Is the Social Dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union an Alternative to the Neoliberal Austerity Policy?
The result of the European Commission’s Communication published after the meeting of the Ministers of Labour and Social Affairs on October 15th is a neoliberal policy presented as a package for social stability, in which the focus is on the neoliberal structural reforms.
The expectations have been high since last year when this document was promised, being considered a set of measures to counter the economic crisis in the European space.
Commissioner Laszlo Andor, responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, presented the Commission’s Communication, but the only one concrete proposal refers to the creation of a social scoreboard which consists of five indicators that will measure the social imbalances in the euro area (the indicators are: the overall unemployment rate and its evolution, the youth unemployment rate and the number of youth who are not enrolled in education, employment or training courses (NEET rate), households’ real gross disposable income, the percentage of working-age population exposed to the risk of poverty, income inequality, measured by comparing the richest 20% of the population with the poorest 20%).
The unemployment rate has registered record values (over 12%) and is in constant growth. It also should not be forgotten that the depression has created a gap between the powerful states from the euro zone (see Germany) and the periphery of the same area. Poverty and social exclusion have been increasing since 2009, especially in the southern and eastern states. We experience all these, and one more monitoring tool can only confirm our perceptions and our everyday living. That is what we now fervently need.
The scoreboard that highlights the social imbalances is a sight for sore eyes, but a purely analytical tool does not mean a different policy, still less a social inclusive policy. And this remains an analytical tool since there haven’t been stated any penalties and measures against deviations from an acceptable minimum level. Nor could sanctions be introduced as long as they are not accompanied by solutions for improving these indicators.
In fact it was expected that this Communication would represent the general framework for a different policy, something which did not happen. The Cohesion Policy and the European Social Fund deserve greater attention. In general, the EU’s social agenda must be deepened and included in the economic governance paradigm shift.
The scoreboard will act as a barometer and will not cause the appearance of concrete actions, the social tissue of society will continue to be affected, which will inevitably lead to the erosion of the citizens’ support for the European project.
The European Commission keeps its impassibility when facing the social crisis, a deep structural crisis, one that has the most striking effects. Basically, it keeps its current trend of announcing structural reforms, as many structural reforms as possible. However it would be dangerous if the already experienced austerity measures were maintained or resumed, such as reducing the workers’ rights, pay cuts, undermining collective agreements, largely eliminating the protection against dismissal. They are at the basis of the wave of protests in most European countries and they have contributed to the deepening of the present social crisis.
The document reveals that on the basis of other structural “recommended” reforms, the Commission will condition the financial support – through a separate budget – by the means of the new instrument called “Convergence and Competitiveness Instrument”, or in other words a new scarecrow of the Mechanism for Cooperation and Verification type. A new monitoring will end up with prizes…
A more equitable and united Europe is once again imbalanced by this EC Communication, having a paradoxical name – “The Social Dimension of Economic and Monetary Union”. From the initiatives of the European unemployment insurance and budget to support the euro zone states subject to asymmetric shock it has come to the initiative of creating a budget that will reward states who similarly to a good student will implement neoliberal structural reforms under the umbrella of great austerity.
The excuse invoked in the almost 20 page document by the Commission for the criticism of not having achieved more of the social agenda is national sovereignty and competences (employment policies are entirely under the jurisdiction of the Member States) that the European Union cannot override. Therefore, it can only create an environment fit for “dialogue and debate” and the most concrete thing is a “monitoring” action that draws attention to the problems in the EU. In contrast, the same state sovereignty is no longer relevant when it comes to structural reforms and a budget specifically designed for them. We have in this case a double standard of judgment and action.
In conclusion, the social dimension of EMU will have a purely analytical value, it will be “prone to dialogue” and, in part, it will be present in the European populist rhetoric without any impact on citizens. Another “stillborn” project, another stage failure, one that produces a crack in the European Union’s pedestal.
The lines of the social agenda will be discussed and agreed at the end of this year, during the Summit in December, but I envisage this step will be given an increasingly low importance.
The following question is fully justified: is it lack of competence, is it lack of knowledge, of perception of reality – the European policy makers do not even feel the approaching wave that increases almost exponentially –may it simply be ill will or just indifference? Or a little of each?
In fact, the serious and frustrating thing is that this poisonous cocktail described above affects the lives of millions of people and destroys an idea and a concept that should go further: the European construction.