From one generation to the next

Thursday 16 June 2016

by Christina Colclough, UNI Europa’s Head of EU Affairs

Yesterday, I travelled to Bruges to meet young Europeans studying at the College of Europe. I had been invited to speak about Better Regulation, an issue UNI Europa is working on intensely.

I wanted to give them the full picture, and took them back in history a little. To times before the current European Commission’s ‘Better Regulation’ fashion, and even to times before they all were born.

From Commission President Delors’ Europe of Ideas, of unification and dreams, where regulation was perceived as good, necessary and needed by most parties across the political lines, to a Europe of Growth under the Barroso Commission. Here regulation became somewhat criticised. Suddenly it had to be made “Fit for Purpose” seeding the thought that regulation (or at least much of it) was something necessarily unfit or out of shape. And then on to today and where we are now. Juncker’s Europe is one of the economy. It has moved even further. Regulation is now spoken of as a burden, something unnecessary and heavy that hinders expansion, growth, richness and is, therefore, bad for Europe and Europeans.

Juncker’s Commission is a smart one, with a smart spin in their rhetoric. Their Better Regulation agenda (just the name – I mean who could possibly disagree with something being better??) hides a drastic reduction in new EU legislation, it introduces a new law-making process, and creates what some would call an attack on democracy as the balance of power between Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission has shifted – towards the Commission. Under the mantras that Europe must be ‘big on the big things, and small on the small things’ ‘think small first’ and ‘remove unnecessary burdens’, this Commission’s agenda aims to win our hearts. Who doesn’t want to protect the local, small company in this globalised, competitive world of mega multinational enterprises? This David versus Goliath metaphor is aimed at winning us all over, for catering for the small is surely in all of our interest?

But what we must ask ourselves, and what I passed on to the students at the College of Europe is this: what is a big thing, what is a small thing? What is an unnecessary burden, and what do we actually mean by a burden? Burden for whom? Industry or employees, the environment or citizens? Yesterday, I inspired the students to read and listen critically to what the Commission is saying, but just as importantly to what they are not saying. UNI Europa’s work on this unravelled very early in the Commission’s term in office that worker’s rights, decent pay and quality jobs – also for the young, the elderly, the newcomers and the rest, are not ‘big things’ in the Commission’s mind. In actual fact, almost 2 years into the Commission’s term, almost all legislative proposals have gone to great lengths to improve the conditions for industry, for the producers of goods and services. This, however, unacceptably at the detriment for workers, consumers and the environment.

Our critical, reflexive thinking at UNI Europa led us on the path to creating the Better Regulation Watchdog. We knew early on that we needed to create an alternative, a counterweight to the pro-industry concerns of the Commission. Only together with as many other trade unions and NGOs as possible, could we possibly balance things out. In a bottom up process of meetings and conversations, we went from idea to reality. Today, the Watchdog unites 66 organisations from 17 different European countries. We watch every word and every step of this Commission, and we act.

The students at the College were eager, interested, asked many questions and had many inspiring ideas. They are the future of Europe. They have the enthusiasm and ideas to bring Europe forward. For me, listening to them and engaging in their thoughts and reflections added new energy to my work. In the end of the day, the battles we all are taking today, is to make the world a better place for them, and the generations that follow them.