Interview with John Monks, General Secretary of Etuc : Working Time Directive: No Progress without a Quid Pro Quo

European Social Policy, December 7, 2009 | Go to article overview

Interview with John Monks, General Secretary of Etuc : Working Time Directive: No Progress without a Quid Pro Quo


John Monks, who has been the chair of the ETUC, the European Trade Union Confederation, since 2003, is of the opinion that the EU should make greater efforts to protect young people from unemployment. He believes in a free market, but thinks that in hard economic times, it is okay to protect jobs. He also thinks that new talks on a review of the Working Time Directive might prove to be very difficult if no quid pro quo is granted.

How would you rate the EU's response to the crisis?

The EU's response on the banks was fine. The European Central Bank has also played a good game but the missing element is Europe-wide action on unemployment, which keeps rising. This trend will almost certainly continue throughout next year and probably even beyond. In particular, youth unemployment will be a problem. For now, the countries are dealing with this individually and I think they don't really want a Europe-wide response. The countries that are quite well run don't want to pay for the others. Germany, the Netherlands or the Nordic countries are very reluctant to pay for any action in countries with more debt and a less promising economy.

Could you illustrate this with an example?

The Commission has proposed to relax the rules of the European Structural Funds and tried to get away from the idea that a member state has to provide for matching funding to EU money. That has been blocked by the Council of Ministers, with Germany playing a prominent role, but also by some of the other main net contributor states. The EU should in particular undertake some action aimed at young people. We are working on a proposal for youth guarantees' concerning work and educational training schemes. This project could get some financial support from EU funds to support countries that probably cannot afford it. I am thinking in particular of the Central and Eastern European countries.

Should jobs be protected in times of crisis?

Let's be clear, jobs are being protected at the moment. The short-term working schemes in Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Belgium and Austria, they are all about protecting jobs and keeping people in work, who would otherwise become unemployed. Although I am from a fairly free market background - Ia come from the UK - I think free market principles should never be adhered to religiously. At the same time, I think there are times when certain companies that are essential to a particular community and need help to restructure should not be thrown into bankruptcy if they go wrong. …

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