The Czech Republic and Slovakia on one side and France and Austria have agreed that new rules need to be sought over the thorny issue of workers from low wage countries in Central Europe being sent to work in high wage economies without the local benefits and conditions. But the Czech Republic sees this issue as part of a broader debate.
French president Emmanuel Macron has ruffled a few feathers with his moves to shake up his homeland and the rest of Europe. His comments that Central European leaders treated the European Union like a supermarket, taking their pick and leaving the rest, were one example.
But Macron was billed to be on something of a bridge building mission as a guest of the Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and Slovak premier Robert Fico as the other invitees in Salzburg late Wednesday.
As well as wider European reforms, Macron though was looking to make progress on the issue of so-called posted workers from low wage countries which he regards as social dumping. This is how the French president described how he and the Austrian Chancellor shared the same views during the closing press conference
ʺWe share the same view of things. The directive on detached workers as it functions now represents a treason of fundamental European principles. The European single market and free circulation of workers does not have the goal of favouring countries which offer the least social rights. We see clearly in our country that this is fuelling populism and it erodes confidence in the overall European project.ʺ
The French president proposed tightening up the rules on posted workers, setting a one year time limit on their use, reinforcing checks, and enforcing the basic principle that the same pay and conditions are offered for the same work at the same place.
The Czech and Slovak prime ministers agreed that experts should continue work on reforms with a target of finalising proposals by October. Prague though does not want the rules to significantly change the situation for the transport sector, where the use of Czech, Slovak, Romanian, Bulgarian, Polish, and Baltic lorry drivers across the whole of Europe is one of the clearest examples of low cost labour being used in high cost countries.
The Czech prime minister also sought to put the posted workers issue in a wider context of continued wide gulfs across Europe with convergence moving at a very slow pace or hardly at all. This is what he said:
ʺToday, we still have massive differences in living standards, wages, and the economic development of various parts of the European Union. Because of the single European market, this sometimes blows up as regards the single labour market.ʺ
Sobotka stressed that more should be done to address that sluggish economic convergence, such as through structural funds. On another Czech priority, Sobotka said the Salzburg meeting had also pushed ahead on the goal of a reinforced European defence and security framework with a commitment to create a permanent structure for that cooperation as soon as possible.