What difference would your proposals for effective labour inspections make for the workplace?
We have a European labour market, but the rules are national. People are working and living all over Europe. The competences of labour inspections are ending at the borders. Yet we have cross-border companies and cross-border workers. What we’re demanding is that every employee, regardless of status, is covered by a labour inspection. We need a clear definition of dependent worker.
The system is creating social dumping. By avoiding the issue, we also avoid tackling the issue of social dumping.
Do you think Member States invest enough resources in combatting the black market or fighting fiscal fraud?
Currently, almost all national labour inspections authorities in Europe are understaffed. This is a big mistake, because the economic crisis should rather be an incentive to strengthen the systems. Some Member States, such as Greece, made the fight against the black market and fiscal fraud their absolute priority: it’s not just about cutting budgets, it’s about bringing in money.
There are lots of companies that abide by the law, that’s clear, but those breaking the law do not worry about following the law as labour inspections become so rare. Labour inspectorates bring in far more money than they earn.
Your work on the programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) can now be seen in practice. Where will EaSI funding make the most impact?
The largest amount of money goes into the PROGRESS program, which supports the development and coordination of EU policy in employment, social inclusion, social protection and working conditions. The novelty is the focus on social innovation and experimentation. These projects should help us to find new and innovative ways of combatting poverty and improving social inclusion.
The Commission has focused more on competition, economics and consumers and not on what we call social Europe. However, Commissioner Andor has worked hard under very difficult circumstances to bring workers and social issues into the debate in the Commission’s work.
What has the crisis done for public services in Europe?
The current crisis management resulted in decreasing social spending. The easiest place for governments to make cuts is to civil servants, to jobs in the public sector. Austerity policies have affected education, innovation and investment in sustainable jobs.
The crisis needs to be paid for by those who caused the crisis, not the weakest. Reforms to public services also hit the weakest the hardest.
What will be the legacy of this Parliament in terms of a social Europe?
The majority in the Parliament and in the Commission in my view has meant that we have not made a great deal of progress in terms of a social Europe. However, our goal was to get closer to that, and we have done that through the Fund for the Most Deprived and by putting the Youth Guarantee on the agenda, but there is more to be done.
The next Commission should come up with a proposal on health and safety at work, a new, improved Working Time Directive and a proposal on European labour inspections. The new Parliament will be dealing with many dossiers that were not finished in this mandate.
What has been your proudest achievement for this mandate?
I always fight for social protection in all my work. I think I have been part of improvements in many areas of employment and social affairs, whether it has been in labour inspections or for laying the groundwork for advisory bodies in labour mobility questions with EaSI. The reason I am an MEP is so that I can help to push Europe in a more social direction.
What are your key messages to voters ahead of the elections?
My main message is that people need to vote. I want to keep working on a social Europe, and I want to do this in a constructive environment. If we don’t manage to keep radicals and eurosceptics out, then we will be far less capable of acting and making decisions.
Given the challenges we will be facing in the next term, we need a Parliament that is able to find majorities and that can speak with one voice to represent its people.
Jutta Steinruck is a Member of the European Parliament for the Socialists and Democrats in Germany. She is a member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.