Bernard Cazeneuve
3 March 2017

"For a Europe of social rights" - Article by Bernard Cazeneuve

This forthcoming 25 March, we will be celebrating sixty years of European construction. Sixty years of peace, closer ties between the nations of Europe and development in terms of our common policies. As this anniversary approaches, we need to get the measure of the dangers looming over the European project today. Nothing would be worse than denial.
 
These dangers come from the sense of confusion, the fears and, at times, the anger harboured by people across Europe, where all of this is being shamelessly exploited as a pretext by demagogues in an attempt to push economic contraction or xenophobic hate agendas. Brexit triggered a huge crisis of confidence and the European project is at risk of unravelling. There is an urgent need to convince citizens to turn away from the false promises which, first and foremost, do not get us anywhere in practical terms. But unless we can lay afresh the foundations of this common project, cursing will not be enough, recalling history will be futile and the voice of reason will fall on deaf ears.
 
I wholeheartedly believe that the biggest responsibility lies with the progressivists of the continent, for they are the ones who must take up the gauntlet. Europe should come across as reassuring – but all too often it is a cause for concern; it should come across as protective – but there are times when it is instead perceived as a threat. Personally, I am a convinced European, but, more than ever, I am also a perceptive and demanding European. These challenges are by no means new to us – far from it – and we have persevered in addressing them. But the reality of our continent and the world at large is such that we have no choice today but to change gear. The choice exercised by the British people last June, Donald Trump’s sweep to victory and the deepening immigration crisis, which is not going away any time soon, are dramatically changing the lie of the land in which our shared project is rooted.
 
Far from leading to resignation and a return to an inward-looking, isolationist way of thinking, this situation must galvanise us into action as never before. Over the past five years, France has campaigned time and time again to make the European Union a place of protection and a means for progress. A massive investment effort has been made through the Juncker Plan in this context to ensure a successful energy and digital transition. The banking union has been shored up to protect us from another financial crisis. Europeans are now better protected thanks to ramped up border checks. We recall these achievements not to congratulate ourselves that “everything’s fine” – which would strike a false note in these troubled times – but simply as a reminder that, as soon as its leaders really listen to the people, Europe can adapt and develop new political tools on matters crucial to its survival.  
 
The EU has weathered the banking crisis, the economic crisis and the security crisis. If it has any hope of moving forward, it must take up the challenge of social rights. If Europe is to survive, it must guarantee the sustainability of its social protection model. We must not allow the situation of employees to be used as an adjustment variable to forge the competitiveness of each of its economies. I firmly believe we need to set a movement in motion. This will take time of course, but inaction on the issue of social rights would spell doom for the European project. On the other hand, and this is another point I wish to drive home, rejecting Europe as somewhere we can imagine our country being a part of, would also spell doom for France.
 
This is why, on Thursday 2 March, we have decided to organise a European social conference in Paris, attended by more than 12 countries, representatives of European institutions and trade union leaders, with the ambition of establishing a European Pillar of Social Rights at the European Commission’s initiative.
 
First and foremost, the aim is to equip Europe with common rules as regards working conditions, starting with the phasing in of a decent minimum wage set at 60% of the national median wage. To address the changing nature of work in our societies, we must also lay the foundations for new rights, such as the right to disconnect out of hours for employees.
 
We then need to turn our attentions to setting up a fairer and more open labour market. For that, we need to take a much tougher stance in terms of clamping down on fraud relating to the posting of workers, which is undermining confidence in the internal market: the 1996 directive is currently being revised along these lines. France will not show any willingness to compromise on this matter. Efforts must also be made to improve the mobility of apprentices and students and to ensure that the fundamental principle of gender equality in the workplace is observed.
 
Finally, the EU has a duty to better protect workers from unforeseen changes in their professional situation, providing them with a lifelong safety net no matter what shape or form any out-of-work periods may come in. The new forms of employment currently shaking up the labour market – not least through digital platforms – must also be factored in.
 
These are big ambitions and convincing people will not be easy. But the proof is there: we can change mindsets; instead of shunning disagreements we need to tackle them head-on, much like we have done on the issue of workers’ posting – for nothing would be worse than a superficial consensus masking deep-seated differences of opinion on our political project. I have faith in the ability of policies, over the long term, to convince, to establish a strong position and to dialogue with the people in putting this ambition into practice.
 
Ever since 1958, Europe has remained a political project underpinned by common values rather than just a market. Social justice and solidarity are the mainstays of this project, as are democracy and respect for the Rule of Law. The definition of a European Pillar of Social Rights is a historic opportunity for showing our fellow citizens that the European Union provides them with greater security in such an uncertain world. We will only be able to convince our fellow citizens through actions, for our words now count for little after so long without anything concrete to show for them. I believe that, today, we can set an irreversible movement in motion.
 
Bernard CAZENEUVE


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