Magazine article European Social Policy
On 18 October, a 24-hour nationwide general strike hit Greece following a trade union call - the fourth this year - to protest against austerity imposed by the country's European creditors. Meanwhile, austerity' was the word of the day for the European social partners, who met in Brussels, ahead of the summit of the 27 heads of state and government of the EU.
"These strikes are the expression of an increasingly deep unrest - European citizens and workers are disappointed, disenchanted, the confidence is lost," said Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, president of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), which called for a "day of action" (strikes, demonstrations, rallies) at EU level, on 14 November. In a Union with 25 million unemployed and very modest growth prospects (1.3% in 2013, compared with 0% in 2012 and a recession for the eurozone), the EU will have to seriously discuss growth - beyond Germany's calls for stricter controlling of national budgets.
At any rate, this is what Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso wants. In June, nudged by the newly-elected French President, Francois Hollande, the 27 agreed on a pact for growth and employment', which could mobilise up to 120 billion. Practically no decision approved in June was followed by concrete fact, Fernandez Toxo complained. "Yes, growth needs to be promoted, we need 2.5% per year, if only to ensure the sustainability of growth, but all the while continuing structural reforms," said Philippe De Buck, director-general of BusinessEurope, the European employers' federation.
Going against ETUC's grain, De Buck noted an improvement of the health of the industrial sector in some countries, such as Ireland (+4% for exports in 2011), thanks to the cleaning up of public finances. Dublin has slashed both public and private salaries. De Buck also said it was critical to continue the structural reforms on the labour market ("competitive labour costs," contracts adapted to the cycles of production, investments in research, education and training linked to enterprise needs), as well as the reduction of public spending. Though he conceded that there was a very weak regain of growth in 2011, Fernandez Toxo stressed that now, "in 2012, we are once again in recession with the loss of eight million jobs in just a year".
He stressed that "austerity policy that only relies on budget adjustments is suicide," especially because "some citizens suffer more than other," while others are making the most of the situation. …