Belgium- Brussels : My world in 2016 will be centred on the pressing need to bring growth back to Europe with the aim of restarting job-creation and European employment. It has now been more than seven years since the worst crisis since the Great Depression hit Europe. We have come a long way. We did not let hard times tempt us into division. Europe stood together.
The economic crisis might be approaching its end, but we are still in the middle of yet another crisis; an employment crisis. By the end of 2015, there were almost 22.5 million Europeans out of work. This corresponds to an unemployment rate of 10.7 %. Even though the situation has improved and that the employment rate went down from 11.5 % in October 2014, we cannot be satisfied with the fact that more than 1 out of 10 Europeans are out of work. Looking at youth unemployment the situation is even worse. More than 4.5 million Europeans under the age of 25 were at the end of 2015 out of work. This corresponds to two in 10 Europeans under the age of 25. This is nothing less than a catastrophe. We are facing the risk of losing 20 % of a generation that might never get a solid foothold in the labour market. The demography of Europe requires more people to be active on the labour market and a higher employment rate. Losing 20 % of a generation certainty will not do any good.
The answers to this situation are many and diversified in the European Parliament. Some want to loosen the rules for economic governance at the expense of economic sustainability. Others find that a European minimum income and thereby passive support for people whom have no connection to the labour market is the answer. For me, the only responsible and long-term solution to restart European employment is to create more jobs. However, something that sounds this simple is highly challenging.
End obesity and improve competitiveness
The European Commission has committed itself to create an EU that is big on big things and small on small things. I could not agree more with this. Unfortunately, the EU has grown and grown into areas that don’t give European added value at the expense of areas in which we cannot solve without strong European corporation. Europe is not struggling with a bit of extra Christmas-fat, Europe has become obese. Therefore we cannot keep pace with countries that are fitter than us and we lose our competitiveness.
We need to trim Europe. Europe must again be a driving force in the global competition for investment, growth and jobs. There is no simple master plan to improve European competitiveness. On the contrary, it requires multiple efforts.
First of all we need to be very ambitious in the better regulation agenda. The European Commission has taken good initial steps in this direction. Now we need to follow up and fully commit in the Parliament. Therefore, I’m very pleased with the inter-institutional agreement which commits the different institutions to provide new impact assessments if they put in substantial amendments in European legislation. Of course, there can be a need to further or renew regulation. But if we do so, it must be with our eyes wide open to the consequences for European competitiveness. All legislative institutions must bear their responsibility in this area.
About 3.3 % of all employed Europeans work and live in another EU-country than their own. The right to work and live in another member state is a fundamental freedom in the EU that we must treasure, protect and support. We must treasure what we have created. But we cannot be satisfied. We remain to have around 2 million unfilled vacancies in the EU. This hampers growth. If we are to regain European competitiveness, growth and job-creation we need to improve the match between skills and job. And we need to make sure that the competences with which young Europeans leave educational institutions match the needs of the labour markets.
Additionally, we need to see results from Juncker’s investment plan. It has been a year since the plan was presented and we still need to see concrete results on the ground. We still need to see SMEs gaining better access to finance. We still need to see jobs being created. We still need to see the beginning of solid and sustainable growth. There has been enough talking. We need results.
Finally we need to commit wholeheartedly to finalising the TTIP. I believe in free trade. I trust that competition is good for societies as it strengthens our competences and it boosts growth and prosperity. We must protect our employment systems, our environment and our consumers. But contrast to others, I don’t think that high protection, competition and trade is mutually exclusive. I am convinced that in the right regulatory framework they will strengthen each other.
Employment policy is social policy
Being the Vice-chair of the Committee for Employment and Social Affairs, a large part of my work is dedicated to social affairs. But I do not think that there is anything social about keeping people outside the labour market on cash benefits. I don’t think there is anything social about short-term and insecure investments that will increase insecurity in the economy. For me, employment policy is social policy. The opportunity for a job, the opportunity to provide for yourself, the opportunity to take responsibility for yourself and your family, that is the core of social policy for me. Thereby, employment policy is social policy.