Leading by example?


Last month two developments came together to demonstrate how inconsistent Brussels can sometimes be. The European Commission has at last brought forward the definitive proposals on the relationship between social rights and the internal market. At the same time the European Parliament has rejected my own proposals to address the questions of Members’ expenses and of the salaries of officials.

Posting of Workers Directive
The Commission is refusing to amend the Directive on the Posting of Workers to ensure that in the future the principle of equal work for equal pay will apply to everyone. In addition, it will not recognise the right of workers to strike in establishments belonging to foreign firms, as according to the Commission this human right remains a relative right that can not only be restricted on the grounds for limitation contained in human rights treaties, but must also be weighed in the balance against the economic freedoms of the European Union.

On the lump
The Commission’s attitude does nothing to combat ousting of workers from sectors such as building or transport by cheaper labour, workers who are employed ‘on the lump’, treated as if they are self-employed in order to avoid employers’ obligations. The Commission thus, through the internal market, creates a steep downward pressure on wages.

That is, moreover, nothing new, because this is what the Commission did also in the framework of economic governance, where it is laid down that wages must not rise by too much, or there is an occurrence of ‘macro-economic imbalance’ at which point the Commission can act, first by means of ‘instructions’ to the state in question and eventually through sanctions.

Own salaries
Things work differently in Brussels when it comes to their own salaries. It costs Euro-MPs a great deal of toil and woe to take a critical look at their expenses. In my eyes, despite the freeze just agreed, these are far too princely, because a range of expense payments are received for the same single debits, and moreover absolutely no accountability is required in relation to the monthly office expenses reimbursement.

My proposals to do something about this were rejected by a large majority, as were those aimed at reducing the expense payments to EU officials, such as the ‘expatriation allowance of 18% of the salary paid annually to help you ‘settle in’ even if you spend your entire working life in Brussels, and certain family bonuses which actually make no sense at all.

On the attack
Evidently it’s easier for Brussels to go on the attack when it comes to the wages and conditions of ordinary people in Europe than to set a good example themselves by doing something about their own gilt-edges positions. There isn’t, of course, anything astonishing about that, if you consider that reducing the bonuses paid out by major corporations and banks is also apparently a Sisyphean task. The more you earn, the less you hand over.

I’m not going to leave things there, obviously. My intention is to work to create a movement of Euro-MPs who want to tackle the question of salaries and bonuses paid out in Brussels and who want in this way to lead by example.

Dennis de Jong is a Member of the European Parliament for the Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP). The photo, supplied by the SP, shows Dennis de Jong (left), demonstrating alongside postal workers against EU-driven privatisation.