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Speech by Jean-Claude Juncker at the 7th European Regional Meeting of the International Labour Organization

Date of Speech : 15-02-2005

Place : Budapest

Speaker : Jean-Claude Juncker

Policy area : Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs

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Mr President, Mr Director General,

my fellow Prime Ministers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is a great pleasure for me to appear before you this morning. Yesterday evening I mentioned that I spent a good 17 years working with the International Labour Organization as Employment Minister, one of most noble of political roles. So I am happy to see you all again and to find here such an impressive array of old acquaintances: former Employment Ministers like Philippe Séguin, union leaders who have not changed and representatives of employers. Because there is very little turnover in the top ranks of European employers, they are still the same. And this demonstrates that those who become closely acquainted with the International Labour Organization during their careers tend to remain faithful to it. This permanence in the executive structure is a sign of loyalty that is an honour to the ILO and to those who provide it.

As we open the 7th Regional Meeting, I would like to take this opportunity today to say how much my government is honoured by the fact that we were asked to co-organize this meeting, to accept part of the moral burden, to make the task more attractive. The financial assistance provided, allowed this conference to proceed under good conditions. I would like to pay tribute to our Director General, who leads the Organization with grace and skill and who has given the Organization the influence that it has sometimes struggled to achieve in the past. Holding this Regional Meeting in Budapest, Hungary, is a sign that marks the changes that have taken place in Europe since 1989.

The fact that we, all of us who make up Europe, are meeting here in Budapest today, in such a normal, almost evident fashion, and that this meeting goes by, almost unnoticed, is an indication that our historical judgement has become very rushed and superficial. A meeting of this sort would have been absolutely unimaginable 15 years ago. Now, rather than complain about the current situation and the difficulties of the moment, we should instead rejoice at the turns that European history has recently taken. I, in any case, am happy to be here and to be able to say that, thanks to the talent of the people and to the energy of the nations, we in Europe have been able to put an end to this gloomy decree of history that seemed to want to divide us forever. We are meeting today, a meeting which takes place in the framework of the 7th Regional Meeting.

Looking at all of us gathered here, I must say that, in spite of the happiness we may feel, we are a complicated assembly. We represent the 25 Member States of the European Union who share the same goal of charting a course towards, I hope, a better world. These 25 Member States may be subdivided into two groups, a subdivision to which, in other respects, I object: the 15 old Member States and the 10 new Member States. I am none too fond of this division between the old and the new. We are all 25 Member States that have the same dignity and share the same ambition. I would like to speak today about the ten States that joined us on 1 May 2004, because we are in Hungary and because I would like to pay tribute here in Hungary, to these countries that have changed from a command economy to a free and social market economy. I would like to pay tribute to the nations of Central and Eastern Europe who have managed to make such great changes to their economies and their social structures. I have to admire the performance of the nations of Central Europe and their fervour for reform, as compared to the multiple fatigues in the countries of old Europe, as a non-European once put it. There are then the 25 Member States of the European Union. There are the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which in Western Europe, where we love to exaggeratedly simplify things, we call the former Soviet Republics. There are also all the countries that form part of the European Stability Pact. Here I would like to particularly welcome the Balkan countries, by saying that we hope that, thanks to their European perspective, they will join us someday in the European Union so that we will be able to form the great European family to which we all aspire.

I said that I love the ILO’s Regional Meetings and the ILO, to the extent that one can love an organization. They are not always very sexy, so it is difficult to fall in love with an international organization, but I love the ILO for what it has always stood for. We live in an age that despises regulations and has a horror of norms. We live in an age of every-man-for-himself and we run the risk everywhere in Europe, of becoming selfish societies in which no one cares anymore about the other. And here is the International Labour Organization, old yet very modern, doing everything it can to preserve the international standard, which is a standard of rights. I would like to pay tribute to the International Labour Organization for having maintained, if I may say so, the normative powers that it has always had.

In Europe, we frequently speak blithely of the European social model, without really thinking about it. Actually, the International Labour Organization invented and kept alive the European social model well before the European Union staked its claim to the property of this model. The International Labour Organization is characterised by its tripartite composition, by the emphasis it places on social dialogue, by its constant concern for organising the intersection between governments, the world of labour and the world of employers. Working together, the idea of not giving in to internal struggles, but to reach agreements on basic matters, this is what characterises the approach of the International Labour Organization. And in this, it can serve as a model for everyone in Europe and throughout the world who is trying to better organize public life. This is one of the goals, we in the countroes of the European Union are attached to. We have on our agenda for the coming weeks and months a certain number of dossiers that we will need to treat in an engaged and thoughtful manner.

As you are aware, the March European Council, the meeting of the European Council to be held this spring, will need to reach an agreement on the mid-term review of the Lisbon Strategy. The Lisbon Strategy is a European programme whose goals are misunderstood. We speak of the reforms and adjustments that must be made. We explain these goals without really explaining them, and in describing the sacrifices that must be made, we never seem quite able to make clear to those listening to us, if indeed they are listening, why these reforms are necessary today. We must institute these reforms, though they may be painful at times, because we must ensure that in the future as many people as possible have access to the European social model.

Europe, and I’m talking about the European Union specifically, but this remark also applies to all who are present here today, is experiencing a crisis of economic growth that is more than just a pause in growth. Our economies are endangered because we have very serious problems with competitiveness in Europe. It is to be expected, then, that the European Union, and particularly the Commission, obliges us, the Member States that comprise it, to concentrate all our efforts and to focus all our creativity on improving the competitive situation in Europe in order to ensure that we are able to restart economic growth in Europe, a non-inflationary growth that creates jobs. But I would not like us to confuse the means with the ends. Competitiveness in itself is not a virtue. It does not serve any purpose if it does not serve certain goals. The major goal of competitiveness and of returning to growth is rebuilding the increasingly fragile social cohesion in Europe.

And so, the reforms that must be implemented within the framework of the Lisbon agenda should first of all serve the people and contribute to increasing social cohesion where it is weakest and where it has gaps. Growth, competitiveness and social cohesion cannot exist without being supported by a significant improvement in the employment situation in Europe. The philosopher Pascal said "I love things that go together". Competitiveness, growth, employment and social cohesion go together; none of these elements really has meaning without the other elements, if the other elements are not part of the same action line and the same goals. As a result, when we review the Lisbon Strategy, when we amend the Stability and Growth Pact, when we develop the financial perspectives for the European Union for the years 2007 to 2013, that is to say when we have put into place the amount of financing that will be required to achieve everything we want to in Europe, the domestic goals, the obligations for external solidarity, we will have to be guided by the four elements of generosity and solidarity that I just mentioned.

I would like to see all of our countries inspired more by the golden rules of the International Labour Organization which are tripartism and social dialogue. I would particularly hope that in Europe, and here I'm speaking of the European Union, we will reach an agreement at the level of the European Union and its Member States on a method of implementing the global objectives of the Lisbon Strategy, inspired by the golden rules of the ILO, as I said. I would like the 25 Member States to translate the strategic objectives of Lisbon into national action programmes to be communicated to Brussels for discussion there. I would like the national action programmes focusing on the structural reforms to be wise, not to be characterised by an unbounded "deregulatory" frenzy, and to be inspired at least by some level of solidarity. I would like there to be discussions between governments and the social partners on these national action programmes, I would like the virtuous competition between the social partners and the governments to give rise to national action programmes to be communicated to the national parliaments, to which the national governments bear foremost responsibility, before they are to European and Community authorities.

I hope that all the countries of the European Union recognise the virtues of social dialogue. I hope that the major reforms we must implement in Europe are the result of the joint efforts of labour and employer organizations. We must put an end to this silly game of blaming one another. Employers are not the enemies of the employees and employees are not the enemies of labour. While each party has its interests to defend, we must organize ourselves in Europe and in the different countries of Europe and in the Member States, as well as in the States and countries that are the close neighbours of Europe. In all of these countries, we must apply the rules of tripartism and social dialogue to ensure future generations of a better world than this one, where so many people face so many difficulties. We are trying to extricate ourselves from this situation.

Lets not loose courage. The history of this country and of its neighbours demonstrates that people are capable of great things when they are inspired by noble sentiments. Here in Hungary, and in Central Europe and in those countries that straddle Europe and Asia, which are our closest neighbours, the last 15 years have shown that history does not always work against people once people they decided to make history themselves. So, our courage must not fail, let us gather our strength, our energy, and our many talents. Let us build the world of tomorrow with the patience and determination that great ambitions and great distances require. Thank you.

This page was last modified on : 21-02-2005

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