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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le social, grand absent de la présidence française

by GAËL DE SANTIS - Article paru le 1er juillet 2008

Social issues, notably absent from the French presidency

Translated Sunday 13 July 2008, by Edward Lamb

European Union. Nicolas Sarkozy assumes the presidency of the EU, today, with attacks against the rights of workers and migrants in perspective.

The French presidency of the European Union or présidence française de l’Union européenne (PFUE) has its priorities, and they are not those of wage earners and migrants. Nicolas Sarkozy takes the reins of the EU, and will hold them into December. On the list of priorities : the struggle against global warming, the European Defence policy, the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, the Mediterranean Union, the energy question, and, if possible, to have the Lisbon Treaty ratified by all the member States. A socially oriented Europe will be notably absent, even though the French President assures that he is not oblivious to the EU’s social dimension. Nevertheless, the French President accompanies, and even sometimes leads, attacks against the social rights of wage earners and the human rights of migrants.

The 65 hour work week directive

Tuesday 10 June, the Labour Ministers of the European Union, despite the abstention votes of five of them, adopted the "opt-out" principle (allowing case by case negotiation with employees) increasing legal work time to 60 or 65 hours a week, as opposed to the 48 hour/week currently in effect in the EU, which decision still must be approved by the European Parliament in Strasbourg. That directive’s adoption, at the demand of the United Kingdom, was made possible only by the change in French policy, favoured by Nicolas Sarkozy’s election. In 2006, Paris, Rome and Madrid fought for the suppression of the "opt-out" benefits accorded to the United Kingdom, which loophole permitted a legal work period of over 48 hours per week. « The credibility of the European social model and the protection of workers’ health depends on this. We cannot accept a compromise which would not provide for a deadline limit for doing away with these "opt-outs", former French Labour Minister, Gérard Larcher, emphasized.

Social dumping

Since December 11th, four decisions of the Cour de justice européenne (CJE), or European Court of Justice, have pointed out that wage dumping was inscribed in currently applicable EU treaties, in articles 43 and 49. With the "Viking Line" judgment, the judges condemned the Finnish Sailors Union, on strike against Viking Line, whose intention it was to register "Rosella" in Estonia where workers’ rights are less advantageous for wage earners. On the 18th of the month, the CJE condemned the Swedish trade unions for boycotting a Letonian firm for having disregarded collective accords in the construction industry. On April 3rd, it was the German Lander of Lower Saxony’s turn to be condemned. In accordance with the regulation concerning contract attribution after a mandatory call for bids, a Polish company was ordered to respect national collective accords applicable in the Land. More recently, on June 20th, the State of Luxembourg was condemned, at the demand of the European Commission, for erroneous transcription of the Working Time Directive. The Grand Duchy intended to impose the obligation on businesses sub-contracting workers to index their wages according to financial inflation and to appoint a proxy in order to facilitate relations with labour inspectors.

Migrants prosecuted

If there is one priority of the French Presidency of the European Union, one which is replete with detailed content, it’s that of the Pact on Immigration and Asylum. This text pursues the hard-line repressive political policy of the Commission and of the European Council with regard to migrants, as demonstrated by the « outrageous directive » vote, which authorizes up to eighteen months detainment for arrested illegal immigrants. Amongst Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposals, we find the strengthening of Frontex ( [1]) , the police force of the European Union’s external borders, which is to be provided with headquarters and staff. The creation of a communal institution is also being contrived to deal with demands for asylum. Individual States will no longer have any means at their disposal for protecting victims of political repression, the EU having the last word on the question. Two other dispositions will be brought to issue, especially with Spain’s socialist prime minister José-Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. "The European Council observes that massive and collective legalizations of clandestine immigrants produces unjustified hope among migrants, and therefore agrees to renounce that procedure in the future", according to the document presented by the Spanish government, which can no longer, resort to massive legalizations, according to the pact. In 2005, 600 000 clandestine workers were legalized on the Southern side of the Pyrenees.

The compulsory "integration contract" has also been the object of criticism from Madrid. Making it obligatory for migrants from countries outside of the EU to learn the national language, it violates the principle of equal treatment among individuals. A Nigerian immigrant once in France would have to learn the native tongue of Molière, while such an obligation would not apply to a Finnish immigrant.

The illusion of an unassailable Europe

The French government has chosen to make the emblem of an « unassailable Europe » the guideline of the PFUE. In many European countries, the Right wing has succeeded in taking control, utilizing arguments founded on security and national identity, looking to reassure the citizens and populations more vulnerable to the imbalance caused by globalist economics. That recipe allowed Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi to win recent elections, a recipe which the French president would like to impose upon the entire European Union. But it’s not certain that such symbolical allusions make capitalist politics more credible: yesterday, Eurostat [2] announced an inflation of 4% in one year in the Eurozone.

Translator’s notes :

[1from the French Frontières extérieures, officially known as the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union

[2The Statistical Office of the European Communities


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