What social Europa do we want?

BTB and ETF President Frank Moreels, spoke today at the workshop "What social Europe do we want?" organized by the ABVV. Read the full speech below.

Comrades,

First of all, I would like to inform you that BTB, has published a memorandum in response to the many elections coming up this year. In it we give our vision of how the political world can help us achieve "fair transportation."

A good portion of what is described in this memorandum is about Europe. By the way, this memorandum also includes ETF's manifesto, in which our European transport union lists the priorities for fair transport.

Our BTB memorandum contains many proposals that can and must only be realized at the European level. I often say that 85% of the rules that apply in the transport sector are set at European level or even global level.

Of the elections coming up this year, these are an absolute priority battleground for the European Parliament!

After all, the right, the far right and the extreme right threaten to become stronger in these elections, and I can give you a piece of paper: that is not in the interest of the working population, that is not in the interest of our members, and that is certainly not in the interest of the (transport) workers. So we must mobilize as a union to strengthen the progressive forces in Europe, and for BTB these are those parties that have helped us in the past period to enforce progressive emphases in Europe.

The examples of how important the European battleground is are legion.
It will not surprise you that I mention social dumping as one of the essential issues at the European level.
Twice, the status of our dockworkers has been under attack from Europe, through proposals contained in Port Package 1 and 2. The European mobilizations that we organized were twice successful.
If today there are European rules on social dumping in road transport, it is because of trade union mobilization, and because we had friends in the European Parliament who helped us push these rules through. Kathleen Van Brempt and Astrid Jongerius spring to mind. The mobility package was a bad proposal from the committee. Trade union action ensured that it became an acceptable compromise with many union accents.

So a first message I want to give is that we as a union should be less ambiguous about Europe. Just because we are against the policy that the committee is pursuing today does not mean that we should be against Europe.
The European idea, the European construction has provided peace in Europe for 79 years. Moreover, it is not only an insurance against internal war, but also a guarantee of economic resistance in the geopolitical field. How could a small country like Belgium hold its own in the globalizing world against the super-aggressive politics of - say - China?

By the way, I am not so sure that our British comrades are so happy about their Brexit.

But I'm sure our truckers don't want to go back to the good old days when they needed 26 different currencies when driving internationally. Let alone had to face 26 different mountains of paper in terms of administrative and border formalities, not to mention the long waits at the borders. The same goes for aviation, inland navigation, etc. The saying "things were better in the past" is simply wrong, and we must dare to say that as a union.

But we should also have the courage to say that today's Europe is not the kind of Europe we want. In the ETF manifesto we clearly state that Europe did not respond correctly to the social, economic and political challenges of today, and on the contrary, has bet on liberalization, privatization, deregularization. And that has reinforced the distrust of working people towards that distant - and in their eyes bureaucratic - Europe. And count on populists to capitalize on that.

It is up to us to put another Europe on the map. And that will require more European commitment from the unions.

You know that I wrote a book entitled "The world is ours". In it I argue for more international trade union engagement. So we also need to make Europe "ours."

And when Miranda Ulens, our general secretary, recently warned in a Facebook message - quite rightly, by the way - about the new austerity policies that are rearing their heads in Europe, we have to ask ourselves why there were so few FGTB members present at our December 12, 2023 demonstration?

Those who today advocate for another Europe, they must work for it in concrete terms. And that means mobilizing our members and militants for another Europe when the chips are down. And just as we never got anything just like that, we will have to fight for it. If we do not engage with Europe, Europe will not fail to engage with us. And if we don't fight for our share, our members will foot the bill at the end. And so comrades, next time Ester Lynch calls for a European mobilization, we will have to do more and better.

Comrades, allow me to get a little more specific.

If there is one area where I want more Europe, it is in the area of enforcement. What good are European rules if half of Europe wipes its pants on them? What is the benefit of having a good mobility package if it is not applied?

What is the benefit of having a European Labour Authority if it is a paper tiger? This European Labour Authority was created by European Commissioner Marianne Thyssen at the time. We hoped that this would become a kind of embryo for a European Social Inspectorate. Today it appears that the ELA is to be given much more and stronger powers. The inspections they carry out today are no more than symbolic and are always announced in advance. And even then they catch almost 67% offenders when they go hunting with the fanfare in front.

Meanwhile, unscrupulous fraud continues in road transport: Over the past six months, the Belgian Federal Police has fined more than 85% of the Eastern European drivers inspected during truck checks on the highways in the province of Liège for violating driving and rest periods and the return rules of the EU mobility package. A total of nearly 700 checks were carried out, with violations found in 596 cases. For example, 112 drivers from Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania had not been home for three months or more, while 136 drivers had been on the road on Western European roads for more than two months. Another nearly 70% (412 drivers) had not observed the mandatory weekend rest outside the cab.
Since summer 2023, Belgian police have been randomly checking Eastern European trucks on highways for compliance with the EU mobility package. This resulted in nearly 1.4 million euros in fines last year.

Just recently, BTB provided the inspection services with the coordinates of a whole row of "Christmas parking lots" where drivers had to leave their trucks when they went to their home countries - usually Eastern Europe - for the holidays. The fact that the vehicle was left here and then picked up here to start work again shows that they are covered by the Belgian collective bargaining agreement "Equal pay for equal work" and thus must be employed under Belgian wage and working conditions. So there is still a lot of work to be done.
But in the Netherlands there are hardly any checks on compliance with the EU mobility package. So it is high time for more powers for ELA, for more controls, and for tougher enforcement.
We also have skewed situations in the maritime sector, for example. Belgian officers in the merchant navy sailing under the Cypriot, Maltese and Italian flags are refused affiliation by the social security systems of the countries concerned. Actually, they are thus obliged to work "in the black." So the European Commission is apparently less lenient when it comes to the enforceability of European budgetary rules than when it comes to the correct application of its own social regulations.

But the principals of transports must also take responsibility. Large multinationals such as IKEA, DHL, ... should not pretend not to know what is happening in their transport chain. Last year, Eastern European truckers went on strike twice. They put their trucks aside because they had been squeezed like lemons for months. The strikes in Gräfenhausen were news all over Europe. The drivers were striking against their Polish employers. And in the end they won, getting their back wages paid in full. But what did it turn out? That those shadowy Polish transport firms were driving in subcontracting for big players like Ikea, Volkswagen, DHL, LKW Walter, Sennder and CH Robinson.
BTB and ETF thus suggest that in Europe we go full steam ahead with the introduction of "corporate responsibility," the liability of the prime client. Strengthening due diligence laws and making them applicable to the chain within the EU. Introducing effective chain liability in the transport sector, which also applies to wage debts and is retroactive.
Finally, I would like to make a plea for supporting politicians who dare to stick their necks out in the European Parliament. For example, BTB fully supports Kathleen Van Brempt's proposal to work on a European port strategy. The strategic importance of our ports and port infrastructure is essential for the Belgian economy, and thus for employment in Belgium. The Port of Antwerp is the first economic hub in Belgium. However, concerns about foreign interference in our ports are real.

China is using its economic power and maritime sector to gain increasing influence in critical infrastructure in Europe. In countless ports throughout the European Union, we see the influence of foreign powers and China in particular growing. From the port of Piraeus in Greece, where two-thirds of the shares are owned by the Chinese state-owned COSCO Shipping, to the ports of Hamburg and Zeebrugge, where the same COSCO owns part of the terminal.
And I don't think, comrades, that we want to import the Chinese model of state capitalism here in Belgium. That is why I am making an appeal here today to heed Kathleen's call - supported by the European Parliament - to wake up the commission and take action to safeguard the interests of Europe, and of European workers.