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28 April 2013

Benchmarking Working Europe 2013 strengthens the case against Europe’s austerity policy

against austerity

Austerity is not working; it is leading to a diverging and fragmented Europe, rising anger with political elites and disenchantment with the European integration project. This is the main message of the Benchmarking Working Europe 2013 presented during a joint conference with the Commission’s DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion on 23 April.

Two reports on the state of social Europe formed the basis of an interesting debate between ETUI’s academic researchers and EU Commission officials on “diverging Europe” and the role of the “blind” austerity measures pursued by EU leaders.

In January 2013, the Commission’s report “Employment and Social Developments in Europe (ESDE)” had already painted a gloomy picture with growing divergence leading to social polarisation, stalled progress on gender equality, increasing risks of social exclusion and poverty, record unemployment figures and major challenges to social protection schemes and wages.

The ETUI’s new “Benchmarking Working Europe 2013” which was officially launched during the joint conference, confirmed this analysis but also demonstrated with hard facts and figures that the growing fragmentation of the EU is leading to a “multi-speed” Europe with some Southern and Eastern European member states in a worrying process of “China-isation” marked by decreased wages and low social protection.

Opening the conference, Laurence Weerts of the cabinet of Commissioner Andor called the new ETUI Benchmarking “rather brutal but based on facts”. She stated that the EU’s plans for a genuine economic and monetary union “are not sustainable without social convergence”.

The first session focused on divergences and polarisation in the labour market. DG Employment’s Roger Strauss and ETUI’s Research Director Maria Jepsen both showed diverging trends between member states with some countries weathering the storm but others experiencing record unemployment levels (Greece, Ireland and Spain). Both reports also indicate divergences between social groups as regards quality and quantity of employment. Migrants, low-skilled workers and young people have been particularly hit by unemployment and precarious working conditions. ETUI researcher Margherita Bussi looked in particular at the trend in youth unemployment which could lead to a “lost generation”.

“Wage developments in the crisis” was the theme of a second session with ETUI researchers Torsten Müller and Magdalena Bernaciak presenting the findings of the Benchmarking chapter on collective bargaining and wages and DG Employment’s Eric Meyermans looking at the dual role of wages. The debate focused in particular on the fact that wages are but one aspect of the competitiveness matrix of companies and that EU austerity policies of attacking wages are therefore bound to fail.

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