The issue of how to shape future politics in Europe was the subject of a joint event organised by the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour (AK EUROPA) and the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB Europabüro), the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation on 19.06.2019. Together with Professor Björn Hacker, political and workforce representatives discussed the issue, as to what a European Union might look like, which would not only react to crises, but would actively operate as problem solver.
In his opening address, Oliver Röpke, Head of the ÖGB Brussels Office and President of the Workers' Group at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), urged to concentrate the progressive forces in Europe and to jointly discuss new projects and new ways forward. Above all, he demanded more European minimum standards and an upward convergence in order to counter wage and social dumping and to strengthen Europe’s social dimension. In future, social standards shall form the foundation of the European Union. Another special concern of his was the new strategic agenda of the EU, which would be an important basis for the work in the coming legislative period. The agenda would fall far short of the expectations regarding a social Europe and would run significant deficits in particular in respect of the European Pillar of Social Rights, said Röpke.
As part of the event, Professor Björn Hacker presented his book “Weniger Markt, mehr Politik” (Less Market, More Politics) and urged to be more courageous when it came to shaping politics, as the discussion on more or less Europe would fall far short of what was required. According to Hacker, there is no need for radical upheavals, but for concrete projects within the framework of the European treaties, which would benefit all citizens. Apart from that, the time had come to abandon blind faith in the market, as it had been demonstrated in many areas, such as the Single Market or the Eurozone that no automatisms are being developed, which complete the market. Instead, he demanded a progressive approach based on a model, which frames the market and restricts it in certain areas. The Eurozone had to be made crisis-proof as a fiscal union and it was essential to increase the binding nature of the European Pillar of Social Rights. This approach should prevent the EU from taking far-reaching measures only in times of crisis.
Gaby Bischoff, new MEP (S&D), regards the use of social media and the internet as an option to increasingly promote European issues. Only a broad discussion in the Member States and a joint debate at EU level, in which all partners should be involved in, can achieve progress regarding Europe’s major issues. With regard to issues such as wage and social dumping, Bischoff urged not only to react, but to work on the root of the causes.
Oliver Dreute, Adviser European Political Strategy Centre of the European Commission, pointed towards the differences in the level of prosperity of the Member States as one of the greatest challenges for the future of the EU. In his opinion it is urgently required to narrow the divide in terms of living standards and economic development as in the long run, such differences in a common market and a common monetary union would result in far-reaching problems.
Stefan Körzell, DGB board member, emphasised the significance of the European idea, but pointed out at the same time that a lot had to change in the social sector. Hence, the current discussion on Europe’s future should less focus on personnel matters, but concentrate on contents and pressing issues in the social sector. Körzell suggested reviving the idea of a “European Marshall Plan”, which would offer a long-term investment and development programme for all EU countries. Apart from the importance of investing in infrastructure, education and decarbonisation, he also highlighted the housing issue, which already at this point would represent a social area of tension in many European countries. Here, the state was called upon to intervene sustainably and urged to sign the ongoing European Citizens’ Initiative “Housing for All”.