February 2013        

“Social Europe” for the EU’S privileged

Within the EU Commission, Andor László’s is not a powerful voice. He isn’t listened to in the same way as, for example, “Supercommissioner” (and Super-budget-fetishist) Olli Rehn. Yet occasionally Andor, EU Commissioner for Social Affairs and Employment, has a message that even the Commission has to listen to.
      The statistics are alarming. In the EU the unemployment rate has reached 10.4 per cent, which is an increase of 0.9 percentage points since 2011. In the euro zone the figure is even higher, at 11.6 per cent.
      What this means is that more than one in every nine people in the potential work force is without a job. Among those between the ages of 15 and 24 the rate is as high as 22.8 per cent.
      An entire generation is threatened by exclusion from the labour market and the loss of any future. The growth of poverty is equally spectacular, with one in four menaced by poverty. Work is no guarantee that you won’t find yourself poor, with one in twelve employed people living below the poverty line—proving that new jobs often don’t provide a living wage.
      What is demonstrated by Andor’s report is that a different course must be followed if we see social provision not as a luxury but as a necessity for a humane society and a shock-resistant economy. That demands a complete reversal of the present policies of the EU Commission and leaders of member-state governments, who continue to stick strictly to the 3 per cent norm.
      In addition to budgetary goals we should be establishing goals for employment and for the fight against poverty, and these should be more than vague criteria but rather definite, well-defined and measurable objectives.
      But Eurocrats would not be Eurocrats if they didn’t immediately deduce from this that Brussels must have more power.
      And how would they use that power? Recent revelations about the misuse of EU subsidies proves once again that different priorities prevail in the EU.
      There is a good case for having transnational corporations disqualified from receiving EU subsidies designed to contribute to the development of poorer regions and for a tightening up of the rules governing such subsidies. Agriculture subsidies are being paid to golf clubs and to the British royal family. Now, for the umpteenth time, it has been shown that money meant to help unemployed people in poor member-states is being spent on luxury courses for the managerial staff of profit-making corporations, such as Unilever, Pepsi, Mercedes-Benz, and Deutsche Bank.
      EU subsidies are not supposed to be used to beef up the profits of big firms, and the European rules should ban this.
      The European Court of Auditors has still never been able to approve a budget, for the most part because of inadequate monitoring in the member-states. The Court of Auditors also has justifiable concerns over the effectiveness of the funds.
      In the continuing negotiations on the EU’s multi-annual budget, governments are quite rightly trying to have national contributions lowered; but questions of monitoring and control continue to be a side issue. Even worse than handing over too much cash to Brussels is seeing it badly spent and used to enrich the profits of wealthy transnationals.

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