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On Wednesday 14 October, Rainer Plassmann, CEEP President, and Valeria Ronzitti, CEEP General Secretary, addressed the Tripartite Social Summit (TSS) videoconference. In presence of, amongst others, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, CEEP called for the clear recognition of the role played by services of general interest during the COVID-19 crisis and on the path to recovery.

During the opening round, President Plassmann said:

“We fully support the Commission’s ambition to further strengthen Europe’s resilience by empowering its structural ability to foster a fair and inclusive twin-transition and we are reassured to see such rapid progress from the Council.”

“Overall, we call for a clear recognition of Services of General Interest by all Member States as the key ingredient to making society resilient to future crises. This is proved by the projects that our members are presenting to their governments in the context of the National Recovery Plans.”

“Finally, CEEP calls for the EU institutions to propose solutions and mechanisms to address and sanction breaches of the rule of law and to make sure our recovery is made into a real democratic process involving social partners and essential service providers in every step.”

Taking the floor during the open discussion, General Secretary Valeria Ronzitti commented:

“CEEP calls for the strong involvement of social partners in the implementation of the Next Generation EU and the Multiannual Financial Framework. We welcome the commitment of Council President Michel to carry this message to the upcoming European Summit, and count on Member States to include social partners in the design of the national Recovery and Resilience plans.”

At the occasion of the TSS, CEEP also presented a first version of a compilation of investment plans submitted by CEEP members from across Europe to the National Recovery Plans, highlighting the expected impacts on the overarching priorities of the EU.

This Wednesday 16 September 2020, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented her first State of the European Union (SOTEU) address to the European Parliament plenary. On this occasion, Mrs von der Leyen presented her vision and ambitions for the EU moving forward, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery instruments.

Following this speech, Valeria Ronzitti, CEEP General Secretary, commented:

On the pillars of the post-COVID-19 recovery: “With a primary focus on thanking healthcare providers and frontline workers and reinforcing the need for the post-COVID-19 to rely on a strong social market economy, CEEP wholeheartedly supports the main lines presented today by President von der Leyen. However, they should be accompanied by real implementation and that is where our members will come into the picture”

On the implementation of the recovery package: “Whilst fully acknowledging the importance of the green and digital transitions for creating new growth and employment models, CEEP wants to see the details beyond the rhetoric. With our members, we can support EU, national, regional and local institutions to ensure that investments are made in the right infrastructures, either physical or social.”

On the need for an inclusive economic recovery: “As providers of services of general interest, our members need access to financing and support. The focus that the European Commission puts on traditional SMEs only calls for EU institutions to reflect on the current definition of ‘Small and medium-sized enterprise’. All SMEs will be engines of the recovery, whether public or private.”

On the EU economic architecture: “Completing the Capitals Market Union and the Banking Union is more than necessary, and we strongly support the renewed commitment to reach those goals. The progress on those two major tools needs to be completed and go hand in hand with an in-depth review and modernisation of the Stability and Growth Pact.”

 On migration: “We support the underlying rationale behind the upcoming proposals on migration. As an employers and SGI providers’ organisation, CEEP plays a key role in the integration of migrants and refugees into labour market. The renewal of the Partnership for Integration is further proof of that commitment. However, social partners and service providers cannot make it alone. The successful integration requires a genuine EU migration policy, calling on all 27 Member States to also step up their efforts.”

On Monday 7 September 2020, the European Commission – represented by Commissioners Johansson and Schmit – and the European Social and Economic Partners (CEEP, ETUC, BusinessEurope, SMEunited and EuroChambres) renewed their commitment to the European Partnership for Integration from 2017 with a joint statement.

In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, CEEP and its partners “recall the need for a comprehensive approach to integration that empowers all relevant stakeholders at local, national and European level, and the essential role played by public authorities.” Also, looking beyond the current crisis, the signatories emphasise that labour migration can offer a unique opportunity to support economic growth and make labour markets more resilient. Cooperation with countries of origin and better intelligence on skills and labour market shortages can play an important role in this endeavour.

During the signing ceremony, Valeria Ronzitti, CEEP General Secretary, said:

“Many of the existing supporting instruments, many projects and organizations working with and helping migrants and refugees are disrupted as a consequence of the COVID-19 outbreak. It is imperative to make sure that this supporting net remains operational throughout the crisis.”

“With the renewal of our Partnership for Integration, we must use this opportunity to ensure that our social and political infrastructures progress towards the elimination of migration-related inequality. We are committed to doing so by further fostering a multi-stakeholder approach, supporting entrepreneurship, and facilitating the identification, assessment and validation of skills at the earliest stage.”

“CEEP is willing to push for further extended cooperation with the Social and Economic Partners in the area of labour migration and to reinforce our joint effort in implementing EU-funded projects at the local level and to facilitate the labour market integration of refugees where this is more needed.”

On 21st July 2020, EU heads of state and of governments agreed on the shape and size of both the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 (MFF) and the Next Generation EU recovery instrument.

Commenting the agreement reached by the European Council, Valeria Ronzitti, CEEP General Secretary, said:

“As CEEP repeatedly called on EU leaders to maintain the ambition of the European Commission on the overall size of €750bln, we welcome the overall volume of the recovery instrument agreed. We however deeply regret that the innovative dimension of this instrument didn’t meet its highest potential level with the proposed game-changing EU4Health.
We now count on the National Recovery Plans to revive that ambition, to promote investment in social infrastructure, including healthcare, as well as in digital and green. This shall compensate the loss in ambition in the final deal for some programmes, including InvestEU or the Just transition Fund. In order to make sure that those Plans will promote a sustainable and inclusive growth, it will be essential to involve national, regional and local social partners in their preparation.”

On the MFF, we commend the negotiating capacities of President Charles Michel and the fact that an agreement was found; any further delay would have put citizens’ and markets’ confidence in the capacity for Member States to reach compromise in the name of the European project under threat. Important progress will still be needed to modernize the MFF. This can only be achieved thanks to an institutional framework that allows the efficient coordination among different levels of governance and enhances the leading role of the EU. This can spark the Union’s unique competitive advantages to face the challenges ahead. We count on the Conference on the Future of Europe to be the basis for this new framework.”

“Finally, we now look forward to the discussion and approval of this framework by the European Parliament, which is a key step to ensure the legitimacy of an instruments that is made to serve European citizens.”

Today [17th July 2020], CEEP took part in the informal meeting of employment and social affairs ministers (EPSCO) organised by the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Held via videoconference, the meeting was hosted from Berlin by Hubertus Heil, Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of Germany, and also featured the participation of Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, the 27 ministers of employment and social affairs, and the prominent economist Mariana Mazzucato.

Addressing the plenary session on “The Social Dimension of Europe’s Recovery”, Valeria Ronzitti, CEEP General Secretary, said:

“There is a growing understanding about the business case for a stronger role of the public sector in ensuring an inclusive and sustainable growth. Public services are not only there to intervene in case of market failure.”

“The structural vulnerabilities highlighted by the pandemic are the result of years of under-investment in essential services. The recovery must be built on a new paradigm, recognising that investing in SGIs is the condition to efficiently combine sustainable economic growth and social welfare. This should be one of the main lessons from the COVID-19 crisis.”

“CEEP calls for stronger links between Employment and Finance Ministers at national and EU level when discussing the National Recovery Plans. Social partners are also an essential part of the equation to guarantee that those Recovery Plans are genuine “resilience plans” with a strong growth and job creation component, opposed to short-term “survival” and financial rescue plans.”

Today [1st July 2020], the European Commission has adopted its renewed European Skills Agenda, a proposal for a Council Recommendation on vocational education and training (VET) and a Youth Employment Support package including a proposal for a reinforced youth guarantee.

The proposed initiatives aim at stepping up the skills dimension by preparing young people for an increasingly digital and green world of work and to unlock public and private investment in educational and vocational training.

Following the publication of the packages, Valeria Ronzitti, CEEP General Secretary, said:

“Whilst the EU needs to address the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis and prepare for the green and digital twin transition, CEEP welcomes this set of proposals which keeps the long-term perspective in mind. The proposed Skills agenda for Europe should now be fully implemented and properly connected to the other initiatives such as the EU Green Deal, the digital industrial strategy and the action plan for the Pillar of social rights.”

“With its focus on “Strengthening skills intelligence”, the European Commission rightly provides pathways to address skills mismatch and shortages. The existing articulations between labour market and education and training programmes are insufficient at the moment. Developing a common understanding of future skills needs should support employers of public services and of services of general interest to address the shortages experienced in essential utilities such as transport, waste management, water, energy or housing.”

“CEEP welcomes the steps which are taken today by the EU to guarantee structural funds and to establish pan-European initiatives and programmes focused on equipping citizens with the skills they need. We call for Member States to make the best use of the EU funding to implement new youth employment support programmes and to equip everyone – especially the most vulnerable – for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Ahead of the publication of this package, CEEP and its sectoral member EFEE (European Federation of Education Employers) have been consulted by the European Commission, providing the following input.

Today [23 June 2020], Rainer Plassmann, CEEP President, and Valeria Ronzitti, General Secretary, represented CEEP at the Tripartite Social Summit organised via videoconference by the Croatian Presidency of the EU. In presence of Andrej Plenković, Croatian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, Mr Plassmann and Mrs Ronzitti addressed the consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak on the activities of employers of public services and of services of general interest.

During the opening roundtable, President Rainer Plassmann said:

“While lockdown measures largely paralysed our single market, public services and services of general interest remained operational. The provision of water, energy, waste management, telecommunications, education, housing, transport and administration services has never been structurally questioned. However, years of underinvestment have led healthcare services in many Member States to struggle to cope with the crisis.”

“CEEP is convinced that the EU institutions should now shepherd us out of the crisis. We fully support the Next Generation EU and the revised MFF as the right tools. The EU answer must rely on both strategic investment to promote upward convergence and foster a resilient social market economy, as well as additional resources channeled towards healthcare, just transition and digital infrastructures, targeting all social and physical infrastructures. The provision of funding must be combined with ambitious targets to make an economically strong, green and digitally best-equipped EU.”

Taking the floor during the opening discussion, General Secretary Valeria Ronzitti said:

“Today is the UN Public Service Day, and it is a wise moment to take in the first lessons from the COVID-19 crisis. First, we must consider EU recommendations on minimum standards in times of crisis in vital sectors, such as SGIs, the healthcare sector or essential services and products. Also, we believe that EU procedures must be put in place in case internal borders have to be closed again, and avoid endangering the achievements of our Internal Market.”

Today, the European Social Partners Framework Agreement on Digitalisation was signed by BusinessEurope, ETUC, CEEP and SMEunited to support the successful digital transformation of Europe’s economy and to manage its large implications for labour markets, the world of work and society at large.

The agreement supports the successful integration of digital technologies at the workplace, investment in digital skills, skills updating and the continuous employability of the workforce. The agreement enables employers and unions to introduce digital transformation strategies in partnership in a human oriented approach at national, sectoral, company and workplace levels, including on the modalities of connecting and disconnecting and respect of working time rules and appropriate measures to ensure compliance.

See the agreement here.
 
BusinessEurope Director General Markus J. Beyrer said:

“This agreement paves the way for a consensual digital transition of our economies and for more resilience of our enterprises. The relevance of this agreement becomes clear at a time when many workers need to use digital technologies to work distantly. Investment in digital skills is particularly important for Europe’s future. It is now up to the national social partners to implement this agreement at the national level. The European Commission should respect the autonomy of the EU Social Partners.”

ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini said:

“Unions and employers at European level have signed an agreement that says digital change should not be imposed by management but managed in partnership with workers and their trade unions. It supports negotiations between unions and employers in each EU country, in different sectors, companies and workplaces.”

CEEP General Secretary Valeria Ronzitti said:

“This framework agreement addresses an issue which will be on the agenda of social partners for decades, and should become the basis for joint activities to adapt to the fast-paced evolution brought by digitalisation. Public services and SGI employers need to keep on delivering high-quality essential services no matter the circumstances. Digitalisation should help to achieve this crucial mission. This agreement also sets out a joint process that can be tailored to different industrial relations systems and national, local, sectoral and enterprise situations, while offering a model for social partners to anticipate, discuss, negotiate and monitor concrete solutions to the many impacts of digitalisation.”

SMEunited Secretary General Véronique Willems said:

“We concluded the agreement on digitalisation just ahead of a time spurring the use of digital tools during the COVID-19 crisis. Our joint dynamic approach covers all the core areas of social partners’ competence, such as training, health and safety, connecting and disconnecting. The recognition of the direct relationship between employers and workers in small businesses and SMEs specificities should facilitate a smooth introduction and continuous adaptation of digital technologies in SMEs and the necessary dialogue for the benefits of both sides.”

Today [8 June 2020], Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commission Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People, and Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, organised a hearing with the EU social partners on the upcoming Action Plan on the EU Pillar of Social Rights.

Speaking on behalf of CEEP in the opening roundtable, Valeria Ronzitti, General Secretary, said:

“CEEP strongly supports the objective of building a resilient, sustainable and fair Union, while fostering upward convergence. In order for the Action Plan on the Pillar of Social Rights to reach that objective, its principle 8 on social dialogue needs to be further developed to ensure that national, regional and local social partners have full ownership of initiatives taken. The Pillar should be less about new EU legislation, but more about fostering national ownership and implementation of its principles via the European Semester.”

“This consultation, and the upcoming ones on the priorities for the Action Plan, are very timely as they will allow to operationalise the principles in a way that fully takes into account the COVID-19 outbreak and its economic and social consequences. For our members, this should translate into full and effective implementation of the principle on access to services: that would be the only way to create coherence between the Action Plan, the revised MFF and the Next Generation EU which identify essential services such as long term care, healthcare and housing as matters of priority for the social dimension.”

“An integrated approach is needed, with policy coherence to mainstream those investments through all stages of the recovery. For this to happen, the Action Plan must be connected to the future national recovery plans to be drafted by Member States in the context of the new Recovery and Resilience Facility. SGIs employers and providers stand ready to support European and national institutions in prioritising those investment needs.”

At this hearing, CEEP delegation included members from the Swedish Association of Local and Regional Authorities (SALAR), the Bulgarian Industrial Capital Association (BICA), the German Vereinigung der kommunalen Arbeitgeberverbände (VKA), the French Union Social pour l’Habitat (USH), the European Federation of Education Employers (EFEE) and the European Healthcare and Hospitals’ Employers Association (HOSPEEM).

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