Meanwhile, the European Commission president warned that everyone needs to make their fair share of sacrifices.
Speaking at yesterday’s EU social summit in Brussels, Julie O’Neill, president of Irish employers body Ibec, said the dual approach of structural reform and focusing on growth need to be pursued across Europe.
The social summit — with partners representing employers and workers, together with the EU — was attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny for the first time. Mr Kenny is scheduled to head up Ireland’s presidency of the EU for six months from January.
The summit, which preceded the start of the two-day spring meeting of EU leaders, heard conflicting demands from union and business representatives.
The European Trade Union Confederation called on national leaders to change course at once and cautioned strongly against the solutions proposed up to now.
The group wants structural reforms of the labour market, characterised by wage moderation and deregulation of job security and liberalisation of the single market.
General secretary Bern-adette Ségol said: “Deregulation and flexibilisation are often advertised as the royal roads to job creation. On the contrary, they risk undermining job security, worsening working conditions and weakening the economy.”
The emphasis should be on developing new sectors based on a European industrial strategy, instruments such as a tax on financial transactions and on eurobonds, and on a fairer tax system, she said.
Commission president José Manuel Barroso said the European social model and social market economy are about combining economic openness and dynamism with social fairness — and unemployment is the antithesis of social fairness.
He said: “We need fairness in the redistribution of sacrifices through this period in which as we know, some countries are implementing very painful structural adjustment.”
Ibec’s Ms O’Neill said the European agenda must move from being entirely focused on austerity to enhancing growth and competitiveness.
She said the Irish business model had not failed despite the financial crisis and has proved to be extremely resilient. While world trade fell by 12% during 2009, Irish exports fell by only 4% and have rebounded since.
In the private sector, she said restructuring and reorganisation has taken place within companies and the changes have delivered a significant improvement in cost competitiveness and a surge in productivity.
“We have learned that a relentless focus on growth, when combined with structural reform, can reap enormous rewards,” said Ms O’Neill, adding that this dual approach must be pursued across Europe.