1. Macron. Benefit from social and fiscal differences
French President Emmanuel Macron has won the backing of the Czech, Slovak and Austrian premiers for his drive to reform the EU’s rules on posted workers – employees sent by their employer to carry out a service in another EU member state.
Macron, who met in Salzburg on August 24 with the Slavkov Triangle leaders on his first Central European tour since his election, argues the way companies send lower paid Eastern European workers temporarily to Western European countries, evading local collective bargaining wage rates and social contributions, is one of the main factors driving populism and Euroscepticism.
- “The single European market and the free movement of workers is not meant to create a race to the bottom in terms of social regulations,”Macron told reporters.
- “The directive as it stands is a betrayal of the fundamental spirit of the European Union. The objective of the single market is not to favour countries that have the least social rights. We see that this feeds populism and erodes confidence in the EU.”
The minimum wage in France is about €1,480 a month, in Poland it’s about €450, giving multinational companies a clear incentive to import cheap labour, at the expense of domestic firms and workers.
Macron has argued that the EU must do more to protect workers and that member states must not “benefit from social and fiscal differences within the EU that are simultaneously going against every principle of the Union”.
The Visegrad Group (V4) of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary has previously been opposed to any attempt to tighten the rules on posted workers, seeing it as a protectionist move that will harm their workers.
But the Social Democrat Czech and Slovak premiers have also highlighted their countries’ continuing wage gap with Western Europe, and argue pushing up wages will help quell the populism and Euroscepticism they face.
They are sympathetic to the idea of workers being paid the same rate for the same job in the same place, regardless of wherever they come from.
“The posted workers’ directive solves a certain problem but we have to also solve the fundamental issue, which is the huge differences in living standards in individual parts of the EU,” Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told a joint news conference after the meeting. “For the Czech Republic, I can say we are prepared work with all our partners on a technical level to agree an adjustment of the posted workers directive so that we can overcome the split in the EU.”
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was even more positive. “We are very close to agreement. We see October 2017 as a realistic date by which we could reach an agreement,” he said. “We, and I think the Czech prime minister agrees, will make a maximum effort so that the V4 agrees on this issue.”