Why is the EU reforming the posted workers directive?

In future posted workers from other EU countries are to receive the same wages and work under the same terms as their local colleagues, the EU ministers of labour and social affairs have agreed in the negotiations on the reform of the posted workers' directive. Finally the EU is focusing on protecting foreign workers, some observers comment approvingly, while others see problems with the reform.

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La Croix (FR) / 24 October 2017

Finally the social turnaround

The EU really can stand up for social causes, La Croix writes in delight:

“This agreement is hugely significant because it could signal a reversal in the trend. ... For two decades one got the impression that concerns about social protection in Europe had to give way in view of the challenges posed by economic competition. Priority was systematically given to free competition as a source of prosperity. On Monday the ministers of labour and social affairs in Brussels gave priority to concerns about social cohesion. Continuing down this path will require perseverance. Now at least it's been shown that this is possible.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) / 25 October 2017

Symbolic policy for the "man on the street"

The motivation behind the reform is populistic, writes Tomasz Bielecki, EU correspondent for Gazeta Wyborcza:

“It's true that these postings can sometimes have a detrimental impact on the local social welfare system. For example when Polish citizens (who pay into the Polish social welfare system and only receive the minimum wage) and French citizens (who pay into the expensive French insurance institutions and are paid according to the pay scale) compete for work on the same French construction site. But the labour markets in France or Belgium would be strengthened more by moves that combat undeclared labour (also by foreigners), and which don't require any new rules, than by a reform of the rules for posted workers that will have a destructive impact on the EU. Posted workers comprise less than one percent of the EU workforce. Unfortunately Western Europe is using symbolic policies prompted by 'concern for the man on the street'.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) / 25 October 2017

Western European protectionism

Increasing protection against wage dumping is just a pretext for reforming the posted workers directive, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung posits:

“The planned restrictions on wage dumping and the free circulation of services in the single market primarily protect the interests of Western European companies and workers according to the motto: raise your competitors' costs. It remains to be seen how many posted workers will actually earn more, however. Some of them are more likely to be pushed out of the market. It's not surprising that the representatives of a number of Eastern European states are criticising the compromise as one-sided. It puts an additional burden on the already fragile East-West relationship. He who uses protectionism to appease the populists in the West may end up strengthening them in the East.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) / 25 October 2017

A violation of the single market principles

The new directive stipulating higher pay and better treatment for Eastern European workers is extremely problematic, the Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“The unshakeable principle of free movement is being replaced by the labour rights principle: equal pay for equal work in the same place. And this is a violation of the single market principles. Posting workers abroad is by no means exploitative per se but a standard and necessary practice, for example when a new facility is being set up abroad. The criticism of the German employees' associations is justified: in future it will be easier to send a worker to India than to France. Moreover the directive highlights Europe's division. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other burgeoning states that have benefited from the status quo are fiercely opposing this amendment.”

Deutsche Welle (RO) / 24 October 2017

Macron trying to make his mark as EU's protector

The Romanian service of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle explains why Macron is so fixated on the posted workers issue:

“Many people are asking why President Macron is making such a big fuss over posted workers when they comprise a mere one percent of the EU workforce. And indeed, it's more about the principle and the general orientation of EU legislation. ... In France Macron believes, as the press writes, that 'the relaunch of the EU depends on the success of the posted workers directive' (Le Figaro, Monday, 23 October). ... Essentially it's about regaining the trust of a society that is increasingly turning towards Eurosceptics. By limiting the mobility of the 'poor' this Europhile politician can prove that he is 'protecting Europe'.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) / 24 October 2017

Don't frame it as an East-West conflict

The debate over the Posted Workers Directive could revive old tensions, the Wiener Zeitung warns:

“It's not just Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic that are against changing the current rules. Spain and Portugal also fear disadvantages for their transport sectors if they have to enforce these stricter rules. So to present the debate as a new East-West conflict would be oversimplifying things. And also dangerous. This would open up old rifts at a time when the unity of the EU is being invoked as its main strength. Moreover, it doesn't always have to be a race to the bottom. If the economy in Slovakia is strengthened, the Austrian companies based there will benefit too.”

Deutsche Welle (RO) / 19 October 2017

Romania's love for the EU being spoiled

Deutsche Welle sees a connection between the discussion driven by Macron and the EU's declining popularity among Romanians, as illustrated by the latest Eurobarometer survey:

“One reason for this slump could be the election of President Macron. Right from the start he adopted a hostile stance towars the countries of Eastern Europe, demanding that they stop sending cheap labour to French building sites. And no doubt the persistent talk of a 'two-speed Europe' also plays a role. ... What we're witnessing is not so much an increase in so-called euroscepticism but rather disappointed love. Because the same survey also shows that as opposed to the Germans and the Dutch, who most staunchly support the idea of exclusive integration, the Romanians woul like the developed states to wait for them and the others so they can all continue down the road together.”

Le Figaro (FR) / 23 October 2017

Acid test for Macron

Macron has much to lose in the conflict over the Posted Workers Directive, Le Figaro is convinced:

“The Posted Workers Directive is one of those symbolic confrontations that can either overcome or deepen existing rifts. ... This discussion has divided Europe. There is much resistance in the east, and Poland in particular is against reform. Further to the south Portugal and above all Spain are dragging their feet. For the French president this is therefore an acid test. He's got to go through with it to convince people of his 'Europe that protects'. Success on this front is all the more crucial in view of the fact that the last European summit showed that the task won't be easy. Until now Macron's enthusiasm had been a source of inspiration to the Old Continent. Now that it's down to the nuts and bolts, however, conflicts of interest and inertia are once again coming to the fore.”

Krónika (RO) / 28 August 2017

Macron sowing discord in Eastern Europe?

Macron deliberately chose to visit only certain countries in Central and Eastern Europe in order to drive a wedge between the Visegrád states, Krónika suspects:

“The French president wants an EU in which the member states cooperate with each other in a federal union and surrender a large part of their sovereignty. ... The Visegrád Group isn't exactly known as a conflict-free association. Macron's current visit is aimed at preventing the Visegrád countries from moving closer together. His efforts are made easier by the fact that the Czech Republic and Slovakia together with Austria form the Slavkov trilateral. It's no mere coincidence that Macron met with the leaders of these three states. It is very telling that notoriously rebellious Poland and Hungary were left out of Macron's trip.”

Contrepoints (FR) / 28 August 2017

Embarrassing duplicity

Macron's European economic diplomacy is not a good but clever, Contrepoints writes:

“Macron's series of spectacularly idiotic diplomatic moves also includes the seemingly overt desire on his part, that of his government and all the high-level French representatives that Brexit should inflict as much damage as possible on the City of London even if Paris doesn't benefit in any way from all this. In other words: Macron is revealing the full extent of his diplomatic 'genius' by openly criticising the Polish blue-collar workers (the poor sods!) after having shamelessly welcomed the arrival of white-colour workers from London.”

Le Quotidien (LU) / 24 August 2017

A good initiative against social dumping

The reform of the Posted Workers Directive offers the chance of eradicating potentially fatal flaws in the European project, Le Quotidien writes in praise:

“On this continent that has been divided by conflicts for so long there are times when the EU actually exacerbates hostilities. ... That's unacceptable. But it's exactly what happens when workers are posted to other EU states. The fact of the matter is that this system makes social dumping official. And that leads to distrust and anger among European workers. It's simply contradictory to want to construct a community on the one hand, and on the other to play such games with people who don't have access to the same social rights. Instead the EU should be doing its best to improve the quality of the social system in all member states.”

Deutsche Welle (RO) / 24 August 2017

President only thinking of France

Macron's declaration that he wants a Europe that protects its citizens meets with a bitter reaction from the Romanian service of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle:

“Macron argues that the current Posted Workers Directive contradicts the 'European spirit' because it puts countries with less expensive social insurance and smaller salaries at an advantage, as well as those who capitalise on the differences between the EU countries. … But precisely the same applies in other areas such as the huge retail activities of Carrefour and Auchan, which swept aside the local retailers when they conquered the Romanian market and are now making considerably more profit here than in their home countries. That was also disloyal competition in a context in which Romania was having difficulties adjusting to the free market economy and where private capital barely existed.”

Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) / 25 August 2017

Incredible arrogance

Macron's initiative is further proof of the arrogance of the key Western EU states vis-à-vis the Central and Eastern Europeans, Mladá fronta dnes finds:

“Our Western partners look down on Central and Eastern Europe and see us mainly as an area for satisfying their political and economic interests and as objects to be lectured to. Merkel's attempts to force policies on us and Macron's negotiations with us over purported wage dumping are just two examples of this. … Macron fails to see that the EU is on the brink of collapse. Strong words won't help. What's needed is respect and the quest for balance.”

Kapital (BG) / 25 August 2017

An important move for Macron

With his initiative Macron is boosting his popularity with the French, writes Kapital:

“The issue of wage dumping under the Posted Workers Directive is one that moves French voters. If Macron returns to France with a fast solution he will score points with them. His flailing approval rating will surge once more. Many Western Europeans see wage dumping as a major disadvantage of free movement for workers in the EU, even if the problem is being inflated. The fight against social dumping is important for Macron because without a solution the mood towards posted workers in France and other Western European countries will become increasingly hostile. And that would endanger the whole principle of the free movement of workers.”

Contributors (RO) / 23 August 2017

France will seal itself off from Eastern Europe

Macron's venture smacks of populism for political expert Valentin Naumescu at Contributors:

“The desire of the new president 'to deliver' on his promise to the electorate makes me think that in the coming years France will not be particularly open towards Romania or other central European countries. We shouldn't forget that eleven million French voted for Marine Le Pen and that they will be voting again in five years' time. At the moment Macron is certainly enjoying enormous popularity (even if it has dropped since the elections), but I fear that the young, ambitious president may get himself tangled in the net of populism.”

24 Chasa (BG) / 23 August 2017

Euro entry would be appropriate trade-off

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Borisov will try to ensure that his support for Macron's new EU posting directive translates into a speedy euro accession for Bulgaria, 24 Chasa suspects:

“The only prerequisite for the euro that Bulgaria has yet to meet is an average income that compares to the other euro countries. This is why we need strong political support from the European Central Bank, which is independent on the one hand, but does follow the political will of the big EU nations. Only with the introduction of the euro could Bulgarian businesses get the cheap loans they need to make them competitive in Western Europe, through quality and not just cheap labour.”

L'Opinion (FR) / 22 August 2017

Rash actionism

Macron shouldn't become too fixated on his demands for a more stringent Posted Workers Directive, L'Opinion advises:

“Firstly because the current directive is not all bad (it contains abuses and shortcomings that need to be corrected, but it's more a question of minor changes than a complete overhaul of the regulations). Secondly, our economy really needs foreign workers. … And incidentally - as is so often the case in Europe - the affair won't be resolved on its own: it will be connected to other controversial issues, including the taking in of refugees. Therefore the results of the French demands should be judged on the basis of the whole package. And no doubt all the rifts in the national debate will come into play.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) / 23 August 2017

A table can't stand on two legs

Macron's plans represent a threat to the very foundations of the EU Rzeczpospolita believes:

“[Of the four basic freedoms] the only ones that remain are the free movement of goods and capital. But these alone can't support European construction, in the same way that a table can't stand on two legs. ... France is now spearheading the movement aimed at breaking two legs of the European table. Because the French aren't happy about the Polish plumbers and truck drivers. What they do like, however, is for the plumbers and truck drivers to buy French products in French supermarkets once they've returned home. ... There can hardly be a better example of the decline of the EU's political community.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) / 23 August 2017

Income differentials divide the EU

For Hospodářské noviny the conflict over the Posted Workers Directive also reflects the fact that living standards vary widely from one EU member state to another:

“The differences in living standards create the feeling that people from poorer states with lower incomes pose a threat to people in the richer countries. This feeling played a key role in the Brexit vote and also plays into the hands of extremists in other parts of Western Europe. However the striking income differentials also create problems that seem completely unconnected to the disparities at first glance. Because of them, for example, refugees only want to go to Germany and Scandinavia.”

Le Figaro (FR) / 21 August 2017

EU directive must be reformed

Macron should fight for a reform of the EU's Posted Workers Directive, Le Figaro urges:

“The head of state will be looking for allies to defend his cause. Notably he wants the maximum duration of such contracts to be reduced from three years to one. Not an easy task. Poland isn't ready to play ball. In Brussels, where Macron was unable to make himself heard in mid-June, a period of two years is considered appropriate. ... The president has his back to the European wall. A thoroughgoing solution must be found to correct this absurd directive which creates unemployment, penalises our industry and exacerbates tensions. The last thing he must do now is backtrack.”

24 Chasa (BG) / 19 August 2017

Slamming social dumping is just diversion tactic

With his initiative in Eastern Europe Macron is just trying to divert attention from his own failures, the daily paper 24 Chasa believes:

“Macron has taken over Hollande's social dumping theory and is trying to hold the Eastern Europeans responsible for his own lack of success in fighting unemployment in France. … Why must the French protect themselves from us? Are we cannibals? Do we try to protect ourselves against their cheese? In the EU the free movement of goods, persons and capital applies. If French wine is better and cheaper than our wine we buy it, don't we? By the same logic, if Bulgarian workers offer a competitive advantage and are more disciplined than others, they should also be preferred.”

Polska The Times (PL) / 22 August 2017

Macron could isolate Poland and Hungary

Poland and Hungary could soon be isolated as the sole opponents of the reform of the EU Posted Workers Directive, Polska The Times fears:

“The French president's reform proposals would affect roughly half a million Polish workers. ... So far Poland has tried to maintain the coalition of the Central and Eastern European countries against any tightening of the directive. Just a year ago the eleven countries of the region protested unanimously against an initiative of the EU Commission that was similar to Macron's ideas, only less radical. Today it's unclear whether Poland and Hungary will soon find themselves alone on this front. Because for his trip through Central Europe Macron has no doubt prepared a combination of offers and arguments that could prompt our neighbours to have a change of heart.”

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