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8th European Regional Meeting

ILO European Regional Meeting opens amid calls for an urgent and coordinated response to the economic crisis

The 8th European Regional Meeting of the International Labour Organization opened in Lisbon with calls for an integrated approach to halt the spiraling economic slowdown and build a new, “stronger, cleaner and fairer” economy for the future.

Press release | 10 February 2009

LISBON, 10 February (ILO News) –The 8th European Regional Meeting of the International Labour Organization (ILO) opened here today with calls for an integrated approach to halt the spiraling economic slowdown and build a new, “stronger, cleaner and fairer” economy for the future.

Citing recent ILO forecasts that global unemployment could increase by some 50 million due to the economic downturn, ILO Director-general Juan Somavia said almost 8 million of this increase or one fifth of the global total could be in the 51 member States in the region comprised of Europe and Central Asia – with nearly half coming from the EU-27.

“I say this not with a sense of despair but with a sense of confidence that the world acting together can reverse these trends”, Mr. Somavia said.

Addressing a packed conference room of worker, employer and government representatives from the region’s member States, including the Prime Minister of Portugal HE Mr. José Socrates and more than 30 labour ministers or state secretaries, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said the economic crisis is “worsening still further into a potential global social recession provoking tensions, political uncertainties and even possible security risks”.

Mr. Somavia highlighted six areas that governments, employers, workers and the ILO should concentrate on: ensuring the flow of credit and stimulating demand; extending social protection and employment policies with a particular focus on the vulnerable; supporting productive enterprises, particular the smaller ones; ensuring that fundamental principles and rights at work are respected and promoted; deepening social dialogue and tripartism; and maintaining and expanding development aid and other investment flows to vulnerable countries.

“The Europe and Central Asia region must play a leading role by dealing in a coherent way with its own different problems in different countries and also helping to construct a coordinated global approach”, he said. “I think your region can play a special role in achieving much better policy coherence and regional and international coordination to avoid protectionist policies that might emerge.”

In his statement to the plenary, the Prime Minister of Portugal said: “It was Europe – as part of its ambitious integration process – that took the most consistent steps towards building a balanced and inclusive social model. And it’s the Europe of today that has a bigger responsibility to adopt efficient and fair responses to the current crisis and to the challenges we face in the world of work, by backing social protection and social dialogue”.

Mr. Somavia said the present crisis, painful as it was, presented an opportunity to forge longer term solutions that go beyond fixing the financial and banking system, and referred the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda as a practical guide forward.

“A social investment approach based on the ILO Decent Work Agenda offers immediate relief in terms of the generation of job opportunities and a basic social and economic floor of empowerment and opportunity to counteract rising poverty. But it also aims to strengthen economies for the future through training, a new infrastructure for a greener economy and support to small and medium-sized enterprises”, he said.

Mr. Somavia said the current crisis had exposed not only a global policy vacuum but also an institutional vacuum “to confront this first recession in the era of globalization”.

“The foundation for our capacity to think and work together is our shared values and our common commitment to ensure a moral compass to the global economy”, he said.

“We will have to be extremely vigilant about a resurgence of political reactions to uncertainty and economic distress in the form of race and religious hatred, discrimination against immigrants or ethnic minorities, victimization of union representatives and protectionist economic policies that would aggravate the crisis”, concluded Mr. Somavia.

The ILO European and Central Asian region member States meet every four years to forge policies and set priorities for the area.

The meeting also heard opening statements by Mr. Daniel Funes de Rioja, Employer Vice-Chairperson of the Governing Body of the ILO, Sir Roy Trotman, Worker Vice-Chairperson of the Governing Body of the ILO, Ms Renate Hornung Draus, Vice-President for Europe of the International Organization of Employers (IOE), and Ms Maria Helena André, Deputy General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). There was also recorded video statement by the President of the European Commission, HE Mr. José Manuel Barroso.

The Portuguese Minister of Labour and Social Solidarity, José Vieira da Silva, was elected chair of the three-and-a-half day meeting.