An interview with Nicolas Schmit, Luxembourg Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Economy by Alain Bloëdt, Editor-in-Chief of the Progressive Post on the State of Social in Europe.
PP : Are the new proposals from the Commission on Social Europe simply a recurring theme ever-present in European politics or do they represent a real change in political mindset?
NS: I am a believer that the glass is half full rather than half empty, especially when it was absolutely empty before! So yes, it is good news that social issues are back on the agenda. Even if the proposals do not go far enough, Europe has now realised that the Union is heading for a disaster if we do not reinstate the social dimension to all discussions relating to action within Europe.
PP : Can Europe truly protect its citizens at a time of intensive globalisation?
NS: When Europe continues with an ideology that focuses solely on the common market, on competitiveness there is cause for concern. When Europe largely forgets about all of those who lose out through the operation of the common market and consider that competitiveness will benefit everyone – which is absolutely false – there is cause for concern. Not only has Europe failed to protect the welfare state but the failure now threatens to unravel the existing welfare provisions. In this context, the contention that social issues fall within the domain of the state is dangerous because such arguments can be used by nationalists of any colour.
PP : Are you suggesting that the message can be contradictory?
NS: Europe advocates the use of the domestic market, it advocates detachment, the opening of borders and where social issues are identified only the respective national power may decide on such matters. The problem is that Europe dictates to each national state how to conduct their fiscal policy. The outcome: member states have less and less room for manoeuvre on key social issues.
PP : What do you propose?
NS: We have to change our approach: one where Europe will still have a role to play. Admittedly, implementation will remain a consideration for each member state, as is the case for retirement and pensions. In this specific case, there is no requirement for Europe to dictate the form of the system, but they have a responsibility to guarantee a decent standard of living for all.
PP : And in real terms, what are your thoughts on Marianne Thyssen and Jean-Claude Juncker?
NS: A plan of action must be rapidly introduced alongside a social-welfare system that takes into account various economic policy mechanisms, since social issues cannot be isolated from the economy. We cannot talk about youth employment levels in Greece unless we talk about the economic and fiscal policies in Greece.
PP : But on labour issues, are the progressives not prisoners of their own ideology and unable to advance any further?
NS: Employees must be provided with maximum legal protection, but above all they must be able to return quickly to the labour market. One of the key concerns, particularly for the most vulnerable, are public services that work.
PP : Is this approach not partly distorted by the greater desire to save all jobs at any cost?
NS: Jobs disappear, it is unfortunate but this is the reality. On the other hand, employees must not be solely responsible for carry- ing the financial burden of such changes. They must be support- ed and provided with training, advice, etc. which allows them to find a new career. This is not the American system where you are left to find your own way!