Agnes Jongerius (S&D, Dutch) was the European Parliament’s co-rapporteur on the directive on adequate minimum wages and is her group’s spokesperson on employment. As two major events on focusing on Social Europe take place this weekend in Berlin and Porto, she tells EUROPE what kind of message she wants to send to the leaders. (Interview by Solenn Paulic)
Agence Europe - Two important events are taking place this week - the 50th anniversary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the Porto Social Forum. What message do you want to convey on this occasion?
Agnes Jongerius - The best way to answer this question is to say that the strikes, which have taken place all over Europe, clearly show that European leaders must keep the promise of a social future for all Europeans.
Europe is more than a market and a currency. It should be about people.
All Europeans must be promised that workers will earn a decent wage, that all families will be able to afford housing, and that no child will grow up in poverty.
If we look back at the last few years, we see employers and companies that take the profits they have made. Workers get almost no pay rise. And with inflation as high as it is at the moment, people are worried.
Economists from the IMF or the ECB also say that wages have had only a limited impact on inflation over the last two years. So there is room for improvement and action is needed! That will be my message.
On Friday and Saturday, in Porto, the Portuguese government will attempt to take stock of the three main objectives set two years ago by European leaders on employment, poverty and skills (see EUROPE 12715/1). Have the Member States done their homework since May 2021?
Two years ago, I was very happy with these three main objectives, because we had taken the first step to make the social pillar adopted in 2017 in Gothenburg a reality.
At the last plenary session we adopted a resolution on this issue and we said very clearly that we need more targets (see EUROPE 13180/9). Because since the Porto summit in 2021, a war has broken out, and we have faced an energy crisis and a cost of living crisis.
It can also be said that we have not yet fully recovered from the Covid-19 crisis.
So, yes, I was happy with the overall target, but when you look at it in practice, the figures are not going in the right direction and poverty is increasing instead of decreasing. The picture for employment is also very mixed.
We therefore need, for example, a target on the creation of quality jobs and a target of 80% coverage of workers by collective bargaining, which is precisely the purpose of the directive on adequate minimum wages (adopted in June 2022).
We also need a health and safety target to achieve zero deaths in the workplace.
We still need a clear plan on how to meet our goal of eradicating homelessness by 2030.
I therefore welcome the Portuguese initiative to organise this social forum in order to keep up the pressure. They should also, in principle, announce that they will organise a social forum every two years to keep the topic in the spotlight, which is a very good idea.
According to the ETUC, following the European fiscal rules, as proposed by the European Commission, would result next year in spending cuts of €45 billion in 14 Member States, the equivalent of 2 million nursing jobs. What’s your reaction to that?
We need to put the social pillar on the same level as our fiscal rules and internal market rules.
The social pillar, if taken seriously, should serve to protect workers from the new austerity as a shield and should be considered at the same level as our fiscal rules in the rules of economic governance, with the same force.
My golden rule for public spending would be to put taxpayers’ money to work for quality jobs.
And the principle of social conditionality should be enshrined in the EU funding rules.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Commissioner for Social Affairs Nicolas Schmit went to Berlin. Mr Schmit then visited Porto. What is your assessment of the work of this Commission for Social Europe?
I will start on a positive note. There were the directives on adequate minimum wages, on wage transparency, on the protection of workers from hazardous substances, which were promises made in 2019 and which have been fulfilled.
But we were also told about a permanent unemployment insurance instrument, which is still awaited and which was only implemented in the context of Covid-19.
I also think that if we are serious about one of the three major objectives of Porto in 2021, namely lifting 15 million people out of poverty (by 2030 compared to 2019), a recommendation on minimum income is not enough. The European Parliament has not given up the fight and is still pushing for a directive.
As for quality internships, the promised consultation between the European social partners has not yet been launched either.
The Commission has also published a proposal on digital platform workers, but the big question mark here is over Germany’s position (see EUROPE 13187/23).
We therefore hope that Mrs von der Leyen has used her trip to Berlin to make new contacts who can help with this, because we do not have much time left to negotiate before the European elections (in June 2024) and we should really succeed in adopting this directive under this mandate.