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Gothenburg EU summit: “We are taking the Nordic model to Europe"
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Gothenburg EU summit: “We are taking the Nordic model to Europe"

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

The mood was very good as trade unions and voluntary organisations met ahead of the EU summit focusing on the social pillar.

“For the first time in 20 years, I am proud of the EU,” Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson, President of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation LO, told his European colleagues in his welcome address.

Taking a taxi from the railway station to the Clarion hotel, where trade union representatives from the European Trade Union Confederation are gathering, we see nearly no private cars around. Warnings from city authorities that the EU summit will create traffic chaos has made people stay at home.

“It’s crazy. Everyone who ride with me, thousands of Gothenburgers, are negative,” says taxi driver Ahmed.

“Imagine, the EU politicians are having dinner worth 700 kronor (€70) a head! We taxpayers pay for it,” he says agitatedly.

The EU faces a tough challenge convincing ordinary people that the social pillar is something that concerns them. It will be even harder to convince hundreds of EU journalists who wonder how the whole thing can work without any sanctions. But Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson is enthusiastic:

“What is happening is that we are taking the Nordic model to Europe. It might sound a bit far-fetched, but we are already seeing results,” he tells the Nordic Labour Journal. He is in a buoyant mood ahead of the 40 intensive hours during which the western Swedish city will be the centre of attention for all of Europe.

Top 12 in competitiveness

“Take competitiveness, which is the only thing that really matters. Markets in the Nordic region are too small to be selling things only in our own countries. That is why competitiveness is important.

“The Nordic model has resulted in higher wages, yes, but also strong competitiveness. All the Nordic countries are in the top twelve globally when it comes to competitiveness.”

When the 28 EU member states sign the European Pillar of Social Rights on Friday – a total of 20 recommendations on the labour market and social issues – it will be up to each member state to introduce legislation for things like a minimum level of parental leave.

“If we succeed here, we will see that the whole of Europe will be working more with competence development and adult education, retraining for people between jobs and good social insurance systems. It will have an impact on us in the Nordics too. This is a starting point for the Nordic region to go global.”

A change in the EU

A change has already happened in the EU, according to Thorwaldsson.

“The latest thing is the positing of workers directive. That took a long time, but was a small revolution. For the first time since the Laval judgement we are allowed to demand that posted workers not only should be paid the same, but that they are also entitled to non-wage-related benefits.

The Laval judgement was really lousy for workers, since it prevented us from demanding that the wages for posted workers should be on the same level as the Swedish ones. When the employers had a choice between two equally competent workers, and one of them cost 70 percent of the local Swedish pay, it's not hard to guess which one they chose.

“This has been tested in the courts, including the Finnish model and the Norwegian one with universally applicable agreements.

“Now, the EU is opening up for this to become the standard across the whole of Europe. But the social pillar is not the end goal. It is only the beginning,” says Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson. 

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