On 14 September 2022, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (UvdL) delivered her State of the Union (SOTEU) speech. UNI Europa provides some initial analysis.
Ursula von der Leyen’s SOTEU speech centered around the rising energy prices, dependency on China and Russia and the accelerating climate change. UvdL called for sovereignty in terms of energy – referring specficially to wind power and sustainable energy – as well as for raw materials.
UNI Europa did not find great ambitions for change for the services workers of Europe. However, certain elements stood out. In particular, there were four points of interest:
Democracy, Solidarity, the Future of Europe and a New Treaty
Ursula von der Leyen appears to have taken notice of both French President Macron as well as German Chancellor Scholz visions for a changed Europe. She calls on solidarity between countries when the EU is struck by a joint crisis. She encourages everyone to not take democracy for granted. She opens up the discussion on a new treaty by saying “I believe the moment has arrived for a European Convention”.
Furthermore, UvdL also announced that the citizens who have used the opportunity in the Future of Europe forum have been heard and that their voices have been taken into account and summarized in a Letter of Intent that has been sent to President Metsola of the European Parliament and Prime Minister Fiala of Czech Republic (holding the current EU Presidency). The letter of intent can be found here.
UNI Europa believes that the reopening of the Treaty will be important, as it will be a grand opportunity to emphasize the social vision for Europe. For the UNI Europa it is crucial that the next EU Treaty includes the Social Progress Protocol.
Ursula von der Leyen mentions workers in the part of the speech on enabling a good business environment and the continued need for digital and green transition: “We need an enabling business environment, a workforce with the right skills and access to raw materials our industry needs.” President UvdL importantly praised the social market economy explaining that it encourages everyone to excel, but it also takes care of human vulnerabilities: “As we embark on this [digital and green] transition in our economy, we must rely on the enduring values of our social market economy. It’s the simple idea that Europe’s greatest strength lies in each and every one of us.” In this regard, she raised the need for a workforce with the right skills, and investing more in further education and higher educations. And importantly she underlined that “we need to bring these needs more in line with the goals and wishes that job seekers themselves have for their careers.” Furthermore, UvdL also underlined the need for simplifying access and recognition of qualified staff from abroad. UvdL announced that the year 2023 will be the EU’s Year of Education and Training.
UNI Europa notes that none of the mentions concerning workers or skills come with additional commitments by the Commission.
UNI Europa agrees that skills a major necessity to tackle the challenges to huge staff turnover, see among others our research and recommendations to retain in the staff turnover in the care and cleaning sectors.
Abuse of public money
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (UvdL) denounced shady companies abusing public money to further their own antidemocratic interests. In response, the European Commission will publish the Defence of Democracy package. Further to this, UvdL claimed: “we will also protect our budget through the conditionality mechanism”. She said that if we want to be credible towards new EU members, we must also eradicate corruption at home. In 2023 the European Commission will update the Legislative Framework for Corruption which will set standards on offences such as illicit enrichment, trafficking in influence and abuse of power, beyond the more classic offences such as bribery.
The mention of conditionality in the use of public money is key and is an opportunity for UNI Europa and our affiliates to remind of the need for social conditionality in public procurement and not least the slogan of the UNI Europa public procurement campaign: “no public contracts without collective agreement”. This is not least important considering that democracy and collective bargaining is two sides of the same coin.
UvdL announced changes to the European Economic Governance (which would concern the European Semester – the EU annual reform review programme and debt management tool). In October, the European Commission will come forward with new ideas for economic governance. The reason behind the change to European Economic Governance is, according to UvdL, that the EU member states need to invest sustainably. She introduced what changes are to come: “Member States should have more flexibility on their debt reduction paths. But there should be more accountability on the delivery of what we have agreed on [i.e. reforms].”
The European services workers unions must beware of what this could mean for the European Semester’s influence towards their national reform plans. While country specific recommendations may suggest carrot over a stick, the governments are themselves ‘flexible to choose their path’. Furthermore, the stress put on the accountability on the member states could also mean that reform suggestions on debt reduction, e.g. in the form of austerity measures, would be pushed harder and less easy to ignore for national governments.
Read the text of the speech here.