Subscribe to the latest news from the Nordic Labour Journal by e-mail. The newsletter is issued 9 times a year. Subscription is free of charge.

You are here: Home i In Focus i In Focus 2024 i Theme: Change of tack in EU policy? i Claes-Mikael Ståhl: Money and solidarity needed for the green transition
Claes-Mikael Ståhl: Money and solidarity needed for the green transition

Claes-Mikael Ståhl: Money and solidarity needed for the green transition

| Text: Gunhild Wallin and Bengt Rolfer

Right-wing populists are gaining ground in Europe and if they get more power in the Parliament, ambitions for the green transition and for a social and just Europe risk being pushed back. "We worry about even more push-backs in the future," says Claes-Mikael Ståhl, the European Trade Union Congress Deputy General Secretary.

There is a risk that the European Parliament no longer will be characterised by progressive and solidarity-based policies. Right-wing forces also want to pursue austerity policies and review the stability and growth pacts.

ETUC firmly backs the green transition. It sees it as necessary to save the climate but also as a major employment measure. New high-quality jobs can be created as a result of the transition and ETUC argues that this is something the EU can spearhead. 

The green transition is dependent on money and solidarity. It is necessary to create structures for change so that the journey towards a climate-neutral Europe is safe and does not threaten either jobs or individuals’ welfare. To achieve this, money must also be redirected, argues Claes-Mikael Ståhl.

Claes-Mikael Ståhl

Claes-Mikael Ståhl, the European Trade Union Congress Deputy General Secretary. Photo: ETUC

“Support and help for countries who have the furthest to go to transition their industry will have an impact on the EU budget, and this will also be a major challenge for individual member states.

"In the Nordic region, we have carried out some of the transition, but in large areas of Europe, this is not the case. As a result, the challenge and also reluctance is larger, which we can now see. The big question is whether the new Parliament will have the capacity to deal with this,” he says. 

“Unfortunate” Swedish no to the La Hulpe Declaration

The more the EU decides on social issues, the stronger its influence grows in areas that traditionally have been entirely national. This inspires hope and confidence in many governments. Others, like the Swedish government, are sceptical of the EU social pillars and want to slow the trends towards supranationalism.

One result of this is the fact that Sweden, along with Austria, has not signed the so-called La Hulpe Declaration which was adopted during the Belgian presidency in mid-April. It provides guidelines for how the EU should address employment issues in Europe between 2024 and 2029. It is a voluntary agreement but was signed by all of the other member states.

Esther Lynch

ETUC General Secretary Esther Lynch was in La Hulpe, a Belgian municipality. ETUC is positive to the La Hulpe Declaration. Photo: David Jacowbski 

“It is unfortunate that Sweden has not signed the La Hulpe Declaration. This text expresses the EU’s ambition to engage also in social issues. The fact that Sweden does not want to participate in cooperation on social issues is regrettable, especially since we have long traditions for a strong and well-developed welfare model. 

“The social pillar has its challenges but expresses an intention for a social Europe. Sweden is increasingly taking the role of the UK, as a proponent for the EU to be mainly a free trade cooperation,” says Claes-Mikael Ståhl.

Since the dispute over the minimum wage, where part of the social pillar actually became a mandatory directive, and then the row over the working time directive, the Swedish government has firmly rejected the idea of the EU handling issues such as wage formation and welfare. These should be a national concern, it argues.

During a meeting of the Swedish parliament’s EU committee, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson highlighted the EU’s long-term competitiveness and the importance of having fewer obstacles, not more.

Growth is synonymous with progress and if the important common market with its 450 million citizens is to operate as efficiently as possible, obstacles to trade and rules should be cut, goes the argument. Another priority for the Swedish government is that EU rules should not reduce the role of nuclear power in the green transition.

On the topic of supranationalism, Claes-Mikael Ståhl answers briefly and concisely.

“What’s the alternative? Can Sweden perform a green transition alone? The country is too small so sorting waste and other measures do not help. In the social sphere, there is a need for interaction between supranational and national competencies, which can lead to different outcomes depending on the issue at hand.”

ETUC is positive to the La Hulpe Declaration and says it will give workers security and better working and living conditions. ETUC wants to the EU to commit to the full implementation of the social pillar and would like to see the declaration become part of the EU’s strategic agenda and for it to be at the core of the EU’s work in the coming years. 

ETUC also sees it as positive that these ideas are linked to so-called “social conditionality” to secure EU funds, and that social requirements are imposed on member states’ public procurement systems, i.e. when they use EU funds.

“The proposal is an important and major step forward, but it is strange that it has taken this long. It goes without saying that member states must be required to justify their use of EU funds,” says Claes-Mikael Ståhl.

A fair and more social Europe

ETUC has launched a manifesto ahead of the EU Parliament election, where it says that this upcoming election is the most important one for many years.

ETUC manifestoOnly 40 per cent of Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) members vote in the EU elections, and 80 per cent of academics. Claes-Mikael Ståhl believes many more LO workers would vote if they knew how much is happening in the EU right now that will also have an impact on Swedish jobs. 

“What happens in Europe might feel like a long way away for people in the Nordics, but it is important. What happens at my workplace? Are there further education opportunities? How do we become competitive? And can I move, see the world and learn new things?” says Claes-Mikael Ståhl.

The election has been described as a crossroads between the solidarity and progressive forces that emerged during the pandemic and as a result of austerity policies. ETUC is encouraging workers, students, pensioners and all Europeans to vote at the European Parliamentary elections, to make their voices heard for a just and more social Europe. 

“There is a social justice emergency in Europe. Over the past year, working people have suffered record real-term pay cuts while unscrupulous employers continue to register record profits. Meanwhile, the EU institutions threaten to return to austerity and open the door to further deregulation, punishing workers,” reads the ETUC manifesto.

ETUC manifesto launch

ETUC launched their manifesto ahead of the EU Parliamentary elections on 15 November last year.. Photo: ETUC

It lists 12 demands, including better jobs and incomes, an end to precarious work and improved working conditions, support for trade unions, collective bargaining and social dialogue, safe work, a rejection of austerity and support for an economy benefiting people and the planet, a strong industrial policy and public services, public money for social progress, and guaranteed just changes in climate and digital policies. 

A new tripartite agreement

At the end of January, the social partners met at the ”Val Duchesse Social Partners Summit” which resulted in a tripartite agreement “for a thriving European social dialogue”. It underlined the importance of dialogue between workers and businesses and is considered to be a fundamental part of the EU’s social model.

“It is a way to revive the work style that relied more on negotiations and talk, and was common 20, 30 years ago. Right now, work continues with discussions about what a “European pact of social dialogue” should contain,” says Claes-Mikael Ståhl.

The dialogue should contribute to increased economic prosperity, improve working conditions, promote competition, and support expectations of managing changes as well as opportunities to do so, for example, within the green transition.

Right now, labour shortages are a main issue, and creating qualitative jobs and a labour force with the right skill set is top of the list of things that must be done – especially for small and medium-sized companies. The social dialogue within the EU will be strengthened and it is proposed that a social envoy be established to take care of that mission. 

BusinessEurope does not support the new social pillar

The European employers’ organisation BusinessEurope did not sign the La Hulpe Declaration either, unlike the other employer partners in SGI and SMEUnited. This is easier to understand than Sweden’s refusal to sign, believes Claes-Mikael Ståhl. 

“Our understanding is that BusinessEurope primarily considers EU to be a union for free trade and they want to steer away from the more socially oriented EU of later years towards a more competitive model.” 

BusinessEurope also has a Swede at its helm. His name is Fredrik Persson and he has been the organisation’s President since 2022. He was previously President of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise. 

The Nordic Labour Journal has repeatedly asked Fredrik Persson for his view on the development of the European labour market and the social partners’ role in the EU legislative process. He has declined our requests for an interview.  

Persson did give this statement in the Commission’s press release after the social summit on 20 March:

“To make sure that the European Union decarbonises without deindustrialising, a European Industrial Deal needs to be developed with tailored measures to support small and medium-sized enterprises in their transition.”

ETUC supports EU labour market legislation

Claes-Mikael Ståhl is Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Congress. It supports more EU  labour market legislation. Photo: ETUC


Receive Nordic Labour Journal's newsletter nine times a year. It's free.

This is themeComment