Speech given by Bernadette Ségol at EPSU Congress

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Speech Given by Bernadette Ségol, General Secretary of the European Trade Union confederation (ETUC)

20 May 2014, Toulouse

[Translation from French Original]

Dear Anne-Marie, dear President, dear Carola,
dear colleagues,

I am please to be with you today in a city that I know well, a city where I spent the first 5 years of my life. I was born in this region, in Cahors, about 120 kilometres from here.

The events in Ukraine and the war in the former Yugoslavia ought to make us remember certain things. That the Europe that we know today is the result of two terrible wars, of blind nationalism, fascism and of barbaric totalitarianism.

Europe is more than the European Union (EU).
What we want is peace and cooperation across the whole of Europe.

To the warmongers we say:
Keep your tanks in the garage.
Destroy your Kalashnikovs.
Find tables and chairs and sit down and negotiate.

The borders between the EU countries are not dividing lines, but open borders.
It is often  taken-for-granted, a part of our day-to-day lives, something that we are used to. AS with many other things, we have grown used to all  that Europe has given us. Yet increasingly, the EU appears to us as an institutional construction, ever more removed from its citizens.

Europe needs a wake-up call, a new momentum and different policies.

So, what must be done?

Democracy, solidarity and social progress are the foundations of Europe.

The bitter medicine of neo-liberalism and the rallying cry of ‘austerity’ are not curing the patient.

Your members were first to pay the price following the implementation of austerity policies. You were on the frontline.

When deficits had to be lowered, jobs were axed in public administration and civil servants’ and public sector workers’ wages were cut.

Crisis-stricken countries are still not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Unemployment, precariousness, in-work poverty are all on the up.

Social protection systems have been weakened.

An ever-growing number of men and women have only limited access to healthcare.

Increasingly, young people leave school only to join the ranks of the unemployed.

Twenty six million men and women are unemployed, that is ten million more than in 2008. If unemployment were a state, it would be the seventh largest in the EU.

Precarious work is growing. In the healthcare sector in the United Kingdom, three hundred thousand people are on zero-hour contracts.

In Germany, there are seven million in-work poor due to mini-jobs.

Politicians, financiers and economists at the top have to stop viewing unemployment and precariousness as necessary by-products of the financial crisis.

This is unfortunately what is happening.

No; we, as trade unions, never settle for unemployment, precariousness and in-work poverty.

We are not naïve or stupid: we are not saying that debt and deficits are virtuous.

We are saying that Europe’s future, that debt- and deficit-reduction depends on investment to create growth and jobs.

Investment in infrastructure, in research and development,

In education, in training, in high-end technology and in the environment,

In healthcare and in public services.

This is where stability and jobs will come from. This is what will get the European social model back on track.

We have made proposals. We have to push them forward at all levels: European, national, sectoral, regional and at company-level.

We demand that the financial sector contributes to getting public finances back on a firm footing.

The financial transactions tax must become a reality.

This, this will improve public finances.
This will be a win for social justice, and a blow to financial speculation.

Financial speculation must be halted, finance must be put back in its place: at the service of the real economy, at the service of people.

What these ten Eurozone governments have put on the table is a sort of tax on the trading of shares, but it is not a financial transaction tax.

We have not achieved our aims with the tax in its current form.

When we say that the burden of the cost of the financial crisis has been on the shoulders of those who did not cause it, we, as trade unions, are not using a populist argument.

If you are unemployed, you’ve been dealt a bad hand. But, and here is the incredible bit, if you’re a bad bank, you get dealt a winning hand, because you’ll be given a helping hand.

Even today, the financial system is still looking out for number one and making money out of the crisis.

Rather than reviving the financial industry, we should be reviving social policy across Europe.

Tax fraud, evasion and avoidance are not acceptable. And really very little has been done against combat them. One trillion euros are lost by national exchequers each year. The report recently published  by the European Parliament economic committee should be used  to realign European policy.

The coming elections will take place on 25th May.
The EU wants to be democratic:  but this democracy should be measured by the competences afforded to the European Parliament.

And that includes the issue of who will be the President of the European Commission. It is citizens who should make this choice. Not heads of government in backroom discussions.

Progress has been made; but there is a long way to go to put the parliament in its true place.

What we want is a citizens’ Europe, and that means a lot more than just  a governments´ Europe.

To achieve this we need a European trade union, a strong and united European Trade Union Confederation.

This does not happen overnight. Time is needed. But we must be careful that time does not get ahead of us.

Heads of state and ministers must come out of the bunkers where they make their decisions. 

The negotiations on the trade agreement with the United States  -TTIP- must happen in the open and be subject to a decision by the parliament.

Points such as the exclusion from the agreement  of public services, respect for social rights and protections, and intellectual property are simply non-negotiable.

This is a top priority for the ETUC that has to coordinate the positions of the trade unions.

The trends and recent election results in certain European countries are alarming.

Men and women are allowing themselves to be carried away by out-dated ideologies.

These ideologies want to turn back the clock, and once again separate Europe with difficult-to-surmount borders. 

Racist and xenophobic ideologies are invading the public space.

In France, the National Front is demanding that France leave the Eurozone and re-establish its borders. In the UK, UKIP is demanding the country leave the European Union.

Others on the right of the political spectrum want to undo the right of freedom of movement for workers.

Dear friends and colleagues,

Where would we be without you?
Without nurses, without waste workers, without firefighters, without tax inspectors or health and safety  inspectors or without local government workers?

Without public services there is no real quality of life.

Without public services, no equality. Allow me, if you will, a personal reflection. Without public services -in my case Belgian public services- I would not be here to talk to you today. To be able to work and take on a role in the European trade union movement, with my four children, I need crèches where I can leave my children in safety, hospitals and emergency services.

Therefore, thank you to the Belgian public services, and to all of you who work for a more just and dignified society.

Along with social protection and good industrial relations, public services are the cornerstone of the European social model.

We should be proud of this model. It is not an old-fashioned model, quite the contrary, it is a progressive model, much envied around the world.

The most prosperous and equal societies in Europe have the best public services.

Some preconceptions are very hard to shake off. But no, privatisation does not ensure efficiency.

Yet, the European Commission continues to cling to the illusion that private is better.

No: privatising water is not the answer. Yes: water is a common good.

Congratulations on your marvellously achieved European Citizen’s Initiative. I lament the reticent response of the Commission. But your achievement is real and deserves to be recognised.

Another dangerous idea is that public services are a luxury, an expensive luxury, that we can no longer afford ourselves. This is not true.

Public services are an integral part of a good society, of a fair and competitive society.

You defend this good society, the society of the future.

Dear friends,

Allow me to say a few words to Carola.

We have known each other for so long that I don’t want to count the years. Carola, you will have to corroborate the images I that I have in my memory, but it seems to me that when we first met you had long hair.

Yes? (No, she gestures). My memories deceive me.

We have followed parallel routes, but ones that have led  in the same direction. We have marched through the streets of many European cities, in all weathers, on the Euro-demonstrations.

Those Euro-demonstrations have doubtlessly helped  strengthen the European trade union movement; in any case, they have certainly strengthened our good health.

I would like to take this opportunity to say that I have a relationship of real trust with you. That is no small compliment, Carola.

I am quite convinced that, without trust, nothing gets built, that nothing moves forward.

That holds in the trade union movement, as much as it does in one’s personal life.

That you for the trust that you have given me.

You have helped to strengthen the ETUC. You have criticised it, sometimes even severely, but you have never neglected or ignored it. Public services are an integral part  of the European trade union movement, undoubtedly, in great part, thanks to you.

Thank you also for your hard work, for the work over the long-term that you have done to get your organisation to where it is today. You can, and you should, be proud of it.

I wish you all the very best for the future.

And to everyone, a very good congress.