Published on 5th February 2024
Although European economies and labour markets have so far been resilient, the current context of multiple and permanent crisis is casting a dark shadow on the months to come. To shed some light and help EU stakeholders navigate this pivotal year, the World Employment Confederation brought together experts to discuss how we can help pave the way for effective policies that will deliver the EU’s 2030 social targets and create labour markets that genuinely work for everyone.
Starting off by setting the scene of what is currently happening across Europe, Eleonora Vasquez, reporter at EurActiv, one of the major online news outlets on European affairs, recalled that European elections are first and foremost national elections. Citizens may be called to the polls across the continent, but they are ultimately voting in their own country for their national politicians. Therefore, the votes are very much influenced by the national narratives, especially on sensitive issues like migration or the handling of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
The overall trend is clearly one of fear, agreed Sonja van Lieshout, President of the World Employment Confederation- Europe, which, through a need to feel safe, triggers strong calls for increased security. Looking at labour markets, this translates into restrictions on labour mobility and migration, hinderinga solution that is essential in times of labour shortages. In its Manifesto “The Europe We Want ” setting out the HR services industry’s vision for the European political agenda in 2024-2029, the World Employment Confederation-Europe calls for ensuring fair labour mobility, the posting of workers, and demand-driven legal migration to urgently address skills and labour shortages in Europe.
That’s precisely where European integration should make a difference, Vasquez reflected. European citizens would benefit from a more unified response to major societal issues. In the area of labour shortages, the recent EU Talent Pool Initiative is a good example of Europe taking proactive steps to address labour migration. As van Lieshout stressed, we need more of such “coalitions of the willing” in order to achieve the Europe that we want, one that fosters sustainable economic growth and allows innovation.
As the discussion during the WEConversations made clear, innovation is desperately required in labour markets. Recalling that most of the legislation has not been updated in five decades, the WEC-Europe President stressed that some modernisation of the regulatory framework is needed for European labour markets to become future proof. Areas to focus on include allowing diverse forms of work, but also improving social protection systems.
In this area, the HR services industry has great success stories to share. Van Lieshout mentioned the example of bipartite training funds as an innovative practice from social partners, working together for the benefit of workers. The European Union can certainly help promoting this type of initiatives.
And the potential goes beyond Europe. As Vasquez stressed, the European Union is very much considered a leader in regulation. Its legislation often has ripple effects in other jurisdictions resulting in a clear global benefit in pushing for better employment and social policies in Europe. One caveat is, she pointed, that the European Union often has only limited competences in policies such as employment, education or social affairs.
The next five years will actually be very transformative in Europe, van Lieshout concluded. A lot of files on the table have been there for a long time, and now require some sort of a solution. The HR services industry has outlined some in its Manifesto for the European political agenda of 2024-2029 and stands ready to work in partnership with public employment services, social partners, and policymakers at both European and national levels, to make it a reality.