“Liberalisation of services is a right”

Article published on Oct. 24, 2005
Article published on Oct. 24, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

In an exclusive interview with café babel, Vladimir Spidla, European Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, envisages the future of a ‘social Europe’.

Vladimir Spidla, former Czech Prime Minister and leader of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) between 2001 and 2004, has been a member of the EU Commission since last November. Like many in the political elite of ‘New Europe’, he espouses the need for reform without sacrificing the social identity of the continent. Here he analyses the success of the Lisbon Strategy, which aims to make the EU the most competitive and knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, and the Bolkestein directive for the liberalisation of services.

Five years after the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy, has “Education and Training 2010” been achieved?

The results of the first five years of the Lisbon Strategy have been weak and should be viewed in the context of the relatively unfavourable European economic climate. For example, our annual rise in economic growth has practically halved, from nearly 3% between 1998 and 2000 to around 1.5% on average since 2001. This drop can be partly explained by the series of external shocks on the world level, but also by internal reasons, in particular the low demand for new enterprises in many EU countries, as well as our relative incapacity to promote and put into place favourable reforms for growth and employment. Even if the growth in employment has stayed positive and the rate of employment (noticeably among women and older workers) has continued to rise, the objectives fixed for 2010 are still some way off. The acceleration of economic changes and the ageing of the population make action all the more urgent.

What are you planning on doing so that the Social Agenda 2005-2010, created last spring to revive the Lisbon Strategy, is successful in the near future?

It is necessary to get out of this vicious circle of poor growth and unsuccessful structural reforms which weigh on the performance of the European Union. For this to happen, cooperation must be increased, especially in the areas of innovation and employment politics. A course must be fixed and the confidence of those involved in economic affairs reinforced. The second condition is to better adapt to the Lisbon Strategy. In order to succeed, a new partnership is needed on all levels, in particular between the EU and its member states. Without a doubt, the previous strategy suffered due to the confusion of the roles and the abilities of each level of “governing”. We must be clear on each of their responsibilities. The member states are this autumn engaged in a “National programme of Reforms” responding to the directive lines for growth and employment. The Commission has itself created a “Community Lisbon Programme” which comprises a list of initiatives envisaged for Europe, in the areas of employment, social affairs and equal opportunities.

What about the famous Bolkestein services directive, the object of so much criticism and one reason for the French No vote in the referendum on the European constitution?

The liberalisation of services is the perfect partner to the free circulation of workers - which is what we are trying to promote all over Europe. This liberalisation will not only contribute to the European objective for more and better quality jobs, but it is also a right. It is one of the fundamental beliefs of the EU. Unfortunately the vote on the services directive by the European Parliament has been delayed until next year. I hope that this period will allow the different groups to come to an agreement on the type of directive that will ultimately be of benefit to all our fellow citizens, as consumers as well as workers.

At the end of October, there will be an informal EU summit in order to discuss the “durability of the European social model”. But does a European social model exist?

The European social model is not a standard to be copied, and it is clear that the EU cannot play the role of a national welfare state. The debate should therefore stem from the values that we share, starting with the worry that many Europeans have of how to reconcile economic performance with social justice. This will be a project for the future. Our objective is to do everything to preserve our common identity, which includes thoroughly reforming our policies and institutions. There shouldn’t be any restrictions.

Do you think that, as a result of this discussion on the European social model, the EU and its member states will be able to propose a new social contract to their citizens?

Europe must now start to face up to some important challenges: its inability to create growth and employment; its diversity after enlargement; basically, the need to adapt to big changes. The October summit must try and answer three key questions on the future of the European social model. Our economies and our societies need more flexibility. This is where the Nordic experiment is of great importance, because these countries know how to “reinvent” their social protection, their social policies and their public administration thanks to new “flexicurity” measures. The countries which are currently performing the best have also made social and economic reforms. This global approach to a European model, which combines economic performance and solidarity, should be the main message taken from the summit. Social leaders [such as trade unions] must get involved and accept their responsibilities; public administration must be effective and successful.