Macron demands EU labour reform
France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has warned that the European Union risks falling apart if it does not reform its rules on temporary foreign workers.
Speaking in Romania from where workers are often cheaper to hire for temporary work in richer EU neighbours, the 39-year-old told the media that “some political and business circles” within the bloc were trying to promote “social and fiscal dumping”, calling for sweeping changes.
“Part of Britain’s Brexit vote was down to the poor functioning of the single market on posted worker rules, and the rules we have on social rights,” Macron told the Romanians.
The centrist president promised French voters during the presidential election campaign that he would oppose “social dumping” within the EU.
By recruiting from low-wage countries, like Romania, employers were avoid making payments into costly state health and welfare schemes with the construction trade a central focus for complaints about EU labourers in France.
France has been demanding changes to bloc’s Posted Workers Directive, which allows companies to send cheaper workers to another EU nation and keep them on existing employment terms.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said “the directive needs to be improved” but said many citizens from the east of the bloc wanted to move west to find work and their interests should be respected.
In 2015 there were 2.05 million posted workers within the EU, according to the European Commission, with that number increasing by 41.3 per cent since 2010. Although “posted” workers make up only 1 per cent of the EU’s workforce, the politically sensitive issue, which in recent years has deepened the divide between the west and east of the EU, is Macron’s first move to re-shape the bloc.
The directive was partly responsible for the rise of anti-EU sentiment across western Europe, Macron argued.
The new president has promised to tackle unemployment, recorded at 9.6 per cent in June.
Macron faces opposition from Poland and Hungary which claim French protectionism will undermine the EU’s freedom of labour principle but this week won the significant backing of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. France wants to make 12 months the maximum period that a worker can be “posted”.
Macron told the Austrians this week that the contentious directive was a “betrayal of the European spirit” by encouraging a race to lower wages.
Austria backed his call for reform.
Meanwhile, Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, who once said Brussels bureaucrats were “detached from reality”, has warmed towards the EU after the Brexit vote and Macron’s victory.
Fico said he wanted Slovakia’s future to lie “close to the core, close to France, close to Germany”.
France’s president, Emmanuel Macron. Picture credit: Flickr