Prime Minister calls for a Europe of social rights
European Union – Social rights – Article by M. Bernard Cazeneuve, Prime Minister, published in the daily newspaper Les Echos
Paris, 2 March 2017
On 25 March, we shall be celebrating 60 years of the European enterprise – 60 years of peace, closer ties between the peoples of Europe and the strengthening of our common policies. In the run-up to this anniversary, we must appreciate the dangers that threaten the European project today. Nothing would be worse than denial.
The dangers are the distress, fear and sometimes anger felt by the peoples of Europe. Throughout the EU, they are being shamelessly exploited by demagogues who are using them as a pretext for trying to impose programmes of economic self-absorption and xenophobic hatred. Following Brexit, the crisis of confidence is huge, and the European project is at risk of breaking up. There is an urgent need to persuade citizens to turn away from false promises, which are, first and foremost, genuine blind alleys. But condemnation will not suffice, reminders of history will be in vain and appeals to reason will fail unless we can overhaul what makes up this common project.
At a time when Europe should be a reassurance, too often it is a source of worry. At a time when Europe should protect, sometimes it is perceived as a threat. For my part, I am a convinced European, but I am also, more than ever, a clear-sighted and demanding European. We have been faced with these challenges for a long time. We have tirelessly provided responses to them, but the state of our continent and of the world now requires us to step up a gear.
Far from leading to resignation and withdrawal, this realization obliges us to make an unprecedented effort. In the past five years, France has been constantly committed to making the European Union an area of protection and an instrument of progress.
The EU survived the banking crisis, the economic crisis and the security crisis. If it wants to continue making progress, it must take up the challenge of social rights. In order for Europe to continue, it must guarantee the long-term future of its social welfare model. We must not allow our economies all to be made competitive by taking the situation of employees as a balancing variable. I am convinced that we must get things moving.
That is why we decided to organize in Paris today – Thursday 2 March – a European social conference bringing together more than 12 countries, representatives of European institutions and trade union leaders, whose aim, following the initiative launched by the European Commission, will be to establish a European pillar of social rights.
We have to begin by giving Europe common rules on working conditions, starting with the gradual introduction of a decent minimum wage, pegged at 60% of national median income. Because of the changing nature of work in our societies, we must also lay the foundations for new rights, such as the right of employees to disconnect [from work-related communications outside office hours].
Secondly, we must work on establishing a more open, fairer labour market. To do this, we’ve got to significantly step up the fight against fraud involving workers posted abroad, which undermines confidence in the internal market: this is what the ongoing review of the 1996 directive is focusing on. France will be uncompromising on this issue. We must also increase the mobility of apprentices and students and enforce the basic principle of equality between women and men in the workplace.
Finally, the European Union must afford workers greater protection from uncertainties in their working lives. We must enable them to have a safety net throughout their lives, whatever disruptions occur in their professional careers. We must also take into account the new kinds of employment which are drastically changing the labour markets, through digital platforms in particular.
Since 1958, Europe has been a political project based on shared values, not just a market. Social justice and solidarity are at the heart of this project, as are democracy and adherence to the rule of law. Building up a European pillar of social rights provides a historic opportunity to show our fellow citizens that the European Union brings them greater security in such an uncertain world. We shall persuade our fellow citizens only through deeds. Words have become meaningless by failing to be translated into action. Today I think we can begin an irreversible trend./.