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19 November 2013

Getting Europe back to work

As the employment situation worsens in a growing number of European states, support for austerity programmes is dwindling. But how else might Europe be lifted out of the economic and social crisis it has been mired in for six years? This is what the ETUI asked a panel of representatives from the trade unions, international organizations, business and the press at a conference in Brussels on 6 November entitled "Getting Europe back to Work: Alternatives to Austerity".

Bernadette Ségol put forward a stimulus and investment plan for Europe. "But it cannot work with austerity measures in place, so the current measures must be scrapped now," cautioned the General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). The union has developed "A new path for Europe" focused on sustainable growth, regenerating Europe’s industrial base and creating quality jobs.

Germany’s DGB trade union confederation has also developed an investment plan for Europe calling for large-scale investment in education and training, green building, infrastructure and the modernization of industry. Mehrdad Payandeh was upbeat about the likely political reception of this initiative given the broad coalition being forged between the CDU and the SPD. "I can tell you from sources close to Mrs Merkel that I know her to be well aware of the threat of rising populism", said the DGB representative.

What, then, of that threat and the rise of Euroscepticism elsewhere in Europe ... Guillaume Duval, editor of the French magazine Alternatives economiques, argued that "while Germany and Italy seem to be unaffected because of their history, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that France could see a rise to power of the extreme right in the not too distant future".

The journalist argued that the odd green shoot of recovery will not be enough to restore the French people’s confidence in their leaders. Guillaume Duval, who has also written a book dissecting the "German miracle", believes that a recovery in domestic demand in Germany could be good for Europe as a whole. "But that would mean breaking with the legacy of the Schröder years," he said, singling out the system of midi and mini-jobs that has left the purchasing power of a section of the population in tatters.

Representing UEAPME, the European organization that speaks for SMEs, Gerhard Huemer also called for more solidarity. "We cannot get through this without solidarity between rich and poor" he said, going on to condemn the "inflexible employment contracts" which he argued are a block on investment in the local economy.

Earlier, Cinzia Alcidi, Head of Economic Policy Unit at the Centre for European Policy Studies think tank, had been the day’s only speaker to robustly defend the continuation of "adjustment policies”. "We could not continue basing growth on debt”, she argued.

Maria Helena André did not question the need for programmes to reduce public debt, but thought the problem lay with how to go about it. "The social fabric has been badly affected; do austerity policies have to be pursued at this cost?" queried the Director of ACTRAV, the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Bureau of Workers’ Action.

The day conference was also an opportunity to present the results of research done by ETUI and academic researchers on the impact of austerity measures on the job market and collective bargaining systems: more

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Video story Getting Europe back to work conference 6 Nov 2013
Full closing session conference Getting Europe back to work - 6 Nov 2013
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