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Yesterday I was in Kraków with our friends in the Polish SLD for a conference on the achievements and challenges of Polish membership of the EU. At the same time, at the EPP Congress in Warsaw, thousands of workers from the Gdansk shipyards and railways marched outside the Soviet-era Palace of Culture and Science in which Europe’s conservatives were meeting. What a symbol of today’s Europe: those same Gdansk shipyards were the cradle of the Solidarność movement which was to be so important in bringing about a free Poland, and those same conservative politicians, in a majority in the EU’s institutions and national governments, are failing working people across Europe. I understand the anger of the ship-builders and railway workers. Just like workers elsewhere in these times of recession, they face an uncertain future. On this International Workers’ Day, I am writing to the trade unions movement (see letter below) to express my solidarity and support, to make it clear that it is the socialists and social democrats who are on the side of working people. The 1st May too is a symbol of where our political family is from and where it is going, and a symbol that I am proud to uphold.

 

1st May 2009

Dear friends,

I would like to take this opportunity to send my warmest greetings to all European trade unionists on this International Workers’ Day. For me, the 1st of May has always meant a celebration of all that is best about the workers’ movement: solidarity, equality and cooperation. I remember very well May Days as a teenager in my home town, Esbjerg, in the 1950s, an age of strong trade unions, when the Danish welfare state was emerging. But that’s also when I learnt about the harsh realities of unemployment and the impact it can have on ordinary families like my own when I was growing up.

This year, International Workers’ Day comes at the start of the European elections campaign, and in the worst recession since the 1930s. Economic forecasts are being downgraded from week to week: we risk seeing 27 million unemployed by early 2010 if nothing more is done to stop the downward spiral.

Last Friday I was in Toulouse, where I met with workers from Airbus and Molex, who are currently threatened by job losses and wage cuts, with all the misery and uncertainty which that implies. Across Europe, millions of workers find themselves in this situation, workers who are in no way responsible for this crisis but are the ones paying the price. The conservatives – like Chancellor Merkel, President arkozy or Prime Minister Juncker – say that they have done enough. But I say that there are 27 million reasons to do more. We need a strong, new European economic recovery plan to safeguard employment and prevent mass unemployment hitting working families across Europe.

For the past five years the right has had a majority in Europe – in all EU institutions and most member states. It has presided over a period of repeated and serious attacks on workers’ rights and public services. The Barroso Commission has failed to stop freedom of movement of workers from being xploited to undermine social standards. The European Court of Justice has passed a series of questionable judgements (Laval, Viking, Rüffert, Luxemburg) on the Posting of Workers Directive, calling into question the principles of equal pay and collective bargaining and the right to strike action. In the Laval case, a Latvian company building a school in Sweden refused to respect local rules on pay and conditions and in doing so was supported by the Court due to ambiguities in the directive.

The Party of European Socialists firmly believes that this ‘race to the bottom’ in social standards is unacceptable. Yet the Commission has repeatedly refused to close the loopholes.

We will also strive to create a new respect for decent work and workplaces. For far too long, financial market actors such as private equity funds have treated our workplaces like a bundle for assets you can buy and sell at will, with no thought for the impact on workers. They load healthy companies with debt for short-term profit, leading to job losses, worse working conditions and weakened pensions for employees.

Regulation in this area is, clearly, woefully inadequate. My report on private equity was passed by the Parliament in September, yet the European Commission has ignored our demands. This week they finally published their draft proposal for regulation of private equity, which is so full of loopholes and gaps it is totally ineffective.

This is the problem we face on Workers Day, and on every working day, with a conservative-dominated European Union.

My party, the Party of European Socialists, has a clear and concrete plan for change. We have presented seven political demands to fight the crisis, which we want implemented within the first 100 days after the European elections:

1. A new, strong recovery plan for Europe
2. A European Employment Pact
3. A new Women’s rights Charter
4. A Social Progress Pact
5. Effective regulation and supervision of the financial markets
6. New mutual solidarity across EU Member States
7. A European roadmap for a global new deal

Our manifesto for the election outlines 71 specific proposals for taking Europe in a new direction over the next five years. As I said at a discussion organised by the European Trade Union Confederation on Tuesday, it is a manifesto that very much coincides with the ETUC manifesto demands, with real commitments to fighting the recession with a stronger European recovery plan, a review the Posting of orkers Directive, a European framework for cross-border collective bargaining and collective agreements, strengthened workers’ rights to information and consultation, a European pact on wages, a European framework for public services and regulation to cover all financial players. Trade unions should have a real say in decision-making in future.

So I urge you all to get the vote out on 4th – 7th June. This election finds Europe at a crossroads, faced with two very different political visions. I look forward to working together in close cooperation to make sure that working people across the EU get the new direction for Europe that they deserve.

Kind regards,

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

President
Party of European Socialists

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

Enough’s enough

The launch of my blog finds me facing an all-too familiar prospect; the failure of the European Commission to respond to the economic crisis.

You may already know the story, but here it is if you don’t: in September last year the European Parliament passed my report calling for new regulation for all financial players, including private equity and hedge funds. We have to get financial markets under control if we are to prevent future financial crises. Don’t get me wrong, financial markets have an important role to play in the economy. But they have to serve the needs of real people and businesses. And private equity and hedge funds have a tendency to do the opposite if left to their own devices: their only goal is short-term profits. They are too often a menace to healthy companies and to workers rights, they threaten financial stability and pay very little tax. In fact one fund manager admitted he paid less tax than his cleaning lady! Take the case of the British ‘Automobile Association, which was bought by private equity in 2004. It was providing an expanding service and employed 10,000 workers. Since the takeover some 6,000 were laid off and both prices and waiting times for customers have increased. The executives themselves pocketed millions in bonuses.

That’s why we need these new controls. And that’s why we need the European Commission to come forward with the regulation demanded by the Parliament.

But in the Commission, President Barroso and Commissioner McCreevy, whose job it is to implement the rules requested, have delayed their response again and again. They have promised action but they are not delivering. Whilst Mr Barroso was writing to me assuring me that he had a ‘firm commitment’ to appropriate regulation, Mr McCreevy was off telling ‘venture capital’ groups that he believed in self-regulation for the industry. Well last week I finally saw their proposal. When I read it I was dismayed. It has more holes than a Swiss cheese. It completely fails to outline any sort of effective or binding regulation and as such completely contradicts the Parliament report and the agreement made by the G20 leaders in London earlier this month.

The Commission’s attitude to financial regulation is a scandal and I am tired of it: once the Parliament has approved a report, it should not take petitions and letters to get the Commission to respond. It shows a lack of respect for the MEPs and the citizens they represent. That’s why I have joined with my colleagues Martin Schulz and Pervenche Berès to write to Mr Barroso and express our displeasure. You can read the letter, which points out the flaws in the proposal, here. We want answers, and they better be good. I’ll let you know when we have a reply.

The problem is that the European Commission does not know how to respond to the crisis, and is not doing enough. At the G20, conservative European leaders refused to support Gordon Brown and Barack Obama’s proposal for increased global investment in new jobs and growth. They say they want new financial market regulation, they even promise it, but Commission President Barroso and Commissioner MCCreevy are not delivering. But you can be sure of one thing: the PES is watching and demanding and pushing for an effective European response to the crisis.

I will post again later this week – the election is getting nearer and nearer and with the PES campaign launch in Toulouse on Friday, there’s plenty to talk about.

Posted by Poul Nyrup Rasmussen