European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on September 13 used his State of the European Union address to warn the bloc’s eastern states that while he would fight for equal rights for their consumers, he would not countenance their workers being able to unfairly undercut those of western members.
Slovakia and Czechia have of late been loudly complaining that the EU has not been doing enough to stop food, beverage and other household consumer products companies from selling “second-class” goods to their citizens in comparison to what they sell in Western Europe. Bulgaria and Romania have also been quite vocal about the issue.
Addressing this point, Juncker said: “East to west: Europe must breathe with both lungs. Otherwise our continent will struggle for air. In a union of equals, there can be no second-class consumers. I will not accept that in some parts of Europe, people are sold food of lower quality than in other countries, despite the packaging and branding being identical.”
Juncker said national authorities would be given improved legal instruments to put a stop to such “illegal practices”.
The Commission head also declared that it was time to let Bulgaria and Romania into the EU’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel, but at the same time he noted that Brussels would go ahead with reforming its labour rules. Currently, they allow workers from the poorer EU east to work in the wealthier west for low salaries. The eastern states are opposed to ending the practice, saying it is necessary to enable them to compete to catch up following the decades of communist rule that followed WWII.
However, Juncker, under pressure from EU leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron to crack down on the phenomenon, referred to as “social dumping”, said in his speech: “In a Union of equals, there can be no second class workers. Workers should earn the same pay for the same work in the same place.” An EU Labour Agency would be created to guarantee fairness in the single market, he added.