A commentary from Brussels
Not in a long time have Europe’s employees been faced with times as tough as these. The EU finance ministers are talking about “alarming figures” in the European labour markets. In one year, the unemployment figures in the former flagship country Spain have increased by 1 million; the Commission expects an unemployment rate of about 19 %. The situation in Ireland, another country presented by the Commission as a model state, is not much better. At an unemployment rate of around 10 %, Ireland has the highest number of unemployed since statistics began in 1967 - tendency upwards. With respect to Germany, the economist Hans-Werner Sinn expects another 500,000 people to be pushed into unemployment this year alone. Similarly depressing is the situation in Great Britain, the long-term lighthouse of financial market deregulation, which together with her allies has for decades fiercely opposed the regulation of the financial markets in all European Committees and the progress in European social policy.

No wonder then that the crisis in the labour markets starts to have an impact on the mood of the population. The latest Eurobarometer figures show a dramatic decline in the evaluation of the current and future economic situation of individual Member States and Europe; in particular, however, they confirm the great worries of the Europeans with respect to losing their own job. And that has a massive impact on judging politics. Half of Europe’s citizens feel that their country is going in the wrong direction and more than every third person thinks that EU politics too are undergoing a negative development. A clear deterioration in the assessment of EU politics by the population.

At the same time, the European Commission is convinced that in times of economic crisis its reputation will rise in the estimation of the people. In reality, its “success record”, however, does not give any recognizable cause for lavish praise. From the beginning of the crisis until today it has been driven by events and developments; there can be no question of a leadership role. For years, the overwhelming majority of the members of the present Commission has unilaterally and unreflectingly propagated the rampant market and politically paved its way. Most famous example: the Irishman Charlie McCreevy, a convinced Conservative and apologist for unrestrained markets. It would have been within his scope of responsibility to take measures in order to prevent the current crisis. Result: negative. Only a short while ago, when it was foreseeable for all experts that a sharp crisis was imminent, he fiercely opposed the introduction of rules for the financial industry. And now? Today, McCreevy talks about the “mighty financial lobby” which had prevented everything and now had to be put in its place. A remarkable U-turn, representative for the Commission team.

Above all that sits enthroned a Commission President, who would like the Member States to appoint him for another five years. Recently - alarmed by the bad survey results for the European Commission - he has ordered the Commission to dedicate more time and effort to the subject of consumer protection. He too, shortly before the end of the term of office of the Commission has discovered his interest in regulated financial markets and now also for social issues. Barroso announced for example that in May an informal summit of the Heads of state and government will take place, which will address employment and labour market issues. Typically enough as the last of a number of summits.

A change of thinking from conviction? A change of politics towards a social Europe, as vehemently demanded by labour representatives for years? Or perhaps after all the worry that the Commission will no longer be able to continue its unilateral economic course? Not, when at the same time the workforce has to use unimaginable amounts of tax money to bail out the banks after decades of greed. Not, if one rescue package after the other, worth several billions, has to be provided because the banks are still not prepared to lend to industry and private individuals, preferring to wait for the state to buy their “toxic” assets. Not, when at the same time countless jobs are being axed with an until now unimagined speed, whilst managers and shareholders of companies, that are given financial support by the state during the crisis, treat themselves to bonuses and dividends. The social unrest in some European countries gives a foretaste of what Europe can expect if this policy continues.

Midway through the most serious European economic and employment crisis for decades, the Commission is also in the process of a silent dissolution, as a number of Commissioners want to stand for the European Elections in June. The Member States too do not exactly portray a pleasant picture. At the head of the European Union in the crisis year 2009 the Czech Republic holds the EU Presidency, a Member State that believes more strongly in economic liberalism and transatlantic relations than in a strong social Europe. The official slogan of the Czechs: Europe without barriers, whilst at the time in front of and behind the scenes a fierce quarrel is going on about national interests and egoisms as well as about the question whether the Internal Market Regulations can also in times of social distortions claim absolute validity and priority over all other political aims. The discrepancy between claim and reality in Europe could not be clearer. More market, more budget discipline is the political message of the Czechs - Europe as an economic club. Not a trace of a stronger social orientation.

Help is not coming from the latest “campaign” of the European Commission either. Named “Social circus” its task is raise awareness of social rights by circus events all over Europe. There can hardly be a better example to show how difficult the European Commission finds it to deal with one of the most important issues for Europe’s citizens - a social Europe -.