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You are here: Home i Articles i Comments i Comments 2017 i Europe takes on social injustice – does the Nordic region show the way?
Editorial

Europe takes on social injustice – does the Nordic region show the way?

| By Berit Kvam

The social pillar has been missing from Europe’s development. The Gothenburg summit presented a new future. Not everyone enjoys the result, and there are differences of opinion within the Nordic region too. When national interests are at stake, and businesses say no, you get disagreements.

One of Ylva Johanson's aims when she became Sweden’s Minister for Employment was to help stop the trend of a Europe with increasing unemployment, widening gaps and the emergence of a European precariat. She was not alone. Sweden’s government together with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and his team has managed to redraw Europe’s social safety net. The EU social summit in Gothenburg on 17 November gathered heads of states and governments from the whole of Europe.

But others were there too, as the Nordic Labour Journal shows in several articles – the social summit gathered organisations, youth representatives, the social partners and a large public audience for a two-day long debate about Europe’s social future.    

On the eve of the summit, The European Trade Union Congress, ETUC, challenged Europe’s leaders to revive the European social model, which they say has been dismantled by a decade of austerity measures. They also warn that if the social pillar turns into nothing but empty promises, it would be a new nail in the EU’s coffin, as the ETUC Confederal Secretary Esther Lynch says in the Nordic Labour Journal.

Europe is riding a wave of progress. Sweden leads the way with the highest ever employment rates. Yet it still takes a long time for many newly arrived people to find jobs, especially in Sweden. Their social networks are crucial here, but the gap between immigrants and others remains wide. Women and jobseekers with no upper secondary education are struggling the most. That is something which is to be addressed.

The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise and the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) have just reached an agreement in principle to help refugees, young people and the long-term unemployed find jobs. The agreement is dependent on public financing for parts of the workers’ wages.

The EU’s social pillar also faces scepticism and opposition. Nordic employers fear it could undermine the Nordic model on the labour market, and intend to defend the model tooth and nail. Danish labour market researcher Mikkel Mailand believes that fight will be necessary.

Denmark is not one of the countries which asked for the European pillar of social rights. It has therefore been crucial for the Danish government to make sure the preamble to the pillar clarifies that this is about political principles, and not granting further competences to the EU, says the Danish Minister for Employment Troels Lund Poulsen.  

The Faroe Islands with their 18 small islands in the Atlantic illustrate the Nordic region’s diversity and the different levels of connection to the EU. While the Faroes have entered into some cooperation agreements, Iceland and Norway are members of the common market. Denmark, Finland and Sweden are member states. Yet Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg was still one of the heads of government present at the summit discussion on the social dialogue. She used the occasion to promote a concrete challenge to stop social dumping and work-related crime, which can be a slippery slope towards social depletion. She called for more European cross-border cooperation.

The Nordic Council’s newly appointed lobbyist faces heavy odds. She is dealing with political differences and preferences, national models and what will best serve further development. You cannot take Nordic agreement for granted, as Matilda af Hällström says in the Portrait. She will work systematically for a better Nordic cooperation within the EU. As she applies cleverness and energy and a heart for Nordic values, it will be interesting to see what she can achieve.
We guess it's going the right way.

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