Macron Versus Eastern Europe

O perspectivă importantă asupra vizitei lui Macron în Estul Europei.

de Antonia Colibășeanu

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet with the leaders of Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria on Aug. 23-25. To the local media, his visit is a sign that he has taken the lead in reforming the European Union, making it stronger and more unified. In truth, he has set his sights on improving his political standing at home and tackling cheap labor from Eastern Europe – and he has a paradoxical way of going about it.

Macron’s Calculation

During his presidential campaign, Macron argued that one of the causes of Brexit was the growing discontent among the British middle class with Eastern Europeans’ “social dumping” in the United Kingdom. Immigrants from the east poured into the U.K. in recent years, taking jobs for less pay than Britons would accept. Macron argued that this is a flaw in the EU: that labor markets are not adequately regulated to ensure that everyone in Europe is paid a similar wage for similar work.

For the French president, the matter hits close to home. In France, the unemployment rate is high – 9.6 percent in the first quarter of 2017 – but the country still attracts temporary workers from other EU countries who will work for less than French workers in construction and similar industries. Most of the temporary workers in France come from Poland (16.9 percent), Portugal (16.1 percent), Spain (15.7 percent), Belgium (13.2 percent) and Germany (11.8 percent). The trend has sparked a nationalist backlash from French citizens who see the cheaper labor coming from other countries as a cause for the high unemployment rate. Eastern Europeans are often the object of their resentment.

Macron’s calculation is therefore simple: Reduce or eliminate the competition from cheap labor, and French employment will increase. To do that, he argues, the EU should set rules to establish universal salary levels. Macron supports changing Directive 96/71/EC, the Posted Workers Directive, which regulates the salaries and permitted length of stay for posted workers – employees who are sent by their employers, on a temporary basis, to carry out a service in another EU member state. (France also lobbied for reducing the duration a worker can be posted from two years to one.)


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He isn’t alone. Last year, the governments of Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden joined France in sending a letter to the European Commission asking to update the directive so that it respects the principle of “equal pay for equal work in the same place.” Austria and Germany are also major destinations for posted workers from Eastern Europe. Austria, which gets 58 percent of its posted workers from neighboring Eastern European countries, is a staunch supporter of changing the EU directive. It’s unemployment rate has grown as quickly as its nationalism. It’s no coincidence that Macron began his trip there.

At home, Macron has launched a series of discussions among the government, the business community and the labor unions with the purpose of reforming the French labor code and creating a more flexible labor market, which Paris hopes will raise employment levels. The government will present the results of the first round of talks this week. Macron has promised that these discussions will not only shape French labor laws, but they will also become the foundation for the new EU “social model.”

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