V4 position towards the single labour market
Improving the quality of work conditions across the European Union raises the cost of labour. If the Social Pillar is implemented, Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and Slovaks will cease to be an attractive, cheap workforce. At the moment they are not willing to take these costs.
The European Commission project of unifying social rights of workers in EU countries raised concerns among Czech, Polish and Hungarian politicians. They fear it will affect their position in the common European market. Slovakia, being a country of the Eurozone, is less skeptical of the European Commission’s proposal. Slovak politicians prefer to undertake their own social reforms similar to those presented in the European Pillar of Social Rights.
In January 2017 the European Parliament voted on a resolution on the Pillar of Social Rights, prepared by Maria João Rodrigues from the socialist S&D. The proposals for strengthening labor rights and expanding activation of the unemployed was restricted to Eurozone countries.
In the plenary vote, the vast majority of MEPs from the V4 countries rejected the resolution: 55 voted against (25 for, 14 abstained). This means EPP members broke fraction discipline – these include 10 Polish MEPs, 9 Hungarian, 6 Czech and 1 Slovakian.
Slovak MEPs were, in general, more supportive of the resolution than the rest of the V4. 7 of them voted for (3 from EPP, 4 – S&D), 4 were against, and 1 abstained.
Slovakia. Improving labor standards, including fixing a minimum wage for all member countries, does not raise any unequivocal opposition of members of the Social Democratic government and centrist parties in Slovakia. Just a few days after the European Commission presented the legislative proposals for European Pillar of Social Rights, Prime Minister Fico presented a social package resembling the Pillar. Some of the measures proposed to focus on a faster rise in the minimum wage, a ban on social dumping or an increase in bonuses for work at nights and weekends.
MEPs who voted in favor of the resolution stressed the great role of the EU’s current social model but at the same time underlined the need for improving it, taking into account the current trends and situation-challenges of globalisation, the changes in demographics and technological development. All of them see the proposed measures as a starting point for narrowing the differences among social systems, social conditions, and salaries in the member states. Those who voted against the resolution either perceived the draft as too idealistic and therefore impossible to be fulfilled or believe in providing space for independent decisions and equality of chances instead.
The Czech Republic. The Czech government, while agreeing with the idea behind the Pillar of Social Rights, at the same time views its current version unfavorably, which is, according to them, detrimental to the free movement of goods and people. Furthermore, the Czech government claims that ‘there is a lack of consensus between the member states and the social partners’ and insists on excluding the transport sector from the scope of the revised directive.
Czech MEPs rejected the resolution: 13 of them voted against, while 6 voted for it. These six votes in favor of the resolution were against the fraction line of the EPP. As to the national party affiliations, a conflict was visible between government parties because members of ČSSD voted for and members of KDU-ČSL and ANO voted against the resolution.
Although there are MEPs saying that social dumping is harmful, they do not consider the current proposal of the Commission to be promising. In their view, it threatens to limit the freedom of movement of people, goods, and services.
Hungary. The Hungarian government firmly opposes the Pillar, claiming that it is designed to extend the Union’s capabilities in the field of taxing policy. Prime Minister Orbán Viktor initiated a so-called ‘national consultation’ to rally the voters’ support in order to ‘stop Brussels’ as regards this issue. During the negotiations with Commissioner Thyssen, Hungarian finance minister Mihály Varga emphasized that the formulation, organization, operation and financing of the policies should remain the member states’ responsibility.
Hungarian MEPs, despite their affiliation with the EPP, show loyalty to Fidesz and are against any reforms that propose to unify labor rights, including setting a minimum wage.
In opposition to Fidesz there is the extreme right-wing Jobbik, which believes that the Pillar is needed to prevent the growing poverty of the working class. On the 10th of April during a plenary debate the Hungarian parliament criticised the project of EU social reforms.
Poland. Polish prime minister Beata Szydło stated that the common market mustn’t be affected by any social reforms. To preserve the free movement of goods and people is the priority of the Polish government at the moment.
The majority of Polish MEPs are against the Pillar of Social Rights. There were two major arguments in the debate – one that the reform does not address the needs of Eastern countries and would result in more inequality in the Union. Secondly, the reform is viewed as contradictory to the principle of subsidiarity. The aim is to defend the status quo, which allows Poland to uphold its current position on the European labour market.
This text was created within the joint project of four organizations: Czech Kohovolit.eu, Slovakian Demagog.sk, Hungarian Atlatszo.hu and Polish MamPrawoWiedziec.pl. The project “Closer to V4 Policy” is funded by the Visegrad Fund.