Thursday, September 17, 2009

Barroso is elected as new Commission President

Yesterday saw the culmination of weeks of discussions, speculation and gossip over the European Parliament's vote on the re-election of the Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso.

I had serious doubts based on the ex Portuguese Prime Minister's track record over the last 5 years. I have been a critic of his response to the economic crisis which lacked both strength and ambition. I wanted a stronger focus on tackling unemployment, and especially youth unemployment. I also believe that he has placed far too much emphasis on economic and market freedoms, to the detriment of workers rights - throughout the EU. The major issue here has been about the Posted Workers Directive (PWD). This is European employment law which allows companies to bring in staff from overseas on temporary contracts. I am firmly in favour of free movement of workers throughout the EU and indeed it is not a one-way street. Estimates put the number of Brits who are living and working abroad in the EU at up to 1.5 million, although I suspect the true figure is somewhat less.

The problem occurs when the working terms and conditions of local workers are undercut and undermined, including collective agreements between trade unions and employers. Recent European Court rulings have perverted the original intention of the Directive, allowing such agreements to be undermined by companies bringing in an entire workforce from another EU country. Labour MEPs and the Socialist Group in the European Parliament have been pressing the Commission for a review of the Posted Workers Directive to remedy the Court's judgement but it has been Barroso himself who has persistently refused such action.

I questioned him on this very issue, both in a private meeting with Socialist Group MEPs last week, and in a European Parliament debate on Tuesday (video above). His tune did change and he promised action but fell short of promising a full review of the directive. However it remained unclear as to whether his promises would be enough to overcome the damage of the Court rulings.

Therefore our group took the decision to abstain on the vote, given there was no other candidate to vote for. Mr Barroso did prevail with 53% of the vote - a narrow majority but one which relied on the support of a ragbag of eurosceptics. This outcome certainly does not leave him in a comfortable position for the next 5 years and he will be pressed all the way by Labour MEPs and the Socialist Group to deliver on his many promises and warm words.

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