The case law of the European Court of Justice has changed market freedoms into companies’ deregulation levers, which led to increased pressure on public services, social rights and wages. At a webinar organised by AK EUROPA and trade union confederations from Austria, Germany and Sweden as well as the European Trade Union Confederation, alternatives to the neoliberal model of the single market were discussed.
In 2016, ÖGB, DGB and the Swedish Trade Union Confederation LO together with the social democratic parties of the three countries presented the European Social Progress Pact, an alternative to EU’s neoliberal model of the single market. Within the course of the Conference on the Future of Europe, Prof. Florian Rödl has compiled a study on behalf of AK Vienna which legally analyses the Pact.
The webinar revealed the basic problem: the constitutional structure of the EU single market promotes transnational labour cost competition. Rödl described how the European Court of Justice (ECJ) developed market freedoms into entrepreneurial freedoms and did not conceive them as rights of equality. The objective of the European Social Progress Pact is to enshrine the social achievements of employees in the Member States and the principle of ”Equal pay for equal work at the same place” into the constitution of the single market. In his study, Rödl underlines the necessity to return from market freedoms to equality rights.
The Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation Claes-Mikael Ståhl regarded the systematic preference of the economy as the main problem of the neoliberal single market system. It would be necessary to protect social rights and to rebalance the European Project, so that in case of conflict, social rights would take precedence over economic freedoms. The Conference on the Future of Europe would have the potential to effect changes and to create a balance between the economy and social issues.
Wolfgang Katzian, President of the Austrian Trade Union Federation, outlined the consequences of deregulating the single market for the work environment of people and illustrated these by example of the ECJ judgement “Henry am Zug”. In this case, the ECJ had ignored the principle of “Equal pay for equal work at the same place” and declared Hungarian minimum wage provisions on trains, that operate in Austria, applicable. In view of the Conference on the Future of Europe Katzian supported the introduction of the golden investment rule to finance the social and environmental restructure, a reform of EU fiscal rules, a fair taxation of wealth as well as a minimum harmonisation of social protection rights.
The Vice President of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, Therese Guovelin, underlined the demand of her organisation for a Social Progress Protocol. She cited numerous examples from Sweden, for instance from the construction sector, where many infringements against the Posting of Workers Directive had been established. Up to 30 % of construction workers in Stockholm did not have a work permit, and 80 % of the mainly East European companies infringed against statutory labour laws or collective agreements. Trade Unions were extremely important in the fight against social inequalities. It had to be ensured that employees from different Member States were not played off against each other.
Susanne Wixforth, Head of Unit at the German Trade Union Confederation, urged to take a differentiated view of the role of the EU in its development towards a neoliberal system. It is not only the EU institutions that are responsible for this, but also the member states themselves, which often implement neoliberal measures even without pressure from the EU. In order to counteract this, trade unions and the social dialogue should be strengthened both at EU and at national level. Wixforth did not regard the role of the ECJ as exclusively negative; in the past, the ECJ often distinguished itself as a guardian of social rights, for example in safeguarding social security for migrant workers. Wixforth also stressed the European Pillar of Social Rights as an important step towards a social Europe.