Mr President, Dear Rudy,
Mr Secretary-General, Dear friend Luca,
My dear friend and brother Georges,
It is a real pleasure for me to be here today. As you know I feel at home when talking to trade unions, because trade unions are reflecting a part of my family history, because my father who was a steel worker, used to be a very active and pro-active trade union – not leader, but more than a member. And so I am feeling at ease when talking to trade unionists and mainly to your organisation. I am following what you are doing for 30 years now, since 1982 – and so I am happy to be here.
I will not deliver a fully-fledged speech, because this would be a waste of time – I am here to listen to what your concerns are, to the way you are expressing these concerns, but I would like to make some introductory remarks along the lines of Luca.
I am trying, since the very beginning of the mandate of this Commission, to put the social concern at the heart of the European undertakings; that is not easy as we know, but I always fought, since 1985 when the Internal Market Strategy was developed by my good friend Jacques Delors, that the social dimension has to be taken into consideration in a very serious and in a more serious way than until now.
All the proposals I am making, the Commission is making, my Commission is making, are dedicated to that issue. Because I do think that if we, as the European Union, are losing the support of the workers, of the working class, dependant on your basic understanding of how European societies should function, then we are lost. And that is the reason why I am according such a huge importance to the social dimension of the European Union and of the Economic and Monetary Union.
One of the first steps I have taken, after having talked to Luca and his colleagues, was to launch the European Investment Plan. We are lacking investments in the European Union. Until now we have a level of investments of minus 15% in comparison to the pre-crisis year 2007. And we tried via this Investment Plan to give an answer – a partial answer, a European answer – to this, which is not taking importance away from national efforts which have to be undertaken in that respect. Because public investment, investment in the broader sense of the word, is a national duty before being a European duty, but we are trying to add our European efforts to the national efforts, which are still underdeveloped, I have to say, mainly in larger countries of the European Union.
We have taken some public money in our hands – not a huge amount, but nevertheless an amount which was difficult to be organised, because we had to take money away from other priorities of the European Union, and this Investment Plan is due to deliver EUR 315 billion in three years. Now we have reached EUR 138 billion, which is 40% of the initial amount which we were heading at. We have 134 great infrastructure projects, which have been authorised, and 300 000 small- and medium-sized enterprises still now are benefitting from this European Investment Plan. This European Investment Plan was called the Juncker Plan when it started, because people thought that this would be a total failure, and so they wanted to identify the one who would be responsible for that. Now, as it works, it is called the European Fund for Strategic Investments, but it is exactly the same. We have proposed to both the Council and Parliament to double the amount and the duration of the Plan, bringing us to an amount of EUR 500 billion from now to 2020 and to EUR 630 billion until 2022. I know that there is in parts of the public opinion in Europe, and mainly in the trade union public opinion, some disarray with the way this Plan is implemented, because it is concerning until now 27 out of 28 Member States. And those Member States being in a deeper crisis than others are not the first benefiters from that programme, I am meaning by that Greece and other countries. Also Greece now has launched some programmes which have been authorised. I have to recall here that we did not fix geographical priorities to this Investment Plan; and not sectorial priorities to this Investment Plan. Because I wanted to take away from the normal old-fashioned decision-making process of the Commission the identification of the projects. If the Commission, Commissioners and Director-Generals would have been in charge of this, this would have been a very bureaucratic exercise. I wanted to have the European Investment Bank, which is close to the real economy, in charge of identifying the projects. They are judged on their own merits and not on geographical or sectorial origins. The better the projects are, the most probable will be the authorisation of these projects; and I do not want to withdraw from that basic concept. Although knowing that more has to be done as far as the support for human resources-oriented investment projects is concerned for having a better focus on those regions in Europe who are less well developed than others.
This will be part of the next steps we will have to take in this respect. We launched a programme called "The Social Pillar of Europe", which is quite something new. The public consultation is underway. I am grateful to Luca and to your service for having taken a huge part in having some progress being made in the general framework of this Social Pillar. There will be parts which will be legally binding, and there will be other parts which will take the form of public recommendations, of benchmarks and things like that. I am not a great fan of benchmarks by the way, because that is what we tried during the 1990s and the results produced so far are not the best ones, because this is another way of having bureaucratic comparisons between national situations here and there and not keeping the needed impetus to take concrete actions. So what we are trying now - mainly Commissioner Thyssen – is to have as much concrete legislative proposals as possible, and for the rest to have recommendations which have to be taken seriously on board by Member States, by the Parliament, by the Council and so forth.
We are planning a total revision of all the directives and guidelines dedicated to health and safety at work. These are directives, pieces of legislation going back to the mid-1980s when the Internal Market was increasingly put into place. This has to be reviewed because forms of production, realities in our companies, in our industrial locations have changed a lot since then and we have to revisit these provisions as deeply as possible.
We have launched – although this was not a very welcomed initiative by the College of Commissioners – the revision of the Posted Workers Directive, as I promised during the election campaign leading to the elections of the European Parliament together with my friend Martin Schulz and with nobody else. We have launched these proposals; the debate in the Commission was highly controversial. It was once again a matter of division between East and West, but I do think that we have to be serious about that. I announced in the European Parliament when asking for the approval of the European Parliament as President of the Commission that I want to have one principle to be respected all over the place and that is: the same wage for the same work at the same place. And this is not a working romantism. This is, I do think, a real necessity for the general atmosphere in our European Union that workers do not feel left behind, but that they are considered in equal ways as other societal forces are.
We are very much in favour of international trade agreements. This sometimes could create divergences of views and differences of sentiments between the trade unions and the Commission, but I am not a naïve free-trader. I am not in favour of free trade because it is nice and modern and pleasant to the views of someone to be in favour of free trade. But free trade is producing results. If you have EUR 1 billion more on the side of external trade you have 14 000 jobs more. Until now, we have created 200 000 jobs because of the trade agreement with South Korea. The results of the Canadian Free Trade Agreement will be exactly the same. Even if you lost jobs, the net result will always be a plus of 200,000 jobs. We are not giving up our basic principles. I am not in favour of dealing with other parts of the world in a way that we would lower our social standards, our environmental standards. I am not agreeing to free trade agreements which would prevent social partners from playing their role. I am not in favour of free trade agreements which would harm our way of concluding collective agreements. This is of the essence of what we call the social market economy in Europe. There is no social market economy if there is not a way of ensuring trade unions to play their role they used to play. Collective bargaining is of the essence when it comes to social market economy. When talking about free trade agreements I have to say that I am very eager to show that we are not naïve. We have to defend mainly the European industry. We are discussing next Wednesday – I think – at the College what some people call the market economy status for China. If China was a market economy – it is a long time ago that we would know it. China is not a market economy, but we are obliged by international standards to give the needed consequences to Article 15 of the WTO basic agreement. So China will receive its status in our anti-dumping investigations according to the Commission, but there we do not have the right to be naïve.
I am taking the example of the steel industry. We have to have the same trade defence instruments at least as those the United States are applying day after day. There are steal products – "Flachprodukte" – des "produits plats" -, there the US are imposing lesser duty rules of 250%, whereas the European Union is imposing duties of 20%. We are facing a serious over-production capacity in China. The overcapacity of the Chinese steel industry is exactly the double of the total steel production in Europe. So we cannot stay without any reaction, and I am strongly advocating the same trade defence instruments for Europe as other parts of the world, mainly the US, have at their disposal.
It is true to say that as far as the Foreign Trade Ministers are concerned, at that level, there is a division between the Member States which support the Commission proposals and those which reject them. [microphone issues] Among the governments which agree with the Commission – the wise ones – whereas there are others which reject the wisdom of the Commission's approach and they say: we are a continent which is open to the world, we are free traders and we cannot impose sanctions in respect of the products that are threatening us. Whereas it is not the governments that are under threat, it is the steel workers and alike who are under threat. So on Friday when the next meeting of Foreign Trade Ministers is due to take place, I am hoping that we will have a qualified majority in favour of the Commission's proposals. For once European industry's expectations and the expectations of the trade unions, are absolutely identical. It is like a two-piece and it is important that we avail ourselves of that state of affairs in order to do what we need to do. And I take this point very seriously indeed, I really mean business. Because for an hour and a half I talked at the last European Council about these issues. And regardless of partisan preferences on all sides, opinions are clearly divided. But I am really stressing the need for the Commission's positon to be taken on board by Member States' governments.
I would like to say something about the Youth Guarantee and the Youth Employment Initiative. I have noted that Luca and others have criticised the Commission for failing to provide that instrument with the necessary financing. Obviously you are not very enthusiastic about this, but we have provided an additional EUR 2 billion. And I could well imagine that more money could be made available to cover this important issue; after all our aim is to promote youth employment. But it has to be said on the list that Member States have not utilised the funding made available to them to the fullest extent as yet. After all, this mechanism is only open to Member States whose youth unemployment is more than 25%. It is not open to all Member States. I do not have any cut-and-dried views on the matter. If the necessary degree of ambition can be found, then the funding could be increased. But it will all depend on the other branch of the budgetary authority. Apart from the Parliament, we also have the Council after all, which will need to provide the Commission with the amounts deemed necessary. And I know that there are a number of initiatives being taken by a number of Ministers of Employment and a number of Members of Parliament, urging the Commission to do more. It is not the Commission which is blocking this; it is the other branch of the budgetary authority, which has blocked things so far. And as you will see, if there is a programme and if there is the sufficient degree of ambition, it will not be the Commission who will be putting a spanner in the works, blocking those who are wishing to go further. But we will need to look in detail at the results obtained so far and of course that same point applies in respect of the Erasmus + programme and Erasmus more generally. But you have to realise that our intention was to include in the Erasmus programme, as we will include in it, apprenticeships. We have to keep in mind that Erasmus is not only open to students in the academic sense of the term, but it is important that apprentices can move around freely within Europe by the same token. So we intend to provide funding for those as well, particularly those who are older. Because it is very important that people can be channelled towards the types of training and apprenticeships that can help to get people out of unemployment and into work.
Now the Investment Plan whose amount is to be doubled, and it is to cover a period twice of what was originally planned. This Plan needs an external strand to it. We are grappling with the migration problem, a crucial one, and it is very important that we home-in on the cost of that as well. We need to look at the reasons why a great many people from Africa in particular wish to leave their continent in order to come to Europe. And so rather than cutting development aid, we have to realise that as things stand today development aid is at its lowest since 2003 and that is scandalous. Almost all European countries with a few exceptions – the UK, Luxembourg, and those are the only ones – they have been cutting back on their development aid. And so Europeans will need to invest on the spot in order to generate jobs. They need to invest on the ground and in order to fuel economic growth in Africa, which has oceans ahead of it – not in geographical, but in terms of experience. We have a EUR 44 billion programme in the Commission aimed at investments on the ground, applying the same operational rules as those which apply within Europe internally to generate mobilisation of private capital and public money. And if Member States were to join the efforts that the Commission is making, then that would give us EUR 88 billion by way of volume of investment in Africa and the upshot of that – I am hoping – will in the medium-term be that we will help stabilise and keep people where they are, whereas they may otherwise plan to come to Europe. Apart from that in terms of migration, in May of 2015, the Commission put forward all the relevant proposals and the Council of Ministers adopted those measures. But some Member States do not apply them and they hold the Council, not the Commission, up before the European Court, and we will have to see what decision that Court takes.
La meilleure façon de répondre à la crise migratoire en Europe est de partager solidairement le fardeau entre les uns et les autres puisque on ne peut pas laisser seuls nos amis grecs et nos amis italiens pour régler les conséquences des vagues migratoires qui atteignent les rives européennes. A ce propos, il faut dire une chose qui ne plait à personne. Il y a des gouvernements qui sont d'accord pour relocaliser mais il y a très peu de réfugiés qui sont d'accords pour être relocalisés. Moi, je ne crois pas que cela fasse beaucoup de sens de critiquer les réfugiés mais ici, je dois les critiquer tout de même. Il n'est pas acceptable que ceux des réfugiés qui sont en Grèce et ceux des réfugiés qui sont en Italie refusent de prendre l'avion pour des destinations autres que l'Allemagne. Nous avons fait une expérience curieuse. Le Luxembourg, pays que je connais le mieux, était d'accord pour accepter sur son territoire au tout début de la crise une cinquantaine de réfugiés étant en Grèce et le gouvernement luxembourgeois n'a trouvé personne parce que les réfugiés ont dit "On ne veut pas aller au Luxembourg, on veut aller en Allemagne". C'est scandaleux. Finalement, on en a trouvé 53, après leur avoir expliqué que le Luxembourg était tout près de l'Allemagne donc ils ont pensé que c'était la bonne adresse, d'ailleurs ils ne sont plus tous là. Je veux dire par là, si les opinions publiques, le jour venu, s'apercevront du fait que c'est les réfugiés qui eux-mêmes veulent décider vers où ils doivent et peuvent être relocalisés, l'ambiance qui veut que nous recevions, et moi je le veux, sur notre territoire dans de bonnes conditions les réfugiés, va être corrigée vers le bas. Donc il faut avoir à l'égard des réfugiés également un discours de responsabilité. Les relocations fonctionnent mal mais je vois tout de même et en Grèce et en Italie comme le début d'un commencement de relocalisation qui me rend plutôt optimiste.
Pour ce qui est de la zone euro, je dirais, et je terminerais par-là, que je voudrais que vous ne chassez pas du radar qui doit être le vôtre le fait que la Commission que je préside a introduit dans l'interprétation du Pacte de stabilité des éléments de flexibilité qui ont bénéficié à un certain nombre d'Etat membres. Je prendrais l'exemple de l'Italie, puisque l'Italie ne cesse d'attaquer la Commission à tort et cela ne produit pas les résultats escomptés. L'Italie aujourd'hui en 2016 peut dépenser 19 milliards d'euros de plus qu'elle n'aurait pu le dépenser si je n'avais pas réformé le Pacte de stabilité dans le sens de flexibilité indiqué. Je suis d'avis notamment pour ce qui est de l'Italie, qu'il faudra que la sagesse voudrait que nous prenions en compte le coût des tremblements de terre et le coût des réfugiés, tout comme cela est vrai également, bien que là il n'y ait pas eu de tremblement de terre pour la Grèce en ce qui concerne les réfugiés. Mais le coût additionné des politiques dédiées à la migration et aux tremblements de terre en Italie, nous sommes en train d'en discuter avec les autorités italiennes. L'Italie nous avait promis d'arriver à un déficit de 1,8%* en 2017 et elle nous propose maintenant un déficit de 2,3%* en raison des tremblements de terre et des réfugiés. Nous sommes en relations étroites avec le gouvernement italien tout comme avec les autres gouvernements pour veiller au grain. Il ne faut plus dire, enfin si on veut le dire, on peut le dire, mais je m'en fous en fait, on ne peut plus dire que les politiques d'austérité auraient été continuées sous cette Commission comme elles le furent mises en place auparavant.
Also alles in allem: die Kommission ist besser als ihr Ruf – mettez vos écouteurs parce que c'est important – weil wir uns Mühe geben, die makro- und mikroökonomische Lage der Dinge in den einzelnen Mitgliedstaaten genauestens zu prüfen. Dies ist wahr für Griechenland. Ich habe mir während der ersten Jahreshälfte des Jahres 2015 alle Mühe der Welt gegeben, damit Griechenland Mitglied der Eurozone bleibt. Das war keine vergnügungssteuerpflichtige Betätigung, die ich damals mir auferlegt habe, weil auch viele – vornehmlich in den deutschsprachigen Ländern – gedacht haben, die Kommission soll sich um ihre eigenen Angelegenheiten kümmern und nicht so sehr um griechische Angelegenheiten. Ich bin aber der Meinung, dass das griechische Volk – gleiches gilt für Portugal und Irland, teilweise auch für Spanien – erhebliche Anstrengungen gemacht hat, die spürbar waren auf der Ebene der einzelnen Arbeitnehmer, die es uns zur Pflicht machen, vornehmlich Griechenland, in der Eurozone zu behalten und uns den anderen sogenannten Krisenstaaten gegenüber so verständnisvoll wie möglich zu verhalten. Diese Politik der Kommission steht unter starker Beobachtung anderer, sogenannter orthodoxer Mitgliedstaaten, die es aber sehr oft unterlassen, sich mit der genauen Lebenslage vieler Menschen in Griechenland und Portugal und elsewhere zu beschäftigen. Die Zahl der von Armut bedrohten Menschen in einigen Südstaaten der Europäischen Union, vornehmlich in Griechenland, nimmt zu. Es kann nicht Sache der Europäischen Union sein, auf die zu treten, die schon am Boden liegen. Aber es muss auch Sache der dortigen Regierungen sein, sich an die Versprechungen und an die Commitments zu halten, die sie auf europäischer Ebene eingegangen sind. Ich bleibe dabei, es braucht ein tugendhaftes Dreieck zwischen Konsolidierung der öffentlichen Finanzen – dazu gibt es keine andere Option –, Strukturreformen – die nicht nur die Arbeitnehmerschaft betreffen dürfen, sondern auch Strukturelemente der landschaftlichen Verfasstheit in den einzelnen Mitgliedsstaaten betreffend –, und europäischen Investitionen – die nach wie vor der Garant dafür sind, dass morgen auch Beschäftigung dort entsteht, wo heute ungenügend investiert wird. Die Staaten, die über größere Haushaltsmargen verfügen aus diversen Gründen, müssen auch mehr für den internen Konsum tun, damit die Breitenwirkung interner Konsumanstrengungen in leistungsstarken Ländern auch sich zum Gewinn anderer wird entfalten können.
I stop here and I am ready for debate.
*A precision has been made to the figures published earlier.