EU Council decisions – Lofty words, but lack of concrete action

Friday, 21 June, 2019

The European Council met on Thursday 20 June bringing together the government leaders.  Most attention was focused on the game of musical chairs to decide who got the top jobs.  However, they also discussed the strategic agenda 2019-2024. This sets out that the EU should be “building a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe” as one of its four priorities.

The document says that individuals and communities should be assisted to adjust to the new world and that the Pillar of Social rights should be implemented at EU and Member State level. It recognises that inequalities pose “major, political, social and economic risk” especially for young people. More needs to be done to ensure equality between women and men. And so on. Lofty and important ambitions. But no concrete targets or proposals.

I do not think this is the commitment to the strong social Europe that workers are expecting. The government leaders did not task the Commission and themselves to move forward on improving workers’ rights. No commitments were made to strengthen collective bargaining and social dialogue. Implementing the pillar is important and with regard to public services fair taxation is key. But there is no progress on public country-by-country reporting as a tool to address the tax avoidance behavior of multinational corporations like McDonalds. This implies that these government leaders opt for business interests (profits) over people. Low corporate taxation leads to a lack of income to fund the quality public services people want – in health and care, education, good administration and so much more. 

Despite the recent actions by millions of schoolchildren, workers and others, there was no agreement to move towards reducing CO2 emissions with a 55% cut by 2030 or a decarbonised  economy by 2050. There was no sign of the massive public investment programme required to deliver on just transition and clean forms of energy production while keeping global warming to 2 degrees let alone to 1.5 degrees. And this is despite the increasingly alarming information from scientists about the effects of global temperature increases.

Thawing permafrost from Canada to Russia is leading to increased release of CO2 and the release of methane is far higher than previously estimated. We are undermining that fine planetary balance that ensured a stable climate. There is an unbridgeable gap between the words of the ambition and the concrete actions to match them.

What a difference with the Right to Energy Coalition in which EPSU participates. It organised a forum to discuss the vision of many organisations on dealing with climate change. We discussed how the transition could lead to a transformation of our economies without leaving communities behind. Participants agreed that we have to move away from the capitalist system and put People and our Planet before Profits.  We will need a Green Deal that is a Social Deal.

This involves an understanding of and support for the role of public services, guaranteeing that people have access to them on the basis of equality, universality, solidarity and affordability. Public services are a very democratic expression of what a society believes is important, very different from the vision of more market in services promoted by the European Council.  

And duplicity of many government is exposed. Many public service workers do not get the recognition they deserve from their employer. We have sent several messages of solidarity to unions whose members are engaged in actions and strikes for higher pay and better conditions. We wish them all every success.

We are raising the question of what is needed for public services in Europe with the newly elected Members of the European Parliament on the occasion of the UN Global Day of Public Services (23 June), a day used globally to celebrate public service workers. We would like to see recognition of the role of public services in our societies reflected in the programme the MEPs will adopt as their strategic view for the next five years. At the time of writing these negotiations are still going on.

I want to use this opportunity to thank our Irish affiliates and you all for the excellent Congress in Dublin. Let us now translate that spirit of working together to achieve the fundamental changes needed to protect and promote the interests of working women and men, our families and our communities.

For information - The European Council Strategic Agenda