In a keynote address to the TUC Congress in Brighton, Jacques Santer made clear his opposition to a "dual" Europe in which Britain had opted out of the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty. "I appeal to all our member states to work together as 15 responsible governments to find sensible compromises in the whole social and employment policy domain."
M Santer implied a strong distaste for the Europhobes in the Conservative Party. He said it was "plain nonsense" to suggest European Monetary Union was a "continental conspiracy". It was the answer to the instabilities on exchange markets.
Hinting that the opt-out might not be sustainable, he said that many UK companies were establishing European works councils. His comments came as several unions announced negotiations with British companies to set up consultation structures to include British workers.
The GMB general union said it was in talks with six big companies: ICI, Redland, Group 4, GKN and Christian Salveson. A half a dozen large groups have already established councils.
Mr Santer's comments were welcomed by John Monks, TUC general secretary, but many delegates expressed frustration at his more diplomatic references to the recalcitrance of the British Government.
Mr Santer's appointment as president was endorsed by John Major after the Prime Minister vetoed the Belgian Jean luc Dehane. Mr Monks said his comments to Congress, "wouldn't be anything the Prime Minister wanted to hear".
Mr Santer was the second EU president to speak at the conference following an address seven years ago by Jacques Delors which cemented the TUC's newly found enthusiasm for Europe. Mr Delors was greeted as Frere Jacques at a time when the TUC's policy was decidedly anti-European.
The EU president warned yesterday that the principle of the opt-out would be on the agenda at the inter-governmental conference (IGC) next year. "We have to decide whether we would want any opt-out in future," he said.
Mr Santer said he believed that policy should be developed in a social partnership which should include a strong input from unions. "Europe's competitiveness can be strengthened if the social dialogue between employers and trade unions takes on fresh momentum and real substance." He wanted the European social summit in October in Florence to be the renaissance of this new dialogue.
As a Christian Democrat he believed that market economies could only be sustained if they were cemented by "social solidarity". He told delegates: "As president of the European Commission, I will continue to strive to maintain a caring European society. Not a divided one, nor a dual one." He believed in a Europe in which all those who wanted a job had one, or at least a place to be trained and educated for fresh employment opportunities in the future. I see no issue of greater importance for us than working to reduce our intolerably high levels of unemployment."
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