Is there a joint Visegrad Group policy?

4 NGOs check V4 position towards the single labour market

Jaroslav Bilek, Barbora Belovicka, Emese Keyha, Magdalena Wnuk
26 June 2017

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 EC 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 sceptical 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 labour rights and expanding activation of the unemployed was restricted to Eurozone countries.

In the plenary vote 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 labour 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 focus on a faster rise of the minimum wage, a ban on social dumping or an increase in bonuses for work at nights and weekends.

MEPs who voted in favour 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 the 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.

Czech Republic. The Czech government, while agreeing with the idea behind the Pillar of Social Rights, at the same time views unfavourably its current version, which is, according to them, detrimental to the free movement of goods and people. Furthermore, the Czech government claims: “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 overall rejected the resolution:13 of them voted against, while 6 voted for it. These six votes in favour 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. Hungarian Minister of Finances, Varga Mihály, during the negotiations with Commissioner Thyssen emphasized that the formulation, organisation, operation and financing of the policies should remain at the member state level.

Hungarian MEPs, despite their affiliation with the EPP, show loyalty to Fidesz and are against any reforms that unify labour rights, including fixing 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. Collaboration in collecting and compiling the data: Jaroslav Bilek, Barbora Belovicka, Emese Keyha, Magdalena Wnuk

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