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EU’s labour market wish list “could crash with the Nordic model”

EU’s labour market wish list “could crash with the Nordic model”

| Text: Bengt Rolfer och Gunhild Wallin

The EU Parliament has drawn up a huge wish list for the labour market. Top social democrat candidate Johan Danielsson believes it contains reasonable demands. "The Nordic region has a lot to gain from improved working and living conditions in the rest of Europe, says Danielsson.

How much say should the EU have over labour market regulation? Many will remember the fight over the minimum wage directive when the EU Parliament joined with trade unions in Europe to pass legislation. Nordic politicians, unions and workers joined forces to defend the Nordic collective bargaining model but lost the fight.

So what could be expected during the coming term? The European Parliament has worked out a huge wish list concerning the labour market. We checked in with the Moderate Jessica Polfjärd, who sits on the Employment Committee (EMPL) and the Social Democrat top candidate Johan Danielsson, Sweden’s former Deputy Minister for Employment.

During the pandemic, the EU introduced a temporary support measure aimed at mitigating unemployment risk (SURE). Now, some voices in the Parliament are calling for a permanent solution, a kind of European unemployment insurance. 

Others propose giving more power to the European Labour Authority (ELA), more money for skills development, social conditionality for public procurement and for accessing EU funds, etc, etc. 

Jessica Polfjärd

Jessica Polfjärd from the Moderates things a lot of the social dialogue should be a national concern. Photo: Sara Johannessen/

“We think this list is a bit long,” says Jessica Polfjärd. But here we also have a very Swedish position. The minimum wage issue was one of the few that saw all the Swedish MEPs agree. We did support SURE as a way of preventing people from ending up unemployed during the pandemic. But that was an exceptional time.  

A huge list

Johan Danielsson thinks the Parliament’s huge wishlist mainly contains reasonable demands. 

“I think, for instance, that it is a good idea to link our common tax money with the compliance with laws and agreements in the labour market (the “social conditionality” proposal). It would also be good if ELA got more resources to help Swedish authorities chase down cowboy employers after they have left the country.” 

Johan Danielssons

High on Johan Danielsson's ” to-do list” in the EU Parliament is to fight labour market crime. Photo: The Social Democrats

Johan Danielsson also underlines that the EU proposals must be compatible with the Swedish labour market model. He has an idea of how that issue can be solved and he will pursue this if he is elected.

“It’s about making that kind of legislation discretionary, meaning that we are allowed to adapt it to our national industry agreements. The best thing would be to create a solution which can then be applied generally, if not you would have to solve things on a case-by-case basis,” he says.

"Social democrats to blame"

Jessica Polfjärd partly blames the Swedish Social Democrats for the problems surrounding EU-level legislation vs national collective agreements, not least because former Prime Minister Stefan Löfven was instrumental in introducing the social pillar in the EU. But Johan Danielsson retorts: 

“No, no, the conservatives have got stuck on that narrative. The social pillar is not the problem. The basic premise there is that society must become more equal to create stable democratic and economic development. 

“The Nordics also have a lot to gain from improved working and living conditions in the rest of Europe. Workers who come to Sweden and are exploited do not arrive to live in the employer’s garage for fun.

“They come because they have an even weaker position and are exploited in their home country. So we can gain a lot from making things better for them. That is why we must also find a way to make EU legislation compatible with our own labour market model.”

Fighting labour market crime

Another issue high on Johan Danielsson’s European Parliament to-do list is to get to grips with labour market crime. 

“Organised crime in the labour market has become such a comprehensive problem that it is threatening society as a whole. I want to see a European strategy to combat this. We could look at banning long supply chains, clearer procurement rules, stricter penalties and banning certain types of posted work abuse,” he says.

The social dialogue on a national level

The EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently promised to appoint a special envoy within the Commission to promote social dialogue between the social partners. 

“A positive step,” thinks Johan Danielsson. Hopefully, this could help develop the negotiation model and strengthen trade union rights in many countries. 

Jessica Polfjärd is less keen.

“These are not issues that we believe should be dealt with on an EU level to the same extent as others do. We would rather focus on other EU cooperation issues. We believe much of the social dialogue should be left to individual nations and do not see any benefits from the Commission having this as a stated area of responsibility,” she says.

Back on the ballot

Johan Danielsson is number 2 on the Social Democrats' ballot in the 2024 EU elections. Photo: The Social Democrats


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