In a recent development, European trade unions have expressed concern over comments made by Pierre Regibeau, the outgoing Chief Competition Economist of the European Commission’s DG Competition. In an interview with Lecho newspaper, Regibeau stated that supporting European industry is a “waste of money,” suggesting that Europe should instead buy cheaper steel from countries like Indonesia. The unions have called for clarification from the European Commission on its commitment to European foundation industries and their workforce, especially in light of the ongoing energy crisis and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Context of the Comments
Regibeau’s comments come at a time when Europe’s foundational industries, including the steel sector, are grappling with a seven-fold increase in energy costs and a shortage of raw materials. These challenges have led to halted or slowed production at various sites. The unions argue that such views are outdated and irresponsible, given that these industries support the livelihoods of 8 million people and underpin millions more jobs in sectors like automotive, construction, and energy.
Proposed Reforms and International Comparisons
The unions have criticized the European Commission’s current electricity market design reforms for failing to adequately address the scale of the challenges faced by these industries. They point out that both the Biden administration in the U.S. and China’s clean industrial strategies explicitly recognize and support these industries, unlike the European Green Deal industrial plan.
Social Conditions and Workforce Concerns
The unions are urging the European Commission to create a “SURE 20” scheme that includes social conditionality, focusing on the retraining and upskilling of the workforce. They also call for reforms in EU competition policies to consider the interests of workers, citing the case of the ArcelorMittal SA acquisition of Ilva in Italy, where 15,000 jobs were at risk, as an example of the failure to consider employment impact.
Supporting European industry is no “waste of money”!
Excerpt from a letter from the Trade Unions to Margrethe Vestager executive vice – president of the European Commission:
The European Trade Union Confederation and industriAll Europe call on you to:
- Clarify that Mr Régibeau’s position is representative of neither your team nor the European Commission;
- Set out what measures you plan to take to support the future of Europe’s foundation industries through the energy crisis and invasion of Ukraine;
- Set out how you will reform EU competition policies to ensure they consider the interests of working people and not only corporations and consumers.
We hope that the departure of Mr Régibeau will help bring about a break with the failed neoliberal policies of the past and ensure the Commission pursues an active industrial policy which protects and creates high-quality jobs in our industries, delivering a Just Transition in every corner of Europe.
This is the only version of Europe which will command the confidence of working people.
Esther Lynch, General Secretary, ETUC
Isabelle Barthes, Deputy General Secretary, IndustriAll Europe
Judith Kirton-Darling (Deputy General Secretary, IndustriAll Europe
Ludovic Voet, Confederal Secretary, ETUC
The full letter to the European Commission can be read here