A toothless committee set up to offer ‘partnership’ between bosses and unions offers ordinary people nothing, writes JOHN BOYD
THE Economic and Social Committee (ESC) was set up to offer opinions on EU issues to the Commission, Council of Ministers and European Parliament. It is mandatory for the Commission and Council of Ministers to “consult” the ESC on economic and social affairs before the relevant legislation is passed.
It can also offer reports and opinions if asked by other EU institutions.
As with other EU institutions, its origins can be found in the 1957 Treaty of Rome to establish a single market.
From September this year it will have 353 members drawn from organisations with interests in economic and social policies which are arranged in three groups: employers, trade unions and other interests. These groups in turn form together six sections spanning subjects such as agriculture, transport, citizenship, social cohesion and the single market.
ESC members are nominated by national governments and appointed by the European Council for a five-year renewable term. Britain has 25 members and of these eight are from trade unions — including one from the TUC. A further two trade union members take part in the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change, formed in 2002.
Trade union members and leaders should carefully note those who are responsible for dealing with the ESC delegation from Britain. This power rests with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Cabinet Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The ESC has no power to block EU legislation. In other words, it has what is called “influence” only — which can be ignored or shelved.
Compare this committee of 353 with the Corporate Europe Observatory’s estimate of 30,000 corporate lobbyists at the EU. Only a few of these are registered and the Commission — the EU’s lawmaking body — is opposed to registration and hence transparency. Daily these lobbyists persuade the Commission to favour their clients’ interests.
The amount of money spent on lobbying can be gauged by that spent by large concerns. The top spender in the EU, based in Norfolk, is PIL Membranes — which last year spent €17 million with just one declared lobbyist. BusinessEurope spent over €4m using 29 declared lobbyists and the European Banking Federation spent the same with 30 declared lobbyists.
If the ESC represents employers as well as trade unions and other interests in order to give opinions to EU institutions, why the huge number of lobbyists and money?
The ESC is a major part of the “social partnership,” where organisations of employers and employees sit down together. It is clear that the ESC is one of the conduits to funnel EU policies to the people, their organisations and trade unions across the EU and bring the EU “closer to the people.” These are the stated objectives of this committee.
The ESC is set up to appear as though trade unions have some say on EU legislation but, like the European Parliament, the ESC has no powers — only influence. The effect is to completely undermine the real role of trade unions to better their members’ interests. That includes pay and conditions, which do not coincide with the interests of employers who are out to increase profits and reduce trade union rights.
Many EU policies work against trade union principles. Action is required to prevent any further attacks on hard-won rights, including those proposed by David Cameron’s government. This action must replace cosy chats in Brussels with the employers, EU officials and lobbyists. In other words, the “social Europe” does not exist and remains a myth.
• John Boyd is secretary of the Campaign against Euro-Federalism.