Financial Affairs and Eurogroup (Dutch Minister of Finance Jeroen Dijsselbloem), Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis, representatives of the forthcoming Presidencies for Malta and Slovakia, the Economic Policy Committee, the Employment Committee and the European Central Bank. They exchanged views with the General Secretaries of ETUC and for the employers with BusinessEurope, CEEP and UEAPME. The EPSU General Secretary was part of the ETUC delegation. The meeting took place 14 June 2016 Brussels.