EU leaders seek single voice to save jobs
With the economic crisis expected to wipe out 8.5 million European jobs over two years, leaders are discussing temporarily cutting working hours as well as ways to prevent job losses becoming long-term unemployment.Prague -- EU leaders were struggling Thursday to agree on which tools to use to shore up their job markets as the recession threatens to throw millions of Europeans out of work.
Prime Ministers and ministers from the Czech Republic, Sweden and Spain -- the current and future holders of the EU presidency -- attended the jobs summit with senior EU officials.
"We all agree on the goals, but we may not always agree on the means," said Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country holds the EU presidency now.
With the crisis expected to wipe out 8.5 million European jobs over two years, the summit discussed temporarily cutting working hours as well as ways to prevent job losses becoming long-term unemployment.
"The sharp rise in unemployment is the single most damaging impact of the economic crisis," European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said at the meeting, urging "more cooperation than ever."
But the talks revealed the policy rifts.
The EU's draft statement said member states "must aim at maintaining as many people as possible in jobs" through "a temporary adjustment of working hours ... with the support of public funding."
While EU Labour Commissioner Vladimir Spidla told AFP the measure was "reasonable and efficient," his compatriot Topolanek warned against excessive public spending and protectionism in general.
"The EU should work with the idea of an active individual, not a paternalist state that will take care of everything at the cost of debts and higher taxes," he said.
"Jobs are not created by the state but by companies and entrepreneurs," Topolanek said in comments echoed by his Swedish counterpart Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country will take the presidency over from the Czechs on July 1.
"We have to work through businesses and employees to try to develop our welfare model and create an atmosphere conducive to investment and jobs," said Reinfeldt.
In its draft, the EU also calls for full labour mobility and advises investment in research and infrastructure, curbing red tape, and training especially for unemployed aged under 24.
"We must protect the most vulnerable, prevent immediate job losses from turning into long-term unemployment, and preserve the longer-term objective of combating the effects of demographic ageing and declining work force," the EU meeting draft said.
The "troika" style meeting, with three EU nations involved was a much smaller version than the full-scale EU jobs summit with all 27 heads of state and government originally envisaged by the Czechs.
Trade union groups highlighted the fact that it became so boiled down as a sign of a lack of interest.
"It's a pity it's not the major social summit which we would have preferred," said Wanja Lundby-Wedin, European Trade Union Confederation president.
However Spanish Labour Minister Celestino Corbacho, representing his country at the talks, declared that "this is the first time during the crisis that we are going to deal specifically with the issue of unemployment."
Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister and chairman of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, warned recently that the EU is "in the heart of an economic and financial crisis and we are heading towards a social crisis."
The European Commission forecast on Monday that Europe was set to see unemployment rise to the highest levels since World War II with 8.5 million Europeans expected to lose their jobs in 2009 and 2010.