‘Social dialogue is not automatically better just because there is a special Commissioner for it’. CESI speaks to Monika Vana MEP

17 Oct 2014, keywords : ,

Out with the old, in with the new. The new European Commission should take office on 1 November. Before that can happen, all Commissioners have to be undergo hearings with the European Parliament. MEPs then vote on the European Commission as a whole, either to accept it or reject it. With Slovenian nominee Alenka Bratušek already resigning, MEPs have not given candidates an easy time. This week, CESI speaks to Monika Vana MEP to get her reactions.

‘Social dialogue is not automatically better just because there is a special Commissioner for it’. CESI speaks to Monika Vana MEP

What do you want to achieve in the next 5 years as an MEP?

I want to see real and concrete steps towards achieving a proper social union. This means more social minimum standards. There is no need to change the Treaties for this, if we simply fulfill the treaties as they are by balancing the economic and monetary union. I also want the European Parliament to do more on tackling unemployment. For me; gender equality is also highly important.

Over the last week, we have had the European Commission hearings – what are your first impressions of the Commission as a whole?

Jean-Claude Juncker seems a better President than Barroso was. I welcome some of what he is saying on social issues such as minimum wages and a European unemployment insurance. The Commission as a whole though will not get my vote. Most commissioners are neoliberal and do not support the fundamental change we need in order to get a sustainable, social and democratic EU.

Focusing on individual candidates, who has been the most impressive candidate so far?

For me the best hearing was given by Kristalina Georgieva (Bulgarian Commissioner-designate and Vice President responsible for budget and human resources). It is very good to have a woman for this post, one of the most important posts as well as being a Vice President. She was very competent, making concrete commitments to MEPs. She is aware of social problems and gender issues and she answered questions well. In her introductory speech she talked about civil society, clarifying how the EU budget can be used, explaining how the EU budget influences and changes lives on the ground. I have never heard such an open statement from a budget commissioner before.

Who has least impressed you?

From all commissioners I heard, Jyrki Katainen (Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness) was the worst. In German you say Teflon. He seemed like he did not care about anything MEPs had to say. He followed the wording of the mission letter from Juncker, but did not go any further than that more. He had no personal empathy. Moreover, he’s a clear neo-liberal, who is not out to make any attempt to strengthen the social dimension of the EU. There was nothing behind his words. I asked about regional policy and cohesion policy, being the coordinator for the Greens. He gave no answer as to where the 300€ billion for an investment plan comes. I fear the worst in this case.

I preferred Valdis Dombrovskis (Vice President for the Euro and Social Dialogue) to Katainen.h e seemed a bit more in touch with MEPs. Some answers you saw he knew the topic and that it was his portfolio – certainly not in all senses though.

You asked a question specifically to Valdis Dombrovskis on the democratic legitimacy of the European Semester. Were you happy with the answer?

Absolutely not. Dombrovsksis mixed up civil society, social dialogue and social partners. Of course they are linked. Social partners are part of civil society. My question though was focused on civil society and how they will be involved in the European Semester. He did not answer at all. And let us be honest about it, he has no clue on this topic.

This is why the Greens, together with the S&D and the GUE/NGL groups, want social dialogue to come out of his portfolio and be shifted for example to Marianne Thyssen (Commissioners-designate for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility). She offers much more on this. We think the portfolio of social dialogue should not be linked to Mr Euro.

Do you see the appointment of a Commissioner to social dialogue as an encouraging sign?

If I am honest, I am not quite sure. I am in favour of strengthening social dialogue but only in every policy field. I am a little reluctant to having just one commissioner responsible for that. Others may feel that social dialogue is not important because someone else is doing it and so all others think they can neglect it. Things are not automatically better because there is a special commissioner for it. It would make things better if this commission really had the heart for it.

Mr Dombrovskis is not right for his portfolio, therefore I’m not in favour of giving him the portfolio – it will be like putting social dialogue in the trash.

Social dialogue should play a role in all portfolios. I come from Austria which has strong social partners. The role of social dialogue is never just linked to one individual minister or one person. It is more a question of its standing in all society’s questions and policy areas. This is what I want for the EU so social dialogue needs to be strengthened all Commissioners.

                             Monika Vana MEP during the Commission hearings in the European Parliament

Monika VANA

What powers do you think the European Parliament and national Parliaments should have in the European Semester?

At the moment, the European Parliament has almost no role in the European Semester: no legislative role and the statements and reports from the Parliament are neglected. We want full co-decision procedure for the whole field of Economic and Monetary Union. As long as we do not have this, there is no point in talking about democracy in economic policy.

For national parliaments, I am in favour of a complete reform of the Stability and Growth Pact. A ‘golden rule’ should be put in place saying that investments for example in healthcare or in public services are exempt from the deficit criteria. If not, coming out of the crisis will just not be possible. We have to solve the crisis through investments, which come both from Member States and the local level. This is why we need reform of the Stability and Growth Pact in favour of national parliaments.

Do think national Parliaments and social partners know enough about the European Semester?

Some do, some do not. In Austria, many know what it is and they try to get involved and influence the European Semester. I can see this influence. In other countries it varies. However they absolutely should have influence. At the UN they have shadow reports from NGO’s on big topics and I want to see this kind of thing in place for the EU. Also for national Country Specific Recommendations, social partners and NGOS could make their own official statements which are then recognised by the EU.

Should this be a statement from social partners and civil society done together or separately?

Good question. I see social partners as a part of civil society so I think together. But that’s not my final answer. I could be convinced either way. In practice social partners have a more institutionalised role in some countries but social partners are not part of the government either. Social partners are a part of civil society, a strong and important part, but nonetheless a part of a bigger society.

What is the most important issue for Europe’s workers at the moment?

For 13 years I was a local councilor in Austria dealing with labour market policy and so I think the top concerns in Europe are the working poor, precarious work and social dumping. Too many people are poor even though they are in work. We really have to fight for minimum wages and for social security for everyone, including for those who are in short-term and long-term unemployment. We also need to fight for full employment. From a woman’s perspective I am really against the rise of part-time work as this means less income, less social security and less in pensions. We also need to look behind the employment rates and see what they mean: what kind of work do we have? Is it good work? Is it good income? Is there good social security? There is a lot to do. In the European Parliament we are now discussing the big problem of single member companies.

This week, CESI is holding a seminar on tax administrations at the heart of the crisis – what do you think has been the role of public services during the crisis?

Public services have an important role in the crisis by offering access for all, especially in helping the poorest in society during the crisis. We really have to defend their role. We cannot privatise or liberalise public services any more. They are crucial for offering quality services. From a social and democratic standpoint, public services are fundamental.

Monika Vana is an Austrian MEP for the Greens. She is a member on the Budgets committee and Regional Development Committee. She is also a substitute member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.