Challenge for Europe

Social Europe often runs up against challenges posed by “European Standards.” Why? Because the social policies of each country are so far from similar. Paradoxically, using these social policies as a basis for erecting a strong social Europe can halt its development. In fact, the unions in those countries with better social policies (on working time, salaries, etc.) do not wish for European norms to be erected, out of fear that their government will lower the standard for these social benefits down to the European level.

The Swedish and French Examples

This is why the Scandinavian countries regularly oppose attempts towards social harmonization even though they should theoretically be the leaders. For example: the European Confederation of Unions asked for the introduction of a European standard on the minimum wage, but Swedish unions have refused to join them. They are fearful that this standard, which is not as socially beneficial as the one currently applied in Sweden, would be taken on by their own Government. In fact, minimum wages are already the topic of intense political debates, with employers demanding a reduction in the name of competitiveness in Europe. The unions fear (with or without good reason) that the introduction of a European norm will be used as one more argument in favour of “harmonizing” Swedish minimum wages down to European levels, for example, by permitting Swedish businesses to pay non-Swedish workers at the new European level.

To avoid such roadblocks, we propose that the European union follow the principal of non-regression to its logical end here. The directive on working time in discussion at the European Parliament anticipates the possibility of making salaried workers work up to 60 hours per week. French legal documents set the limit at 48 hours. If the European law is adopted in France then nothing would stop it from immediately changing its own standard by arguing that competing foreign businesses will benefit from this greater flexibility. With the application of the principle of non-regression, France would not be able to use this law to remove the rights being protected through the imposition of a shorter work week.

Such a reform would constitute a major advance in the dynamic of Social Europe and would permit Europe to pull everyone up towards the top.

Our proposal:

Apply the principal of non-regression of rights in such a fashion that member-states cannot modify their own standards so long as they are more socially beneficial than those imposed by Europe. This decision would stop them from lowering social benefits under the pretext that competing foreign businesses benefit from more flexible social conditions in another member state.

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