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Procedure : 2011/2158(BUD)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0396/2011

Texts tabled :

A7-0396/2011

Debates :

PV 15/12/2011 - 3
CRE 15/12/2011 - 3

Votes :

PV 15/12/2011 - 9.1
CRE 15/12/2011 - 9.1
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :


Debates
Thursday, 15 December 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

3. Recent Council decisions and Commission revision of the EGF regulation - Mobilisation of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (application EGF/2009/019 FR/Renault from France) (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the joint debate on:

- The Commission statements on the recent Council decisions and Commission revision of the European Global Adjustment Fund (EGF) regulation, and

- The report (A7-0396/11) by Barbara Matera, on behalf of the Committee on Budgets, on the proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on mobilisation of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, in accordance with point 28 of the Interinstitutional Agreement of 17 May 2006 between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on budgetary discipline and sound financial management (application EGF/2009/019 FR/Renault from France) (COM(2011)0420 – C7-0193/2011 – 2011/2158(BUD)).

 
  
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  Barbara Matera, rapporteur.(IT) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, almost 23 million people in Europe are unemployed today, and more than 113 million people are living under the threat of poverty and exclusion.

Against this background, the European Union plays a crucial role in funding areas of social investment that are difficult for Member States to support at a time when their finances are under extreme pressure as a result of the financial crisis that is having such tremendous effect on us all.

Every year, instruments such as the European Social Fund, European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, and Progress Programme – to mention but a few – provide support for millions of European citizens, promoting self-entrepreneurship and job mobility.

The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EFG) is a relatively new fund, which was established principally to provide support to workers made redundant as a result of changes in world trade patterns by cofinancing active labour market policies.

In the light of the rapid escalation of the economic and financial crisis in 2008, the European Commission proposed a temporary derogation to the EGF, which was due to finish at the end of this year, in order to extend its scope and be able to offer support to workers made redundant as a direct consequence of the economic crisis as well as increasing the EGF cofinancing rate from 50% to 65% for Member States.

My personal experience as standing rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Budgets for the EGF has allowed me to see that adopting this amendment has allowed a more extensive use of the fund.

In fact, in the 28 months of life of the EGF before this derogation was introduced, only – just think – 15 applications for funding were presented involving ‘only’ 18 000 redundant workers. However, since the derogation was approved this number has quadrupled.

Member States have also indicated that without the temporary derogation it would be impossible to support 45 000 workers made redundant by companies as a result of the economic and financial crisis.

Furthermore, with the increase in the cofinancing rate to 65%, the cost of funding to Member States has enabled them to provide immediate support for their workers and companies.

Ladies and gentlemen, the European Commission’s economic forecasts show that no substantial recovery in labour market conditions in Europe is expected before 2013. These assessments, together with the strain being put on Member State budgets by fiscal consolidation efforts, must therefore lead us to conclude that it is necessary to extend the current expiry date before the end of this month, which will be active from 1 January 2012.

Unfortunately, however, the debate on this proposal in the Council on 2 December resulted in several delegations – Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, United Kingdom, Latvia, Czech Republic and Slovakia – opposing this proposal by the Commission, blocking the extension of this derogation.

I would like to sum up, Madam President, by saying that this action on the part of the Council is nothing short of irresponsible. Public opinion sees the fund as an important instrument of solidarity providing financial support to our citizens and redundant workers. We cannot allow the Council to block a further extension, and therefore I hope that all of my fellow members will decide to symbolically support the report that will help the 3 500 workers made redundant by Renault at today’s vote.

 
  
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  Janusz Lewandowski, Member of the Commission. Madam President, I would like to comment on two points: the crisis derogation and the specific Renault case.

As you know, the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund is a new creation, but it was set up before the impact of the financial crisis on the labour markets of Europe became clear. It became operational by 2007 but, at the end of 2008 (as was mentioned by the rapporteur), we changed the original substance of the fund, as a response to the redundancies among workers due to trade liberalisation and the impact of the globalisation of trade, and also to cover workers made redundant as a result of the financial crisis – and rightly so. This was part of a real anti-crisis response on behalf of the European institutions, increasing the cofinancing rate on our side and extending the application of the fund.

This was a key component of our anti-crisis response and also a political message of European solidarity. So far we have received 53 applications under the extended Globalisation Fund application, targeting more than 50 000 workers. But the crisis derogation was, by its nature, a temporary one and – as rightly explained by the rapporteur, Ms Matera – it will expire at the end of the month. As the crisis is not over, the Commission wanted to extend the mandate to extend these derogations until the end of the present financial perspective – that is, until the end of 2013 – and, with the great responsibility here in this room, Parliament adopted this proposal of extended derogation in September without any amendments.

The Council, on the other hand, has failed to extend the derogation, despite – I have to say, although it is not my role to praise the Polish Presidency – the efforts of the Polish Presidency. In practical terms this means the end of the derogation by the end of the year, although that is not the end of the crisis. All the data indicates that the unemployment rate in Europe over the next two years will be not less than 10%. By blocking this proposal, a minority of Member States – with the clear majority in favour of extending the crisis derogation – are putting an end to it. This means that the cofinancing rate will come down to 50% and the scope of the Globalisation Fund will be limited to redundancies caused by trade globalisation. We already have in the pipeline ten new applications for the crisis derogation, affecting many thousands of people in Europe. I am afraid that they may not be able to benefit from the scheme if it is not presented fully by the end of 2011.

I must say that I disagree with some of the arguments used on this occasion by the Member States creating a blocking minority in the Council. The major one was that the problems of unemployment are better targeted at local level. There is a clear misunderstanding here, as the European Globalisation Fund is run by shared management, and the response must be designed locally by the Member States and not in Brussels. So this is a misunderstanding and not a real argument for ending the crisis derogations.

There are also other arguments, which I think are not quite in touch with reality, for example that if we support redundant workers, this will relieve the Member States of a sense of responsibility. But it is cofinancing, and if we see clearly in the statistics that the rich states are better utilising the Globalisation Fund, that means a real problem of cofinancing and sharing responsibility – also financial responsibility – on the part of a Member State.

I also have to say – because this is a clear support of the Globalisation Fund – that so far more than 40% of the workers made redundant due to the crisis but covered by the Globalisation Fund have been able to find another job, so this is working. This is simply working to enhance the labour markets of Europe. But, in practical terms, we have no more crisis derogation in 2012, and I think this is a wrong political message to send to the labour markets: but what can we do? We can only encourage applications under the original trade globalisation criteria, and this is what the Commission can do under the present circumstances.

I have one further, short comment, as this is a joint debate on the specific Renault case. We are taking into consideration the issue, raised by several honourable Members of the European Parliament, of the ex-Renault workers who left the company to join the early retirement scheme and were subsequently negatively affected by the reform of the French pension system. Of course we take their fate into account and are in touch with Renault in order to address the issue. The Renault company has committed itself to taking the necessary measures to ensure that those concerned will not be disregarded and to keep the Commission informed of their actions, but legally the issue has nothing to do with the mobilisation of the European Globalisation Fund. This is a human issue but is not legally an issue of the mobilisation of the European Globalisation Fund, as the workers leaving for the early retirement scheme were not targeted for Globalisation Fund support.

France still has four months to prepare and submit a complete report on the implementation of its measures to handle the fate of the workers. The Commission, for our part, reserves the right to carry out an audit to check that the Globalisation Fund application – and this is in the scope of our responsibility – was properly spent. So here is the role of the Commission.

From the legal point of view, the question is whether the requirements for the Globalisation Fund are fulfilled by the Renault application. Ms Matera is saying yes, I know, but this is the legal case. The Commission shares the review with the Council. Renault has made more than 500 workers (this is one of the criteria) redundant as a direct consequence of the global financial crisis. Our contribution (within the nature of the Globalisation Fund) is to be used to co-finance active labour market policy measures. So the only reasonable conclusion today is that the Globalisation Fund should be mobilised and should contribute in full the amount requested by France. Thank you for listening to both the specific points on derogation and the specific Renault case.

 
  
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  Jean-Paul Gauzès, on behalf of the PPE Group.(FR) Madam President, Commissioner, Ms Matera, may I say, first of all, that we fully support Ms Matera’s line of argument concerning whether or not the decision to end the crisis derogation was justifiable, and I would like to thank her for all the work she has carried out in this area. I also share your view, Commissioner, on the disastrous impact it will have on the EU’s image if this measure is stopped despite its proven effectiveness.

I should like to return briefly to the Renault case – and I also speak on my behalf of my colleague Mr Riquet, who is unable to be here today for personal reasons – in order to say that I also share your assessment of this issue. This case has had its ups and downs, no doubt due to the fact that two aspects have been mixed up: the question of which measures are eligible under the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF), and the strictly French issue of voluntary early retirement. As you said, there has been a kind of overlapping between the initial agreement and pension reform in France, which extended the period during which workers have to contribute, leaving a number of workers – the number of these varies, as does the time frame – concerned about their future.

We share that concern, and it so happens that both Mr Riquet and I are deputies for the constituencies where the affected Renault factories are located. I can assure you that we have spared no effort in trying to encourage Renault to see reason. Just yesterday, I spoke on the phone to the head of the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Health, who read Renault’s commitments to me. I believe they are serious about those commitments, but I can guarantee that, at local level, we will make every effort to make sure that the workers affected by this pensions problem – which you said is not directly part of this issue – can see a proper solution to their situation. On the basis of these observations I would call on all my colleagues to grant this assistance to Renault.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D), Blue-card question.(RO) Madam President, I would like to ask Mr Gauzès what he thinks of the Commission’s proposal to limit the mobilisation of the EGF only to companies affected by global trade. I mention this because, unfortunately, there are a huge number of redundant workers in the public sector, and public budgets, regrettably, are also affected by the economic and financial crisis.

What does he think, therefore, of the Commissioner’s proposal about limiting the mobilisation of the EGF, in the future, only to redundancies caused by global trade?

 
  
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  Jean-Paul Gauzès (PPE), Blue-card answer. (FR) I did not realise that this was what the Commission was proposing. My understanding is that the Commissioner said that he regretted this decision and was going to ensure that borderline cases could be studied in accordance with the criteria in force, but taking account of this crisis situation, which, he said – it seems to me – was going to continue and was going to continue to affect unemployment, unfortunately.

That is why I said just now that I was in full agreement with the analysis of the Commissioner and the rapporteur on these matters and that this decision by the Council conveyed entirely the wrong message and gave Europe a very bad image in a difficult period for workers.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Estelle Grelier (S&D), Blue-card question. (FR) Could Mr Gauzès specify the nature of the commitments made by Renault to Mr Bertrand, the relevant minister, which appear to him to be serious?

 
  
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  Jean-Paul Gauzès (PPE), Blue-card answer. (FR) Explanations were given to me just yesterday afternoon by the French Ministry of Labour, the Minister of which was taking steps to enable progress to be made on this issue under, it seems to me, less than pleasant conditions. The issue of pensions has in fact arisen in other French companies and has been resolved, notably at Michelin, for example, which does not come across as an allegedly left-leaning company. What is shocking – and I want to make this clear here and now – is that Renault, 17% of the capital of which is held by the government, has expressed some reservations. However, yesterday I wanted to make sure that these commitments had been made.

These commitments – which were read out to me over the telephone, but which I did not get in writing – aim to ensure that people who do not receive an income because of an increase in the necessary contribution periods as a result of pension reform in France can have their contribution shortfalls compensated for, in particular through offers of temporary work. However, on humane grounds, this solution does not seem to me to be very satisfactory.

That is why I said that, at local level – because I am in contact with the prefect of the region, and I am fully prepared to work with Ms Grelier to resolve this issue – I believe that, despite our political differences, we both have the same concern that workers who lose their jobs, who entered into an agreement contractually concluded when the situation was different, do not have their rights eroded because of subsequent changes to the legislation.

I am perfectly willing to fight this fight, along with Ms Grelier, but I hope it will not come to that.

 
  
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  Frédéric Daerden, on behalf of the S&D Group. (FR) Madam President, this fund fully deserves this debate, because this is an important moment for this instrument of European social policy, which is subject to dual review and the mobilisation of which is currently being debated.

As regards the mobilisation of this fund for the Renault workers laid off in France, this case is indicative of a lack of commitment on the part of social partners to become involved and of a lack of flexibility and concern for all workers. We are going to table an oral amendment in this regard.

As regards the review aimed at extending the ‘crisis’ criterion, the fact that some Member States decided to block it in Council is surprising, striking, indicative of a lack of solidarity, and worrying, when we consider that the review of the post-2013 fund is on the table. In this regard, I welcome the proposal by the Commission to continue to employ this tool and to make it more flexible. Nonetheless, we need to remain vigilant when it comes to extending it to agricultural workers. This must not undermine the fund and distort its basic objective.

 
  
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  Marian Harkin, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Madam President, first of all I want to express my real disappointment at the recent Council decision. I cannot say I am shocked, because this is not the first time we have heard such a message from the Council. Are they saying to us that the crisis is over, when the crisis is raging? Refusing to accept that and deal adequately with it is just plain unreasonable. It is also dangerous – but that is another story. Or are they really saying to us that they are giving up on social solidarity and that workers and countries are on their own?

I can understand that some Member States do not support the Globalisation Fund; they believe it is not a suitable instrument. However, four different compromises were presented and none were successful, so I believe some Member States have simply set their face against this fund, which offers European added value to redundant workers who have lost their jobs because of the financial crisis. They want to cut the fund, to minimise it. Yet the number of applications under the crisis derogation continues to rise and, significantly, more and more countries are accessing the fund.

Just as the fund is up and running, the brakes are being applied. We can improve the functioning of the fund – and hopefully we in Parliament will help to do that over the next few months – but the Council ignored the Commission and the strong views of Parliament, which adopted the Commission’s proposal without amendment. We have been sidelined, and what is incredible is that some of the countries in the blocking minority successfully accessed the EGF for their own citizens who were made redundant due to the crisis, but are now saying to other European citizens that they do not think they should access the fund under the same conditions as their citizens, and that they are going to make it more difficult for them to do this. As I said, I am not shocked, but I am genuinely saddened at the absence of solidarity – it is not a good omen.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Marije Cornelissen, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (NL) Madam President, Commissioner, this is a debate about three very different questions, all relating to the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund. I am going to address the future of the fund after 2014.

We have all eagerly been looking forward to the Commission’s proposals aimed at improving the fund. There is plenty still to do if we are to really turn that Rapid Intervention Fund into what we envisioned, and we must also do something about the fact that it is being used mostly by richer, rather than poorer, Member States. However, the issue which has been totally overlooked is that of farming. I therefore read the proposal with total bewilderment.

What surprises me the most is that you actually want to divide this into two totally different instruments. A small social instrument for workers who have been made redundant and a larger instrument of EUR 2.5 billion for farmers. I believe you ought to make a choice: they should either be considered the same or different. If they are considered the same, farmers could then fall under the EGF, under the same rules. That, to my mind, would be a great solution. Or they could be treated equally, by making companies hit by crisis and globalisation subject to the same rules that you have now proposed for farmers. Should they come under threat because of EU policy or a free trade agreement, they will be able to restructure their company before it goes bankrupt.

The Flemish textile industry and the Spanish ceramics industry greatly benefited from that, after free trade with Asia forced their products off the market. However, in that case, you will be talking about a totally different instrument, one that will be an industrial instrument, which means you could throw in a few billion more.

In my view, the Commission wants to achieve something completely different with agriculture. So, take that decision and come up with an instrument that suits them, and one on which we can have an agriculture-related debate. Send Directorate-General Agriculture back to the drawing board, to its own drawing board, so they can thrash the debate out there, and do not allow the problems of one group, farmers, to be prioritised at the expense of the other group, workers who have been made redundant.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(PT) Madam President, having heard from the Commissioner, the first words in this debate can only be of indignation at the information he has given us about the Council’s refusal to extend the derogation because of the continued crisis, so that there could be a more favourable clause on financing the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF). This means that the countries with the greatest economic and social difficulties – those where the most companies have gone bankrupt and where there is the most unemployment – are those least able to make use of the EGF.

As we know, the requirement of 35% national finance for projects supporting the unemployed submitted for EGF funding was already making it difficult for some Member States to apply, especially those in receipt of a so-called bailout package. However, obliging that provision of this funding be limited to a few cases where multinationals relocate leaves the majority of cases submitted and still not considered out in the cold. This situation alone demonstrates the European Union’s lack of solidarity. If, however, we add to all this other clauses from the EGF Regulation that lead to great disparities in aid because they are based on a calculation founded on wages paid in the Member State turning to its funding to support its unemployed workers, we can conclude that the EGF is useful, above all, for the countries that are more developed and have better economic and social conditions, like Germany, the Netherlands and others, which continue to block the extension of the EGF derogation. That is why we are protesting against this position.

Regarding the Renault issue, I should also like to express my solidarity with the around 5 000 workers who have been victims of redundancy, but we regret the confused situation that France has created surrounding this EGF application process, and the company’s lack of dialogue with the representatives of its workers. Nonetheless, we maintain our position of solidarity with the workers and our support for mobilising the EGF, despite the criticisms that we also continue to make of the EGF Regulation.

 
  
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  José Manuel Fernandes (PPE).(PT) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF), which has existed since 2007, makes EUR 500 million available per year. It is striking that the EGF’s total contribution to all the applications approved since that time – 2007 – is only EUR 370 million. In view of the crisis that has been devastating us since 2008, with the resultant increase in unemployment, we have to improve implementation of the EGF. This situation is explained, inter alia, by the complexity of the EGF and by the fact that Europe’s contribution is only 65%, constituting an obstacle to the Member States in the greatest financial difficulties.

In addition to retaining the derogation already mentioned here in plenary, I also propose approving an increase in European cofinancing for the EGF to 95% for Member States in receipt of a bailout package, similar to that recently approved by Parliament in relation to funding from cohesion policy and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

As regards the report under discussion, concerning the more than 4 400 redundant French workers, I say only that the EGF cannot, at any time, be used as a political weapon, influenced by electoral timetables, since that – as is obvious – always primarily harms the interests of workers. I therefore hope this report will be adopted here today, during this sitting.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL), Blue-card question. – (PT) Madam President, I was pleased to hear Mr Fernandes mention that I proposed here an increase to 95% EU funding for projects submitted to the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund. I should like to ask him the following: I made that proposal in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs; are you able to explain to me why the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) voted against?

 
  
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  José Manuel Fernandes (PPE), Blue-card answer. – (PT) Madam President, I am grateful for the question. With regard to the European Regional Development Fund, to cohesion policy funding and to the European Social Fund, there were many people who were against a 10% increase in cohesion policy funding, whose opinions have developed and changed. As regards the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), there were many people who did not agree with the increase in relation to cofinancing who have also changed their minds.

My proposal is not for all Member States, but for the Member States in receipt of a bailout package. I do not know if this proposal in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs was generalised or was only for those Member States. Therefore, what I am advocating, and I was clear – and I hope this House will be able to back this one of these days, because it is almost a question of logic – that what has happened with cohesion policy, what has happened with the EAFRD, should, logically, even a fortiori, also be approved for workers.

We are well aware that the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund does not compete with the European Social Fund but rather complements it, so I believe it makes perfect sense for the contribution to go from 65% to 95% for countries in receipt of a bailout package.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Pervenche Berès (S&D), Blue-card question. (FR) Madam President, I would like to ask Mr Fernandes if he regards being concerned about the consequences of pension reform which excludes workers from the entire compensation and income system as getting involved in politics – clearly, coming from his mouth, this seems to be a bad thing. Mr Gauzès, who, to my knowledge, belongs to the same group, took the view that it had to be taken into account and that the government as shareholder should perhaps be concerned about this situation.

 
  
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  José Manuel Fernandes (PPE), Blue-card answer. – (PT) Madam President, what I said is that the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund cannot be used as a political weapon and influenced by electoral timetables. I am certain that we are, or should be, all in agreement with that statement.

Today, we will have the opportunity to say, with our vote, with the vote here in plenary, whether this vote is influenced by electoral timetables or whether its first priority is the defence of workers. Specifically, I have seen that this Renault process has been slightly diverted, and I suspect – but it is a suspicion that could be disproved in the vote today – that political interests and the electoral timetable could be influencing the position of some Members. However, I hope that the vote – and a qualified majority is needed here today – will demonstrate that we are primarily defending the interests of workers.

 
  
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  Sergio Gutiérrez Prieto (S&D).(ES) Madam President, we need, in this debate at least, a strong Commissioner with clear principles and the political courage necessary to prevent other members of the College of Commissioners from distorting the raison d'être of this fund and still more to prevent the fund from being used as a bargaining chip to square the circle of other Community policies.

Is it necessary to compensate our farmers for the trade agreements that we maintain with other States? Yes. However, this fund cannot become yet another instrument of the CAP and much less still can it become an instrument that, when its budget is increased, leaves the sectors for which it was created without funds and leaves them to carry on suffering, even today, not only the effects of globalisation but also the effects of the economic crisis.

What is more, Commissioner, EUR 500 million to help companies in difficulty could turn out to be insufficient but allocating the same money to help those same companies and hundreds of thousands of farmers as well is simply ridiculous and is to mislead everyone, companies and farmers alike.

Commissioner, this is an instrument for solidarity at a time when we need solidarity more than ever. Fight for a different fund to provide compensation for our trade agreements. Fight, at least, to increase this fund if it is necessary to compensate new sectors, but fight. You still have time or, if not, Mr Andor still has time, to be the Commissioner that we all, this Parliament as a whole and all the European institutions, need.

 
  
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  Alexander Alvaro (ALDE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, good morning. It is good to see you in this last week of business in Strasbourg for this year. As Mr Fernandes has rightly said, 2007 was the year the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund was established, since which – it is unfortunate that my fellow Member from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament is no longer listening – EUR 307 million has been distributed – out of a fund of EUR 2.5 billion. Money alone is not the solution when it comes to tackling economic crises and the consequences of globalisation. Structural reforms in the labour market, economic reforms, taxation reforms and social reforms are the elements that can be used to take control of globalisation.

Do not be fooled into thinking that money is the horn of plenty that can be used to solve all problems in the long term. If we see the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund as a way to reward the conduct of companies like Nokia, which has moved from Bochum in Germany to Romania and, ultimately, out of the European Union, receiving monetary support on two occasions, that is the wrong approach, and we will certainly not allow that to happen. Mr Fernandes is quite right and I share his views on the prospect of the European Parliament becoming the field where national election campaigns are fought.

I note what has happened in France. I also believe, however, that this is a matter for France and does not need to be discussed here. That is why my group will reject the oral amendment if tabled. There are still more than 40 Members of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in this House. This means that we can also reject this oral amendment. I would much prefer it if we were to sit down together and work out how we can integrate the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund intelligently into European budgetary policy within the parameters of the Multiannual Financial Framework, ensuring more growth and more jobs, rather than perpetuating unemployment with the money we have.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Paul Rübig (PPE), Blue-card question. (DE) Mr Alvaro, thank you for your suggestion that additional instruments need to be found. The point is also to find employers once again, young, well-trained employers who are capable of securing employment. Could you envisage the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe tabling an initiative in this regard?

 
  
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  Alexander Alvaro (ALDE), Blue-card answer. (DE) Mr Rübig, I believe that these are precisely the kinds of proposals that we can build on. If we work together – for example with the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats), although I am also certain that it would be possible to collaborate with the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance – to produce suggestions for how we can finance and support medium-sized enterprises, young entrepreneurs and start-ups, as well as encouraging quality in the existing business community, then I believe we will arrive at a common denominator, which is precisely the path we should take.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D), Blue-card question. Madam President, Mr Alvaro says that the behaviour of companies is very good. I would like to ask if he or maybe the Commissioner have statistics relating to the number of people who were successfully reintegrated into the labour market after being beneficiaries of this fund.

 
  
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  Alexander Alvaro (ALDE), Blue-card answer. Madam President, actually this is the problem, and we in the Committee on Budgets have asked, in the reports dealing with EAGGF – especially through amendments – for evaluation mechanisms to be put in place, because we as a Parliament do not know exactly how many people have been reintegrated into work with the help of the European Globalisation Fund (maybe Commissioner Lewandowski knows).

We know how many workers we have helped and how many redundant workers have been receiving money out of the Globalisation Fund, but we do not know how many have actually been reintegrated into work.

Just to correct one thing: I did not say that companies are doing good; I said that the European Globalisation Fund is actually taking away the burden from enterprises to elaborate specific social plans. This is something which worries me probably as much as it does you.

 
  
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  Karima Delli (Verts/ALE).(FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) needs this debate. This instrument has a positive role but, first of all, the procedures are too long to provide effective protection for workers who need support quickly so that they are not left to their own devices. Secondly, the brief history of this EGF has already been plagued by very controversial cases of payments from public authorities which served only to repair the damage caused by companies savagely outsourcing.

The European Union would do better than to beat its head against a brick wall. It needs, first of all, to think about how it authorises free trade which is both lawless and unscrupulous. When will social and environmental criteria be integrated in our commercial agreements to combat dumping? The famous EGF must be a tool supporting the immediate transition to high quality ‘green’ jobs, hence local jobs that cannot be outsourced.

In the specific case of Renault, the EGF does not authorise the cofinancing of passive measures. What is the current situation in the case of Renault? Neither the Renault Group, nor the French Government, nor the European Commission has been able to convince us that the training measures offered to workers at the time were active measures. What does that mean? It means real training programmes aimed at making people employable. That is the first thing.

Secondly, I think that the case, in particular, of all the workers threatened with insecurity because they joined the early retirement scheme is not a specifically French issue – as has been said – but a question of European solidarity. All workers must be treated in the same way: some have nothing to gain from measures, while others do.

I am pleased to hear my colleague, Mr Gauzès, for whom I have very high regard, tell us today, in this Chamber, that Renault has committed itself to take concrete measures. I am a little sad to hear this only today. I think he should have woken up long ago.

 
  
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  Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL).(FR) Madam President, thank you for agreeing to postpone my speaking time.

Renault is a clear textbook case, an example of what not to do. We are quite divided in my group and so I am going to speak on behalf of the French delegation.

Renault is an economically sound company. Every year, it makes billions in profits; three billion in 2009 alone. Renault is making what we call stock market redundancies. Each year, for several years now, thousands of workers have been laid off simply for the benefit of shareholders, including the French Government. It is not about the electoral calendar. This has happened again and again at Renault for several years now. As for me, my votes have not changed in this regard. I fail to see what benefit this has for the workers.

I very much hope that the ongoing debate on the fund will enable a thorough review of how it works to be carried out to avoid supporting the worst practices of major companies with regard to their workers, who are treated, in this case, like simple adjustment variables. We know that, in France, social support plans leave much to be desired, to say the least, and that the objective of social integration is not on the table, especially as regards Renault.

 
  
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  Damien Abad (PPE).(FR) Madam President, there are actually two debates taking place today. One debate relates to the issue of the extension of the derogation of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) for companies affected by the crisis. Of course, I too regret that a blocking minority in the Council – which we also had for the European food aid programme for the most deprived – is able to oppose the continuation of this fund. At the same time, we are having this debate on Renault.

These two debates are linked. We cannot, on the one hand, want the fund to be extended and, on the other hand, call into question the EUR 24.5 million that would be allocated to Renault. I understand that there are difficulties, that 180 workers are affected, in particular, by problems of application associated with pension reform. However, we must not mix everything up. Above all, we must not allow the European Parliament to become hostage to national matters. Nor can we allow the European Parliament to be held hostage for electoral purposes. We are in a Parliament where the political divide – thank God – can, very often, be overcome.

Today, we need, together, to vote for this mobilisation to enable not only companies but also workers to procure the best conditions for their redeployment. Faced with this serious crisis in Europe, we need to be responsible, we need to be courageous and we must defend the general interest, and only the general interest.

 
  
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  Pervenche Berès (S&D).(FR) Madam President, the European Parliament, with a very large majority, pronounced itself in favour of extending the crisis mechanism within the framework of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF). It is something of a paradox that some Member States – whose representative and member of the Council is not present to hear this debate and our arguments – refuse to extend the derogation within the framework of the crisis mechanism at a time when the OECD notes that the European Union and, in particular, the euro area is in recession, and has corrected the growth forecasts for next year to 0.2%. Where is the end of the crisis? I put the question to the Council.

The reality is that there is a blocking minority in the Council which thinks that, since we are in a crisis, it is no longer necessary to apply the fundamental rule of the European Union, which is that of solidarity. I call on the Council to hear Parliament’s message. We demand solidarity within the European Union.

Madam President, I would like just one second to talk about Renault. There are some in this Chamber who say that this is all about electoral manoeuvring. I call on the Commission to assume its responsibilities and to ensure that its right hand knows what its left hand is doing. I ask that, tomorrow, when it looks at how pension reform has been implemented in France, it takes into account the damage caused by Mr Bertrand and his pension reform and that it tells France that the disastrous effects of this pension reform must be corrected.

 
  
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  Paul Murphy (GUE/NGL). - Madam President, the decision by eight governments to block the extension of the derogation is a disgrace. It will make it significantly harder for laid-off workers to access the Globalisation Adjustment Fund. It adds insult to the injury of the already-existing inadequacies of that fund. Workers in Ireland have suffered from mismanagement and bureaucratic delay even as regards how the fund has been administered, with the result that a significant amount of the money allocated for Dell workers is due to be returned.

Any assistance for workers faced with the tragedy of unemployment is to be welcomed. However, the fund has simply proved to be a tiny sticking plaster on the massive gaping wound of unemployment created by capitalism across Europe. Instead of making it harder for workers to access the fund, it should be made easier, and workers should be put at the very heart of the administration of the fund. More fundamentally, if the EU and national governments are serious about tackling unemployment, they should introduce measures, including nationalisation, to stop multinational corporations from relocating and engaging in a race to the bottom in terms of workers’ wages and conditions.

 
  
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  Estelle Grelier (S&D).(FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, led by my conscience and my sense of responsibility, I will vote against the French Government’s application for aid on behalf of Renault, and I will do so as an individual.

Because, unlike other groups, Renault refused to take account of the situation of former, older, workers laid off in 2009 and soon left with nothing following the entry into force of the reform of the pension system. Because, with profits of more than EUR 3 billion in 2010, the Renault Group exploits the full potentialities of globalisation. Because I think that, at a time when everyone is being urged to tighten their belts, signing a blank cheque for EUR 24.5 million with no quid pro quo is outrageous. Because, finally, Commissioner, the training and support measures presented by the applicants as active back-to-work measures, the only ones eligible for funding under the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) are, in fact, disconnected from any resumption-of-activity logic.

This is not about salving our consciences by creating the illusion that we are supporting European industry. In the end, what counts is that we support the interests of the workers in the industry and the associated jobs. This is a case in which the EGF is being derailed, and we must draw the necessary conclusions in order to adapt it.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE). - Madam President, I will allow others to deal with the French situation and will address my remarks in particular to the broader place we now find ourselves in. I join with others in expressing my huge concern and disappointment about the Council decision and the blocking minority. I think it does, if you like, build on other concerns which I have about how Europe is currently operating, the mindset of the Council and the impact of that on the wider European solidarity that others have spoken about.

We are in crisis, and it seems very wise that we should extend this mechanism and also improve the way it functions so that the money flows to assist those who are forced out of work to gain employment. But I see a trend emerging here in the Council; we have also had a block on the Aid for the Needy Programme, which will have its life cut short.

I am also concerned, Commissioner – as you will be – about how this will impact on the negotiations for the budget after 2013. I do not envy you in your task or us in ours in trying to have a sustainable budget. But could I address a part of that future? I see in the common agricultural policy reforms that there is a proposal that this fund will be extended to farmers. I rather see this as a blanket, a comfort blanket, which will not exist if we are in the current mindset and will do little to address some of the very damaging aspects of trade negotiations on agriculture, which are also damaging for food security. But I wish you well, Commissioner. I wish there was some Christmas spirit in the Council though.

 
  
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  Rareş-Lucian Niculescu (PPE).(RO) Madam President, unlike other colleagues, I welcome that this fund will also be extended to the agricultural sector.

Free trade is a necessity, but we must avoid the danger of weakening European producers as they too are affected by globalisation. The fund is called the ‘European Globalisation Adjustment Fund’, which means that it must be used for all those affected by globalisation.

I also think that receiving assistance from this fund must be regarded as being fully compatible with beneficiaries obtaining funds from the second pillar of the common agricultural policy. Both sources of assistance must operate in tandem.

Last but not least, I share the concerns of other colleagues relating to the inequality of opportunities for accessing the fund between the various Member States.

 
  
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  Phil Prendergast (S&D). - Madam President, the Council decision not to continue extending EGF assistance to workers made redundant as a result of the financial crisis is plainly indefensible. While EU leaders rush around the continent trying to prevent financial catastrophe on a global scale, these ministers seem to think the crisis is not impacting on jobs – when unemployment levels reach record highs across the eurozone, being over 14% in Ireland. Unbelievably, the signal the ministers are sending is that these unprecedented rates are not caused by the economic crisis. Ironically, this unfortunate decision was made on the same day the Commission announced an extension of a derogation granting Member States a licence to spend fortunes more bailing out the banks. To add insult to injury, the special arrangement for banks will start the day after the end of this meagre but important EGF provision to support people on the dole because of a crisis triggered by market speculators and reckless bankers.

As a consequence, I must now call on the Commission to prepare and put in place, as soon as possible, a new European crisis fund or a real economy fund in order to assist the many workers made redundant by the toxic fallout of our hyper-financialised economy, which has swept the EU into the woes we see today.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Madam President, unfortunately, my country, Romania, has not applied at all so far to mobilise the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, even though there have been thousands of redundancies in companies in the rail transport sector, the iron and steel industry or shipbuilding.

I would like to commend the Commission not only for its efforts in extending the derogations for mobilising the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, but also for its efforts on reforming this fund. I am in favour of extending it to agricultural workers and for increasing the cofinancing rate for countries in the process of fiscal consolidation.

Commissioner, in a letter I sent you, I asked you whether workers made redundant in the public sector from public institutions are eligible for the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund. You replied that they were. However, I would like to ask you for this provision to be specified more clearly in the future content of this regulation, so that we avoid creating a differentiation, discrepancy and inequalities between workers in the public sector and those in the private sector, since both groups are affected by the economic and financial crisis.

 
  
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  Barbara Matera, rapporteur. (IT) Madam President, first of all I am pleased with the enthusiasm shown by the honourable Members in today’s debate in the House, because this fund deserved it, but above all its objective and argument deserved it – we are talking about solidarity for European citizens. The end of 2011 is now upon us, and I would like to round up the year with a last speech in this House containing some positive hopes for next year.

My first hope is that the next Danish Council Presidency will once again make supporting the economic crisis derogation for this fund to 2013 a priority of its political agenda.

My second hope is that the European Commission will continue to support extension of the scope of this fund to include agriculture, which will undoubtedly suffer as a result of the economic crisis that is predicted to continue for the next few years, and provide support also for agriculture.

Finally, I appeal to my fellow Members – and I am sorry that some have already left – to support this report today, which will result in the payment of approximately EUR 24 million to Renault – and consequently to France, a Member State. This is a very important sign of the European Parliament’s solidarity, union and cohesion, because I am convinced – as I am sure you must also be absolutely convinced – that Parliament cannot and must not be a dumping-ground for all the inaccuracies, choices and reforms that take place inside Member States.

Therefore I trust in my fellow Members’ sense of responsibility I do not and cannot believe that some would abstain or vote against the Renault case just because they want and have to follow the election manifesto of their own Member State. I do not believe it, and I am sure that they will show their sense of responsibility, enabling us to inject new life and credibility into this fund, which would be seriously undermined should the honourable Members not vote together in favour of the payment of these funds.

 
  
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  Janusz Lewandowski, Member of the Commission. Madam President, I should like to thank the Members for their comments. I have three short remarks: the first on the crisis derogation. Fortunately the misunderstanding was clarified. Yes, the Commission wanted an extension until the end of 2013, but this was voted down by a blocking minority, including some states which benefited from the scheme. There were good reasons for extending the scheme due to the developments in the labour market, with a sudden recent acceleration of applications – two thirds of all the applications came in 2010 and 2011.

I can agree with Ms Ţicǎu that countries in Eastern Europe undergoing the so-called transformation from the old system to the new system know how painful this might be without globalisation, as our countries can neither be termed developed or under-developed parts of the world; this was rather a mis-developed part of the world, with a lot of industrial stock on the ground but completely useless in terms of a market economy.

My second remark concerns Renault. Thank you, Mr Gauzès, for explaining the action from the local point of view. I can only say that I know a special unit has been set up by Renault to deal with the issue. Our prerogative is to monitor and contact, but I can assure all of you that, from the legal point of view, this case fulfilled all the criteria of the European Globalisation Fund application. What matters is the future: as the Globalisation Fund is on the table in the proposal for 2014-2020, this means that we fully understand the added value of the fund in terms of making the reactions of the Member States more durable and of improved quality in terms of active labour market policy.

What is clear from the mid-term review is that exactly 42% of the workers covered by the scheme under this crisis derogation were able very quickly to find places on the job market. So this is working and is probably very conducive to the reintegration of redundant workers into the labour market.

I agree fully with those who ask for a much quicker response by the Globalisation Fund. This is as slow as the Solidarity Fund, which is also part of the proposal. What was very controversial – and here the remarks of Mr Daerden and Ms Cornelissen are relevant – is whether to extend it to farming. This was done in a very clear context, and the context, as I can reveal, was going into the Mercosur trade liberalisation talks with insecurity in the rural areas around the impact of trade liberalisation on the farming community. For my colleagues, and especially the one responsible for this major deal on trade liberalisation, this was a kind of insurance cover for entering into the trade liberalisation agreements with countries with more competitive pricing for agricultural products. This was the context of the decision to risk the extension of the Globalisation Fund to farming. But this is not at the cost of industrial workers, because we have our estimates in the pipeline, and I think the numbers proposed could be adequate as insurance for both areas: industry and farming.

But I can agree with Mr Alvaro and the others that this is keine Wunderwaffe: this is one of the tools in the toolbox for dealing with a crisis: valuable, therefore extended and should be defended, because this is also a tangible and visible sign in several corners of the European Union that the European institutions are useful, credible and could help.

 
  
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  President. - The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today at 11.30.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Evelyn Regner (S&D), in writing. (DE) The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) was introduced as a way of protecting employees affected by the far-reaching changes as a result of globalisation, in particular by the relocation of business to third countries. This European fund for the affected workers is essential in helping to cushion the blow of the global economic and financial crisis to at least some extent. It is also an important sign that the EU is there for people in Europe, helping them to find new employment. There is no way to justify the opening up of this fund to the agricultural sector, which is already the most funded sector in the EU, receiving up to 83% support. Industrial workers need support now more than ever. Two thirds of all requests for support from the EGF were submitted in 2010 and 2011, leading one to conclude that this is a growing trend and that employees recognise that there is something there to help them. The figures show that the fund is needed by industrial workers. I would argue that the resources of the EGF should be restricted exclusively to workers in the industrial sector.

 
Last updated: 19 March 2012Legal notice