Similar to a number of other designated Commissioners, Dombrovskis is heavily linked to austerity-led policies as a former Prime Minister of Latvia, during which time he oversaw difficult reforms and harsh cuts. While recognising that policy errors have been made, no apology was offered for the harmful impact of austerity on social Europe.
Part of Mr Dombrovskis challenge during the hearing and a challenge which will stay with in his term as a Commissioner if accepted is distancing himself from these measures in the future.
A number of times the importance of social dialogue was underlined. In his view, a competitive and cohesive EU needs social partners. Concretely he proposed enhanced social partner involvement in the European Semester – the calendar of economic policy coordination in the EU.
For EU social partners such as CESI, this would mean more involvement in preparing the Annual Growth Surveys at EU level. For national social partners, such as CESI member organisations, this would mean more involvement in Country Specific Recommendations. Expansion of social partner involvement needs to be exactly that – involvement which extends to all social partners.
With a portfolio which extends to the Euro, it was important to hear that Mr Dombrovskis considers social policy on an equal footing with economic policy. In concrete terms, support for encouraging minimum wages in Europe was given. These would be encouraged through the individual country specific recommendations in the European Semester.
As with many issues touched upon during the hearing, the devil is in the detail. In general, the European Semester has seen to be prescribing austerity as a cure to many countries weaknesses. Encouraging investment in wages and job creation would certainly be a welcome U-turn.
On the sensitive topic of the troika, which issued austerity packages in exchange for financial assistance in some EU countries, the Commissioner designate supported gradually bringing in this system in to the community method of the EU, in which the European Parliament co-decides with the Commission and Council. This enhanced democracy is long overdue. In practice however, any detail remains to be seen on this proposal.
Mr Dombrovskis answered questions on a number of other politically sensitive issues such as the right to strike and European unemployment insurance. Recognising the difficulty in achieving consensus in the EU, the Commissioner designate called for a more targeted discussion.
Much of what was supported or proposed by Valdis Dombrovskis broadly falls in line with CESI’s own ambitions for a social Europe. However, this is only in terms of the general lines. The detail though may be a different story.