European values of regional solidarity

European values of regional solidarity

Speech for the Pan-European Reserves & Resources Committee Conference on 5th of December 2023

Dear Comrades,

Dear Friends,

First of all, thank you for having me today. Although I have been a MEP for almost ten years, whenever I speak about ‘we’, I still talk the royal we of the trade union movement. So it is good to be home with all of you.

Today I would like to start with a quote by Jacques Delors from March, 1991

It is for this reason – to return for a moment to European integration – that we are so intent on demonstrating  the need for an ambitious European project: not just a large market to bring increased  prosperity, but a real entity which attaches importance to social issues and regional solidarity. Without this breadth of vision, Europeans will never feel that they belong to a Community, which wants to provide a reference point not only in terms of the values it espouses but also in terms of the way it puts these values into practice.

Most of you are a member of the EU, are eligible to become a member, consciously choose to not be part of the EU or even have left the EU. Social rights and the trade union movement are what brings us together. Today we talk about how we put our values on regional solidarity and social affairs into practice.

It might feel Europe and PERC are at a crossroads today as we are faced with many challenges. There is a war on going on the outer border of the EU, trade unions are attacked daily, there is a cost-of-living crisis, the impact of climate change is more visible than ever etc.

Let me first state:

The war in Ukraine due to the invasion of Russian is not just the war of Ukraine. It is a war that involves all of us. It is about the freedom of Ukraine. But it is also an attack on our shared values and freedoms we uphold in Europe. It is indispensable that Ukraine wins this war.

The perspective of EU membership is important in this matter. Not just for Ukraine but for more of you who are eligible for the EU membership. However, it is not ‘just’ a question of entering the EU as a member that creates a European society. It is about our shared values. The fact that no social dialogue has taken place in Ukraine since August 2022 concerns me. The limitations of the social dialogue of Ukraine probably concern us all.

It is essential that the EU supports social partners in re-opening social dialogue. As Ukraine wants to be an EU member state, they have to uphold our European Social Model. I am concerned about the presence of the American chamber of commerce in Ukraine that is increasing its role and influence in the Ukrainian economy. Rebuilding the Ukrainian labour market should not be done with US interests in mind. However it is not just the American Chamber of Commerce that is keeping me up at night. Or the status of social dialogue in Ukraine only.

Union busting practices are more prevalent nowadays. Amazon did not just bring its goods and services to Europe and the PERC region, it also brings union busting practices. The same goes for Tesla, where Swedish workers proudly stand up against their refusal to sign the collective agreement. Or look at the United Kingdom, where the government of Sunak did an outright attack on the right to strike with the Minimum Service Level Act. By giving more power to investors and employers, we cut the corners on worker’s rights. It is an attack on the welfare state to gain profits to feed the greed that makes the capitalistic world go round.

I will not stand for this.

In the Directive on Adequate Minimum Wages we managed to further solidify worker’s rights, combat union busting, by involving trade unions in wage setting, and have companies receiving public procurement contracts to respect the right to organise and collective bargaining in line with ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

It is a European goal for every Member State to obtain a collective bargaining coverage rate of 80%. Member States have the task to actively promote collective bargaining. Which should be followed-up, not just to respect the right to organise in public procurement, but also make the coverage of a collective agreement binding. And to implement social conditionalities, to ensure that public money is only spend on quality jobs that are covered by a collective agreement.

We need to put our money where the law is. We need to stand up for our values. If it is up to me, this is not just limited to the EU but also outside of the EU. Strong trade unions with strong collective agreements are essential in our battle of the cost-of-living crisis.

It is essential that the Commission helps all countries that are eligible for the EU membership in this transition phase, by also helping to build strong social dialogue. Commission President Von Der Leyen promised us a summit on Social Dialogue. This should not just promote sectoral social dialogue within the EU, which is of course essential. The Commission must also look at the PERC region. Von Der Leyen has to stand strong, defend social dialogue and say clearly that trade union rights are non-negotiable. And that the EU is making funds available for support programs that will help countries who want to become a member of the EU to build social dialogue according to the European Social Model. They did so for Bulgaria or Romania before they joined the EU. They can do so again. The fight for trade union rights continues.

I would like to conclude with Delors once again. Delors speaks about ‘the European model is in danger if we obliterate the principle of personal responsibility’. However, I would like to amend it slightly. It is not just our personal responsibility, it is our shared responsibility that upholds our European values.The European model relies on (trade) unions. As we have shown with the trade union movement: We are stronger together. Helping others is like helping yourself. This goes beyond the personal. Only like this we can build a true European community. This is what the European values of regional solidarity is about. Now we have to put it in practice. By standing stronger together.

Thank you.