Social Democratic MEP calls out German Chancellor over Platform Work Directive: ‘Which side are you on?’

Debate in the European Parliament comes as hope is revived that a platform work regulation deal could be struck before the end of the parliamentary term.

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has faced a barrage of criticism from MEPs in the European Parliament, including from Social Democratic colleagues, for his government’s refusal to take a stance on the EU Platform Work Directive (PWD), putting the regulation in jeopardy.

Germany has abstained throughout the over 800-day long process and did so again on 16 February, when the abstentions of Germany, Estonia and Greece and the vote against of France were sufficient to form a blocking minority to stop the passing of the platform work regulation. That failure has left next to no time for a text to be agreed before the European Parliament term ends.

The Directive would have established a broad legal framework for deciding on the employment status for platform workers, leaving the crucial details up to each member-state. It would also have created a new set of rights for platform workers in relation to algorithmic management, including the right to know what information is held on them and human oversight of key decisions such as the suspension of accounts.

MEPs gathered on Monday [26 February] to discuss the state of play with PWD, with many venting their frustration after the European Parliament (EP) has twice now stuck provisional agreements with the Council, only for member-states to refuse to sign-off on the deals. 

The first and more comprehensive agreement under the Spanish Presidency in December was opposed by 12 member-states at Council. The second, significantly watered-down text under the Belgian Presidency was struck-down by four because combined they represent more than 35% of a population share of member-states, enough to prevent a qualified majority under EU rules.

Elisabetta Gualmini, an Italian MEP in the Socialists & Democrats Group and rapporteur for the European Parliament on the Platform Work Directive, said the decision of four states to block the agreement “was utterly scandalous” and “shameful”, asking: “Why did this happen? We need to investigate and find out because there is no rational explanation.”

Gualmini, who has previously said that the efforts by the platform lobby to influence MEPs over the Directive is the most intense she has ever seen, questioned whether the four states had “caved into the pressures exerted by multi-nationals, who opt always to protect the powerful and the rich instead of the poor and the vulnerable.”

Directing her message directly towards the German Chancellor, who’s SDP party is also in the Socialists & Democrats group in the Parliament, Gualmini said: “Dear Mr Scholz, why on earth are you contributing to the destruction of the European ideal and the social contract?

“How is it possible that so many [platform] workers do not have social protection, you are not protecting them, you are supposed to be a Social Democratic Chancellor of the largest member-state of the European Union!

“Would you kindly tells us on which side you are in this debate?”

READ MORE: Dead end: Platform Work Directive blocked by Germany, France, Estonia and Greece

Dennis Radtke, German MEP in the centre-right EPP group, was equally apoplectic, stating that it was “a shame that this debate is necessary” as 23 member-states had supported the agreement, as there is “a danger that years of difficult political work is going to evaporate”. 

Directing his ire directly at the German Chancellor and French President, Radtke added that “the stubbornness of Mr Scholz and Mr Macron, it just leaves me speechless!”

It has been reported that Germany has abstained on the PWD because the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), the smallest party in the coalition government, has refused to give its approval .

Radtke, a member of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union who sits on the employment committee of the EP, said that the FDP’s comments about the Directive were “incredible, as if this was a general attack on enterprises”. 

“Either they haven’t read the Directive or they haven’t understood it,” he said. “I think both is possible.”

Ending with a message directly to Scholz, Radtke said: “Chancellor, be serious! Create respect for yourself and for five million fake self-employed platform workers.”

The harsh criticisms come as the Platform Work Directive has been put on the agenda for a high-level Council meeting of Ministers from across Europe called EPSCO on 11 March. EPSCO is usually used as a means to rubber-stamp already agreed legislation, but the Belgian Presidency of the EU believes that it may still be possible to turn the ‘No’ on PWD on 16 February into a ‘Yes’ a few weeks later, although it is not clear why the four states would change their mind.

Mathieu Michel, Belgium’s secretary of state for digitisation, told the European Parliament that they would “continue with the work within the limited time in our disposal to unlock the deadlock on the Council”. 

Michel said that the provisional agreement negotiated with the EP on 8 February was “a very good and balanced agreement that we want to implement swiftly”. 

However, he added, “this is a politically sensitive Directive”. 

The state secretary did not give any indication that Belgium was seeking to re-open the text, as some reports have suggested, stating that the Belgian Presidency is “encouraging the hesitant member-states to clarify, and we will clarify, the content of the provisional agreement.”

READ MORE – Permanently on the fence: Germany criticised for abstaining on EU platform work regulation for 2 years

Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs & Social Rights, said the provisional agreement “represents an obvious added value relative to the current situation” and “does not allow digital labour platforms to easily circumvent the presumption [of employment]”.

He said that it was “a fair compromise”, although he would have preferred to have kept the European Commission’s original criteria in the text.  

“I regret the provisional agreement could not gather, up to now, the necessary support despite the recent changes. Each member-state is of course entitled to its own position but I hoped that a compromise could have been found by now.”

Schmit, who will be the Socialists & Democrats group’s lead candidate in the EP elections in June, stated that there was “no choice” but to continue to work for a compromise “that is agreeable to both legislators,” and that he is “confident” that such a deal will be struck at the 11 March EPSCO Council meeting.

He finished by saying that “this Directive was not proposed as an affront to the model of labour relations in any member-state, but as a way forward to complement existing models and improve the overall situation of platform workers across the EU.”

GEP NEWSLETTER: More questions than answers in Brussels

Other MEPs waded in with strong criticisms of the failure of the Council to approve the Directive.

Kim Van Sparrentak, Dutch Greens MEP and deputy rapporteur on PWD, said “apparently Macron and the German liberals find the profits of the platforms more important than protecting precarious workers.”

“They prefer to reward the aggressive lobbying tactics from which Uber, Deliveroo and Wolt spent millions of euros.”

She ended: “Talking about a more social Europe doesn’t help anyone, let’s take action.”

Leïla Chaibi MEP, member of the Left Group in the European Parliament and a campaigner for platform workers’ rights, said the ‘blocking minority’ of member-states had “trashed years of work”. 

Chaibi said that Macron, who was exposed in the Uber Files scandal as having collaborated to help Uber in its illegal entry into the French market in 2015, was “Uber’s chief lobbyist”, describing him as a “lost cause”. 

Directing her words towards Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who’s country contains Bolt, one of Europe’s largest multi-modal platforms, Chaibi told her to “not give in to the blackmail of platforms”.

She added: “Uber and Bolt are not lawmakers, it is up to us to make the laws.”

Clare Daly, Irish MEP in the Left Group, described the blocking minority on the Council as “an utter disgrace indicating corporate capture.”

She added: “As far as I’m concerned we need an ethics investigation into Uber and Deliveroo, and who benefited from the change in policy?”

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Daly referred to a strike which took place in Dublin, the Irish capital, on 14 February of food delivery couriers over declining pay, saying that in lieu of EU regulatory action “collective actions such as the one in Dublin will be the way forward, solidarity will prevail.”

The Left group hosted a conference of platform workers and activists in Brussels last week in the European Parliament, with representation from gig workers across the continent and beyond. The conference agreed to establish an “anti-Uberisation network” which would meet annually and co-ordinate actions regardless of what happens at EU level.

Responding to the contributions of MEPs, Schmit said that “he hoped the message very massively delivered here in the Parliament will be listened to.”

He added: “I’m really surprised that it’s now about protecting the platforms and not protecting the most precarious workers in our economy and society.”

Michel commented to the MEPs that their anger “has been heard”.

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