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21 April 2015

Former Commissioner Andor calls for European unemployment benefit

The introduction in the eurozone of an unemployment benefit system would strengthen social cohesion in Europe and rebuild citizens’ trust in the integration project: such was the substance of an address delivered by former European Social Affairs Commissioner Laszlo Andor on 17 April during the closing session of a conference organised by the German Hans Böckler Foundation in partnership with the ETUI. The view expressed by Reiner Hoffmann, leader of the German trade unions, was that the goal of greater social justice in Europe required a broader array of measures.

According to Laszlo Andor, the social crisis that has afflicted Europe for the past five years represents a threat to EU cohesion. Unemployment has increased by 11 per cent in the European Union as a whole but in Spain and Greece it has exploded with, as a corollary, a loss of human capital in these countries now decimated by massive youth emigration. There is thus a need to equip Monetary Union with the automatic stabilisers that it lacks. The introduction into the eurozone of a system of European unemployment benefits could to some extent fulfil this need and serve as a social shock absorber against new disturbances.

The system advocated by Mr Andor is geared essentially to coping with cyclical unemployment. It is based on the granting of a basic European allowance during the first six months of unemployment with every member state – according to an information sheet distributed at the conference – free to top up the amount and to extend the benefit period as it sees fit.

The German trade unions have already in the past expressed their scepticism with regard to this idea of a European unemployment benefit system. ‘We do need to think about the impact that this could have’, said Reiner Hoffmann, general secretary of the German trade union confederation DGB, who stressed the major differences currently existing between national unemployment benefit arrangements. While defending the creation of a social Europe, the German trade union leader insisted on the need to be sure that measures envisaged in this context would genuinely lead to greater social justice. ‘The same pay for the same work in the same place’, was, he added, a valid claim.

The Portuguese socialist Euro-MP Maria João Rodrigues referred to the spectre of social dumping and its consequences for European cohesion. ‘The risk in Europe, she said, is that we will be faced with a split between one part of the continent experiencing mass unemployment and the other an intensified situation of social dumping.’

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