In the Employment and Social Affairs committee (EMPL) you have been working recently on the Posted workers Directive, are you happy with the progress being made?
The Council position is closer to the Parliament than the Commission’s proposal. That’s a good basis for negotiations which means I am happy. The Parliament’s proposal is still better as it offers more flexibility for Member States to control than the Council position.
What positive changes has the European Parliament made to posted workers?
For me, it needs to be clear that Member States have flexibility over the direct controls on the hotspots of abuse. That’s one of the major issues in my opinion. We need a better exchange of information between Member States. In the Parliament, we have many small amendments which improve the rights of workers, and because the political groups are not far from each other I would like to get these through.
In your work on the Fourth Railway Package, what was your aim?
We have tried to improve the status of workers in the railway sector. If we have a change in the sector, then we need a social dimension to match this, with unions with a strong voice. We also need to ensure acceptable levels of access to services, especially for those in rural areas not just in cities. For me improved passenger rights, for passengers with handicaps or other problems, was important, allowing access to the full range of services.
In general it was a two dimensional approach. Firstly, the approach is on workers, where we should raise qualification status, to ensure a highly qualified workforce. The second is on public services, and bringing the notion of services of general interest into the Fourth railway package. This will be difficult.
What has the crisis done for public services in Europe?
Public services are in the general interest for people. In my opinion, they have a clear social dimension. That means the social dimension of public services should be in balance with the free market dimension. This is a general question in today’s Europe.
In the Treaties we have protocol 26 which gives freedom to the MS to define services of general economic interest, but we see that the Commission, like in the railway package, always tries to override this. My personal aim for the next legislature is to have a change in the Treaty to strengthen the social dimension so the Commission cannot override this protocol. Without this, protocol 26 is too weak. We should not think a Treaty change is not possible. If Angela Merkel can do it, just like that, then why can we not do it in five years’ time? Public services are one area in the Treaty which is not perfect, but it is not the only one.
As Vice President of the EMPL committee, what do you think will be the legacy of this legislature in terms of building a Social Europe?
We have achieved a couple of things which we never thought we would achieve because of the Parliament’s political composition at the moment. We prevented the weakening of standards for lorry driver’s working time, which means the roads are safer. We have improved the European Social Fund a lot, in particular in fighting poverty and improving education; this combination helps Member States to break the poverty circle. In this there is also a better partnership clause, which means social partners and civil society are on the advisory board, not only administrations. The Youth Guarantee also came from the Parliament. We stopped Barroso’s Monti II clause, which keeps the right of actions for works council and trade unions. I would say this is a lot, especially without a majority!
What else needs to be done in this regard?
The quality framework for trainees is not set yet. At the moment, we are hearing stories in countries like Italy where young people are being used as cheap labour and that is not right. This quality framework is the next step. We also need more minimums: minimum standards, minimum incomes, and minimum levels for homelessness.
We need to strengthen the social dimension in the Treaty, to get a balance with the single market, in particular in public services. You can make a law in each dossier, but then it is win, lose, win, lose and it is not consistent enough for me. Public services should be defined on Member State level, but they also require some definition at EU level and this is where a social dimension needs to be strengthened. In each dossier concerning public services, we need the social dimension to be treated as equal to the market conditions.
What are your key messages to voters?
Overcoming the crisis through a strengthened social dimension is a must. In the next Parliament, I want to address questions of social balancing in the Treaties. I also want to bring acceptable access to high quality public services to voters. No matter where you are in the country side, in the city or in small villages or towns, equal access is crucial for me. These are the issues I will campaign on.
Do you like campaigning?
I like it a lot. I like to talk to and debate with voters. Each weekend I take the opportunity to talk to constituents. But it is during the campaign that we have a lot of time for this, which is great.
Elisabeth Schroedter is a Member of the European Parliament for the Greens/European Free Alliance in Germany. She is Vice Chair of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.