Luxembourg’s new EU commissioner Nicolas Schmit says one of his priorities is to break the vicious cycle and get children out of poverty.
Luxembourg’s new European commissioner says he will work to meet the challenge posed by new technologies and reduce the poverty gap.
Amid a flurry of renaming the official titles of the portfolios that several commissioners will be responsible for when they take up duties on 1 December--the most notable being Margaritis Schinas who, after some controversy, is now charged with “promoting” rather than “protecting” the European way of life--the change in Nicolas Schmit’s title to include “social rights” as well as jobs was perhaps the least remarked upon. But for Luxembourg’s new commissioner, the addition is vital, he told journalists at the Maison de l’Europe on Thursday afternoon, just 24 hours after the European Parliament formally approved the make-up of the von der Leyen commission.
Schmit explained that on Thursday morning several commissioners-elect met for a 3-hour preparatory session on how they will work towards meeting goals set out in the so-called Green Deal, the flagship policy of the von der Leyen commission for which vice-president Frans Timmermans is responsible.
“The Green Deal is the new frontier for Europe,” Schmit said. “I don’t need to explain why. We are all conscious of the grave urgency of tackling climate change. It is not just the youth who are demanding audacious policy.” The new commission will launch a grand project that will require profound changes in the economy, society, and behaviour, according to Schmit. The target is to have zero emissions by 2050. “That is not far away, it is tomorrow morning,” he said.
Digitalisation and technological transformation is another major challenge that the commission will have to address, said Schmit. “It doesn’t just affect industry and services, but our everyday lives.” But he also sees opportunities in new technology that can help tackle climate change, whether that be AI, robotics, new methods of managing energy, smart cities, more intelligent mobility. The danger, however, is that new technologies could also cause “new ruptures in society.” So, social policy is playing a more and more important role, Schmit reckons. “And I am not just saying that because it is in my portfolio title.” He cited a recent study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung that showed EU citizens’ top three future priorities were the environment, jobs and social security.
“In order to reinvent employment, we have to invest enormously in people, in training today,” Schmit said. That means creating a net increase of 2 million new jobs by 2050, many of which will be in new activity sectors that will require new qualifications. And that will have to be achieved within the framework of meeting sustainable development goals, which the new commission has also made a priority.
Schmit admitted that he was a bit sceptical when the idea of launching a social rights programme was mooted. “I asked myself what such a declaration would change, concretely.” But he praised the Juncker commission for reinstating the subject. “The last commission to really invest in social rights before that was under Jacques Delors [from 1985 to 1994]. Since then it has been rather neglected.”
Among the policies Schmit will tackle is the controversial one of a minimum wage for Europe, with a view to fighting poverty. “There are 100 million people living in poverty in Europe, which is a scandal. We need to break the vicious cycle and get children out of poverty.” But finalising a directive on minimum wage is not going to be quick or easy. “We have an obligation to consult with social partners.” And there are two different areas that need to be addressed. Firstly, in those countries that already have a minimum wage there must be a guarantee that people can get by on that salary. “That is a measure to fight in-work poverty.” Secondly, those six member states who do not currently have a minimum wage law, include countries--notably the three Nordic countries and Austria--that have high coverage of collective bargaining contracts, which they are unwilling to surrender. “We will have to find compromises but not fake solutions.”