What will it take to get the Lisbon Strategy firmly back on track? For the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) the answer is not simply reform, and more reform, at all costs.

This structural reform mantra has become a thin disguise for deregulation and unlimited flexibility, weaker workers rights with longer hours and lower wages and the dismantling of social welfare. It should be no surprise, therefore, that European voters have been turning their backs on what increasingly looks like an agenda for the destruction of the European social model.

Invest in Social Europe.

If Europeans are to accept and take ownership of structural reform policies, they have to be confident that their social model will stay at the heart of the Lisbon Strategy, or any EU agenda for growth and competitiveness. ETUC is convinced that far from hampering progress, Social Europe with social dialogue and workers protection as vital ingredients can be a powerful motor for innovation, productivity, growth, in short for competitiveness. But it requires investment in the labour force, to enhance Europes advantage as a high-skill, high-productivity economy, not social dumping, in a fruitless and inevitably unsuccessful bid to compete globally with emerging markets on their own terms of low costs and bad working conditions.

In practice, this means, for example:

* active labour market policies, with employment services that offer guidance and training, especially for workers who are victims of restructuring;

* increased access to lifelong learning;

* improved social benefit regimes;

* policies to reconcile working and family life, and fight discrimination and inequalities;

* workers participation in creating high-performance workplaces.

Anyone tempted to dismiss this as traditional trade union thinking should re-read the mid-term report of the Kok High Level Group, which says: oThe call for more reform is too frequently seen as no more than code (a) for weakening worker rights and protections: this is wrong. The HLG understands that flexibility is about agility, adaptability and employability for which the key is the ability of workers constantly to acquire and renew skills and for a combination of active labour market policies, training and social support to make moving from job to job as easy as possible.o

The EU needs to revise its definition of competitiveness, away from short-term reform policies that increase poverty and insecurity, towards investment in research...

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