Leaders of 47 European countries will meet in Chisinau, Moldova on 1 June in a gathering called the European Political Community (EPC). It is a sort of geo-political response to the challenges arising from the Russian aggression in Ukraine, the growing influence of Chinese money and power through its “One Belt One Road” initiative and the impact of Brexit. It is of course a strong signal of support for Moldova, a small country where most people want to orientate more towards the European Union and away from the Russian sphere of influence. The problem with the EPC is that it creates a forum that legitimises authoritarian leaders, like President Erdoğan of Turkey. It lacks a democratic underpinning and undermines the Council of Europe. Moldovan people look to Europe because of its values, strongly embedded in the European Convention of Human Rights. The EPC is not a place where those values will be promoted, and I believe the European labour movement should stay clear of it.
The Council of Europe – founded on democracy and human rights
In these turbulent times, we need a strong Council of Europe with its protection of democratic practices and human rights. Its human rights framework is a key part of the answer to the rise of the extreme right in Europe. Whereas Erdoğan will be celebrated in the EPC following his victory in the Turkish presidential elections, the Council of Europe questions his government’s record on human rights. It is in the EPC that those arguing for a tough policy on refugees like UK’s Sunak, Hungary’s Orban and Italy’s Meloni will find space without concerns for democratic processes. This initiative is promoted by the French President Macron and his ambitions of grandeur will be part of his motives. It will be a forum that does not question the way he is riding rough-shod over the French parliament and French workers by using extraordinary powers to push through pensions reform. French workers and our affiliates will continue their mobilisation against this decision with a 14th national day of action on 6 June.
The threat of the extreme-right
The EPC does not offer a compass to the people of Russia for what comes after Putin, after the war with Ukraine. The Council of Europe does. Its emphasis on democratic institutions at all levels, from the municipal, regional to the national and its human rights framework will need to be part of a future solution to bring peace, security and social justice. While the EPC will condemn the senseless Russian missile attacks on hospitals, city centres and people in Ukraine, its geo-political nature gives priority to the role of states and their security interests. This is very different from the idea of a community of people across borders that are equal, have rights and that is part of the reasoning of the Council of Europe. It is these concepts of inclusiveness and universal rights that need defending against the far-right who sent their shock troops onto the streets of Brussels last weekend. The demonstration by Vlaams Belang claimed that it must force government to listen with a clear hint of the need for violent opposition. Anti-fascists, including the unions, mobilised in a counter-demo while in Berlin, the ETUC Congress gave a very strong signal where Europe’s unions stand – on the side of workers, our human and trade union rights and against fascism.
These rights are universal and indivisible. You cannot be for the right to strike but against non-discrimination of workers in the LGBT+ community. That is why it is so disappointing and difficult to understand how the chair of the NOTU trade union confederation in Uganda could welcome the country’s new anti-LGBT+ legislation that condemns same-sex lovers to life imprisonment if caught. The workers’ group in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) of which he is a member has a task to do. For many union leaders, for ILO staff and others who are part of the LGTB+ community the country is not safe. The forthcoming International Labour Conference (ILC) will discuss these issues linked with the implementation of ILO convention 190 on violence and harassment. It is worrying that the Presidency of the ILC will be with Qatar – no understatement to say that this is not the best country to give positive leadership on these issues.
The ILC and the work of the ILO is so crucial for workers and the trade unions who are facing attacks on their rights not least in Belgium and UK. The ETUC Congress adopted an emergency resolution on Qatar and on the right to strike making clear where we stand. You can read more on the ETUC Congress and the contributions of the EPSU delegation elsewhere in the newsletter. Congress expressed support for the work of the ETUC on public services with several delegates calling for an ETUC campaign in favour of public services. EPSU wishes success and all the very best to the ETUC team.