A study, commissioned by AK EUROPA and the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), deals with the involvement of social actors in the RRF. At an online event on 7 September 2021, the authors of the study presented their findings for the first time. The study concludes that, even though social actors are involved in the RRF process, their participation is running the risk of not having a substantial impact.
The Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) has been initiated at European level in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Its aim is to provide Member States with financial support in their struggle against the crisis. A study, commissioned by AK EUROPA and the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), deals with the important question concerning the existing possibilities for social stakeholders (trade unions, civil society) to influence the RRF process. The initial study results, which were simultaneously published within the scope of an AK EUROPA Policy Brief, were presented within the framework of a webinar.
The authors of the study, Bart Vanhercke (European Social Observatory) and Amy Verdun (University of Victoria, Canada) described the introduction of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), during which, under the pretext of swift implementation, the involvement and consultation of the stakeholders had been neglected. Hence, in the initial phase of the RRF, the role and the influence of social actors had only been marginal. Therefore, social actors had to explore different ways and networks in this new governance structure in order to be heard within the framework of this decision-making process. However, due to the emerging online meeting culture, social actors progressively succeeded in increasing their involvement in the political processes associated with the RRF.
In spite of this positive development, the study concludes that even though social actors had and used the opportunity of actively participating, their consultation, however, had no substantial impact on the RRF and the national plans. The study authors demanded social actors to be transparently and systematically involved in future, - a prerequisite for the RRF’s successful implementation.
Following this, Norbert Templ (AK Wien), outlined the involvement of labour representatives in preparing the Austrian RRF plan and criticised that social partners had only been marginally involved. He pointed out questionable institutional changes within the RRF process. By linking funds to certain milestones, the Commission would in future be able to take greater influence in national policy fields and possibly hold back funds if individual reforms are not implemented. Therefore, it will be of particular importance to realign and democratise the European Semester: the sustainable development of well-being must be enshrined in the European Semester as an overarching target. The European Parliament should be able to have a say in all parts of the European Semester – including the country-specific recommendations (CSRs). According to Templ, the intensive debate concerning the Stability and Growth Pact is also important. It is expected to take place in the coming months, when the Pact’s urgent need for reform, for example by enshrining a golden investment rule, will be discussed.
Sotiria Theodoropoulou, (European Trade Union Institute, ETUI), made it clear that the urgency of the RRF’s implementation must not come at the expense of actors’ lack of involvement. Apart from that, the Commission requires more political legitimacy. As a final point, she pointed out that the degree of social actors’ involvement strongly varies among Member States.
Benoît Lallemand (Finance Watch) referred to the necessity of turning away European policy from the primacy of the economy. He also pointed out that, due to the “fire extinguisher” strategy in implementing the RRF, civil society had little time to organise itself. Nonetheless, the opportunity of actor involvement should be used extensively. He referred to an Action Week, which Finance Watch has scheduled for the end of September 2021, in which AK EUROPA will also participate.
Within the scope of the discussion, Judith Vorbach (AK Oberösterreich and Member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)) spoke of the key role, the programme ”Next Generation EU” plays regarding European integration; however, she emphatically expounded the problems in respect of the lacking participation of civil society and social partners. Even though the social dimension had been enshrined within the framework of Next Generation EU, it was not sufficiently elaborated. She accordingly emphasised the need to reform the European Semester and referred to the cohesion policies in the EU, in which the social dimension as well as the involvement of stakeholders play a key role.