The European Union needs ‘flexicurity' – a balance of labour market flexibility and social security – to be competitive and face up to the challenges of enlargement.
Speaking at the launch of a new study by the World Bank and the Bertelsmann Foundation, experts from the EU and candidate countries said that European governments should engage citizens in the process of reinventing their approach to the labour market and social issues in order to ease the fears of their people and counteract the rising voice of the extreme right.
“We should create some kind of flexicurity model: this means flexibility after social dialogue,” Poland's ex-Labour Minister Michal Boni, co-author of Labour, employment and social policies in the EU enlargement process, told the forum organised by the European Policy Centre. Boni also argued that promoting labour mobility was essential, not only in candidate countries, but across the EU to ensure the proper matching of skills and people to enhance the competitiveness of the European economy.
Rita Suessmuth, former leader of the German Bundestag and also a co-author of the book, suggested that current EU members had to overcome their fears of being overrun by cheap labour and recognise the benefits of migration as a dynamo for economic growth and a catalyst for the prosperity necessary to sustain the social security system. “We have to have a minimum of coordination in Europe and to admit that migration is more of an added value than a burden,” Suessmuth noted.
The German academic also suggested that governments abandon addressing issues of migration and employment on a national level and work, through dialogue with their citizens, towards promoting a pan-European approach to these common challenges, which protects workers against the vulnerabilities of a flexible labour policy.
The experts also recommended higher investment in education and retraining to meet the employment shortage in the knowledge sector in both member and candidate countries. In addition, Boni suggested reduced working hours, job-sharing, telecommuting and investment in the social sector to counteract technological displacement in the slowing manufacturing and services sector.
This article appeared in the 2 May 2002 issue of European Voice.