This week, the Luxembourg Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivered his annual “State of the Union Address” before the European Parliaments in Strasbourg. The address had been eagerly awaited by Brussels circles and beyond, not least also by the European trade union movement.
About 16 months before the next European Parliament elections (early summer 2019), the EU Commission President wanted to use the opportunity to present once again bold proposals on the home straight of his term in office as to how Europe will be able to master its numerous challenges.
It was a good time to take courageous steps said Juncker, given the fact that economic data was favourable. For example, economic growth both in the EU28 and in the Eurozone was greater than in the USA. Unemployment had fallen; almost 8 million jobs had been created.
In his almost 90-minute address, Juncker presented a long list of intentions. An initial assessment by trade unions regards some of Juncker's plans as definitely positive. Ahead of the address, the European Trade Union Confederation had offensively contributed to the debate on Europe’s future. Juncker’s address also included two core demands by trade unions.
Hence, the principle of “equal pay for equal work in the same place” shall be enforced at last; in addition, a European Labour Supervision shall be created. “A Union of equals cannot have second class employees. People doing the same work in the same place should receive the same pay”, said Juncker. In doing so, Juncker does not only want to campaign for a successful conclusion of the lengthy and difficult negotiations on the Posting of Workers Directive. He also demands the creation of a new European Supervisory and Implementation Authority, a so-called European “Labour Authority”. It would be absurd that a Banking Supervisory Authority existed but no Labour Supervisory Authority, said Juncker.
The introduction of such an authority would be a significant step forward, if in addition to national supervisory authorities it would at last ensure the improved cross-border control and implementation of labour rights and enforce penalties in case of infringements. This is a long-term demand by trade unions and would be an important step to combat social dumping. It remains to be seen what powers this authority should have.
In his speech, Juncker also addressed the European Pillar of Social Rights. It shall be officially adopted at the so-called Social Summit in Gothenburg on 17 November 2017 at the latest. The EU must at least be a European Union of social standards, with a consensus of what is socially fair and what is unfair, said Juncker in his address. “If Europe is to succeed, it must not give employees the cold shoulder”, emphasised the Commission President. This too is at least to a certain degree close to the demand by trade unions that the Social Pillar must not just be a collection of warm words, but that it has to be firmly implemented. To achieve this, it needs a concrete action plan, how the principles, embedded in the Social Pillar can be turned into concrete and tangible results for Europe’s employees.
Further issues, Juncker addressed in his speech, included among other the future of trade policy, the new industrial strategy for Europe including the proposal by the Commission to subject direct non-EU investments to a screening, and new intentions in the area of migration policy.
Particularly interesting was also an idea presented by Juncker regarding the overcoming of unanimity regarding tax policy. It has been lamented for many years that important steps forward in respect of tax dumping time and again failed because of the required unanimity in the circle of Ministers for Economic Affairs and Finance. Here, Juncker proposes to make use of the so-called bridge clause, which is provided for in the EU Treaties, which says that based on the unanimous decision by heads of state and government, finance ministers might be authorised to adopt tax policy measures with a qualified majority in future. The examples he gave included the Financial Transaction Tax, the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base as well as the taxation of digital companies. Should this step actually succeed, it would be an important step forward to ensure more solidarity in Europe also in the area of corporate taxation.
Homepage of the Commission on the "State of the Union" (incl. video of the Address).