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Nordic countries positive to EU social pillar – but want to set wages themselves

| Text: Kerstin Ahlberg, editor EU & Arbetsrätt

We urge that the proposed European Pillar of Social Rights takes into account the special features of our labour markets and respects the role played by the social partners in the Nordic Region. That is what the Nordic countries’ labour ministers write in a joint declaration to the European Commission.

Last spring the Commission invited governments, interest groups and ordinary citizens to contribute to a draft for something which it called a European Pillar of Social Rights. With “pillar”, the Commission meant something like a joint European strategy or programme where member states should commit to putting social issues on the agenda again, after years of cuts and economic crisis. 

Supported by this, the EU should be able to work towards ironing out differences between member states’ employment and social policies; everything from labour legislation and  employment conditions, to education, social insurance and housing. It would be obligatory for Euro members to take part, but other member states would also be allowed to join.

The Nordic labour ministers write in a joint statement addressed to the Commission that a pillar of social rights is relevant for all EU and EEA countries. Good working conditions are fundamental for citizens and necessary in both EU and EEA countries also in order to create a level playing field for enterprises. 

The Commission’s first draft includes a range of proposed principles aimed at guiding the member states’ social reforms. But the draft says nothing about how you go about making the members do what they are expected to do. The Nordic labour ministers argue that this in any case cannot be allowed to change the division of competences between the EU and member states. 

In other words: The EU must not take over more legislative power from member states. Instead, the ministers say, the “pillar” should represent a joint vision and principles for a more prosperous EU, which can be achieved by using tools and processes which already exist. 

What they mean is procedures which work through political pressure, and not through binding regulations, like for instance joint guidelines for employment policies which the EU countries’ governments regularly adopt and which each country is then expected to follow.

The labour ministers also highlight the Nordic experience that it is possible to combine social progress with growth and job creation. Growth and social progress are mutually reinforcing, and the social pillar should reflect the Nordic success factors in this respect. They underline that different countries have different starting points and different strengths and challenges, and that a pillar of social rights must take these differences into account.

The labour ministers make a clear stand on one issue. In a paragraph on salaries, the Commission’s draft mentions minimum wages and their levels. It says wages should evolve in line with productivity developments, “in consultation” with the social partners. This is where the labour ministers put the foot down. The pillar must respect the important role which the social partners play in the Nordic region. Their autonomy and right to bargain collectively on wages and other terms of employment must be upheld. 

The social partners’ key role and large responsibility have contributed greatly to ’ the positive employment and social outcomes of  our countries, underline the labour ministers. 

After taking the answers from the public consultation into consideration, the Commission will present a more concrete proposal for a European Pillar of Social Rights in 2017.


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