What kind of Europe do we want? This question discussed the three Trade Union presidents Jozef Kollár (Slovakia), Josef Stredula (Czech Republic) and Erich Foglar (Austria) during a seminar in Bratislava. Unfortunately, it is primarily because of a number of crises that this question is today more relevant than ever: the economic, financial and Euro crisis have strongly shaken the socio-economic stability of Europe; geopolitical tensions in the Arab world and in Ukraine provide an uncertain future; the treatment of refugees led to open conflicts between the EU Member States; and finally, after a series of enlargements, the BREXIT vote in the UK confirmed for the first time that a country wants to leave the EU.
What kind of Europe do we want? - The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung has asked in a representative survey the same question to the citizens in eight European countries, including Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The result was an obvious loss of confidence: both in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia there are now more people who are likely to connect disadvantages with the EU, than people who are likely to connect advantages with it.
Given these major challenges the three Trade Union presidents see the best chance to win back the citizens for the European project if there is a serious return to the model of a Social Europe. Erich Foglar passionately advocated a social progress protocol, which should give to fundamental social rights the same legal value in the EU Treaties that currently already enjoy the four liberal economic fundamental freedoms of the EU single market.
Such social progress protocol is basically even more important than the various aspects that are currently discussed in the framework of the European pillar of social rights (EPSR). Only if it becomes clear that a different European Union is being pursued, other than the previous "Business Union", it makes sense to seriously talk, among others, about a common European unemployment insurance. The various proposals for the EPSR that are on the table as of today are still much too vague in order to fully assess them. But according to Mr. Foglar, trade unions have to make sure that there will be no attempt to ultimately enforce economic goals under the guise of the EPSR.
Both Jozef Kollár and Josef Stredula saw particular need of action in the alignment of the wage levels between the Western and the Central Eastern EU Member States. Mr. Stredula pointed to own calculations of his union, which suggest that it would take another 90 years before the Czech Republic would reach the level of wages of its neighboring countries Germany and Austria if the wages continue to develop the same way as before. Without a stronger income convergence between the EU Member States, according to Mr. Stredula, the current problems and social contradictions will only further increase. Branislav Ondruš, State Secretary of the Slovak Ministry of Labour, agreed that wage inequality and social injustice played an important role for the public sentiment that finally led to the BREXIT vote. Jozef Kollár added that the sometimes large differences in wages between EU Member States are partly also the result of concrete government action: in a number of countries, national governments have seen low wages for many years as part of a promising development model.
The three presidents agreed: the BREXIT vote was more than just a warning shot across the bows. It must be understood by all governments in the EU Member States as a call for another EU - a genuine Social Europe!