New Europe met Bernadette Segol, the secretary general of the European Trade Union Confederation, at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.  She was participating in a panel discussion about labour.

How can Europe concretely help young people during this period of high unemployment?

With an investment plan sufficiently developed to give growth and thanks to this plan we could have more jobs. This should then go together with the end of austerity, cuts in wages and structural reforms that have been simply affecting labour until now.

We are also in favour of the “youth guarantee,” but if you want to put it in place you need public investments while Europe now is telling member state governments that they have to cut public expenses.

What is your message to the European finance ministers meeting in Brussels?

I’m telling finance ministers that you need to go for a substantial investment plan because you can’t disappoint citizens and workers. We are very worried because we don’t see it coming. We heard about the €315bn, but where is it? Who is going to be able to use it? Is it going to be a good return for financial markets or a good investment for people? They have to deliver on this plan if they want to be credible. Then you have to change policies if you want to establish a bridge with people.

What are your thoughts about the new Junker investment plan?

We are not satisfied. We think that focusing on investment is a good thing, but we believe that this Junker plan is small and, apart from this, we don’t see it coming. We are not satisfied also because the European Commission says we have to invest, but at the same time it also says that we have to do the structural and labour market reforms which for them means lowering wages. You can’t do both at the same time.

Italy recently adopted a new labour law. What do you think about it?

I’m not Italian, but what I can say is that trade unions are not against reforms we just say that they have to be negotiated with the trade unions. They can’t be top-down. And as far as I know this didn’t happen in Italy with the new labour reform.

What do you think about the possibility of harmonising employment contracts in the EU?

Harmonising employment contracts is going to be very difficult because there is no basis in the treaties for this. But beyond this important legal problem, we don’t want a harmonisation downwards. The risk is that we would have a typical European employment contract which would be very loose.

What do you think about the austerity “religion” in Europe?

Of course it should stop. We are not the only ones to say this. If you read what the OECD and even the central banks have been saying, it’s that we’ve gone too far.

This is no longer socially acceptable. It hasn’t worked. If austerity and structural reforms worked, why would the European Central Bank find there’s a need for one trillion euros quantitative easing?

So, Europe should do more to tackle unemployment?

Yes. On unemployment, Europe should do more. But the first thing to do is to stop the austerity and form an investment plan.

Then we push for quality jobs because the future is people who can make a living out of their salaries so that people can contribute to growth. If you earn €400 a month you are not going to increase the demand and contribute to growth and innovation. It’s foolish to think that you will!

Can you tell us about the future initiatives of the European Trade Union Confederation?

The European Trade Union Confederation is in the process of going to its congress and this means that we have very solid discussions on the solutions for Europe. We hope that in the next few months we will be able to put that message even more clearly by European actions. 

This is a very sensitive period because instead of putting people together the policies are setting people apart and our confederation is proud of gathering north, south, east and west for the same messages which are investments and to stop austerity.