Editorial of the Secretary General – Solidarity: Migration, EU budget and the Coronavirus

3 Mar 2020

Editorial of the Secretary General – Solidarity: Migration, EU budget and the Coronavirus

Dear colleagues, members, partners and friends,

Now that the UK has left the EU, solidarity among the remaining 27 member states is immediately vehemently stress-tested.

As Erdogan has opened the borders to the EU for refugees in Turkey, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on March 1st that Greece will not accept any asylum application for one month – which is, interestingly, in line with EU law. And while a confidential report of Frontex allegedly expects “massive migration flows” into the EU, an extraordinary meeting of the EU interior ministers has been convened for this week.

According to Politico´s Playbook, Manfred Weber, chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, had a wish: “When the EU Commission meets this week, the focus should not be on the pictures of Frans Timmermans with Greta Thunberg, but on the concerns of millions of Europeans about the protection of our external border “.

Not totally false, admittedly. In the light of the ongoing propagation of the Coronavirus Covid-19 and a new imminent migration crisis, it might not be the best moment to tan oneself in the recently heralded new climate change or digitalisation policies. At this very moment, citizens´ expectations could not be more concrete. And they may pitilessly unveil the EU´s (or rather the member states ’!) Blatant failure (especially in the aftermath of 2015) to adopt resilient common migration and asylum policies. For the time being, it´s all about solidarity with Greece and securing the EU´s external border, but how long this may resist to the certainly growing pressure will have to be seen – the stress-test for the new Commission could not be any harder.

***

Solidarity was already missing at the last EU Summit on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) of the EU. On Friday, February 21, EU leaders had to recognize that the gap between the so-called ‘Frugal four’ (the net contributors the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Sweden) and 17 other member states (the ‘friends of cohesion’) was too big. While the former demanded an EU budget cap at 1.0% of the EU´s gross GNI, the latter advocated a 1.3% ceiling. Different proposals submitted by the EU Commission and the President of the EU Council, Charles Michel, were rejected amidst a plethora of ‘red lines‘.

It is not without a certain irony that among the increasingly pressing debate to link EU spending to the respect of the rule of law and democratic checks and balances, countries such as Poland and Hungary -which are currently challenging the “delicate balance of powers that holds together consolidated democracies founded on respect for the rule of law and human rights“-, are among the fiercest defenders of a higher EU budgetary frame (for cohesion).

Migration, Coronavirus, border control, climate change, digitalization, Erasmus … Given the pressing challenges, more EU money is actually needed – while Brexit leaves a 75 billion hole in the 7-year-budget. (Reasons to assume that sooner or later cohesion policies and the Common Agricultural Policy will be subject to cuts.)

And some further food for thoughts: When comparing, these major challenges with the image of member states fighting over proposed 1.074% or 1.11% GNI caps, either our expectations or the EU´s financial envelope must be reviewed.

***

Regarding the Coronavirus Covid-19, EU solidarity (and the Four Freedoms of its Single Market) may be put to the test too. And images of busses carrying Ukrainian citizens evacuated from China being attacked by an angry mob should remind us that dark ages are far from being over and that our civilization´s layer remains wafer-thin.

It is not without a certain irony either, that we needed an outbreak of the virus to bring back to the spotlight CESI´s mantra-liked demands of the past years to adequately equip and staff the health care sector. But trade unions have to realize that they are more than ‘only’ specific interest representatives – they are overall societal mediators and stabilizers. Having been travelling a lot recently, it still strikes me how many committed activists, pro-Europeans and pro-‘CESIrians’ I meet during my visits in the member states. In French, you would say “Ce sont des gens bien!” Devoted, honest and credible. This is what I mean by mediators and stabilizers.

***

At the CESI General Secretariat, we have had quite some political meetings in the EC and the EP, and have also been busy answering to all the different consultations launched by the European Commission in the aftermath of its January 2014 communication on the future employment and social policy priorities: the EU gender equality strategy, the updated Skills Agenda for Europe, fair minimum wages in the EU, the reinforced Youth Guarantee. And more is yet to come in the coming weeks.

We also agreed with the Bertelsmann Foundation and the EUObserver on jointly hosting the 2nd edition of the Summer Days – mark June 17-18 in your calendars! -, and we look forward to welcoming many of you on that occasion. Because the future of work is our future.