Isabelle Durant, Vice-President of the European Parliament and MEP (EFA / The Greens), has agreed to answer the questions of "Work Together" on the occasion of this special issue on sustainable employment. Isabelle Durant aspires to a more social Europe. On her website, she explains how she contributed to reach an agreement with the European Parliament and the Commission in 2001 about the working hours of lorry drivers: “Social aspects are always put off. First we liberalize and deregulate” she said “and at the very best, afterwards we realize which the consequences are for workers, their health, and our security. That's also the Social Europe” Let’s see what Isabelle Durant thinks about Europe, where companies would care more about their workers...
Question: The concept of sustainable employment is totally absent in European policies. This concept is the main mission of cooperatives and companies run by their workers and represented by CECOP. However, according to you, how can sustainable employment be defined?
Answer: Employment sustainability is not only a contractual issue for workers who practice it (ideally with an open-ended contract) but also a question of purpose and influence of the activity to which it contributes in its territorial, economic, physical, and human environment. Sustainability is also reflected in the management of a company that produces it: a prudent management, who anticipates and controls its expansion and who invests in human capital of training for all its workers.
Q.: Have you ever been aware of cooperatives as a citizen or as an MEP and in which way?
A.: Absolutely. Here at the European Parliament, several cooperatives, especially those focused on agriculture and food production fields, contact us regarding some aspects of the forthcoming reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In a trade where individual producers’ income is isolated and placed in jeopardy structurally, the organisation into workers’ cooperatives, where workers run their own companies, turns out to be particularly appropriate and adequate. In this troubled sector, adequacy, should lead us to analyse the usage and promotion of a model like this one not only in sectors undergoing restructuring or due to company closure, but also in areas of small innovative firms, allowing the creation of new jobs.
Q.: The takeover of companies in crisis or without heirs by their workers has already saved many jobs in Europe. Don’t you find that this method should be taken more into account in European policies?
A.: It is regrettable that the 2020 strategy, without exclude it formally, considers this method of recovery by the workers just as a stopgap...
Q.: The vast majority of cooperatives have so far shown a better resistance to the crisis compared with average companies from the same sectors and the same countries. Do you believe that their governance and management system has something to do with this?
A.: It’s obvious that companies from sectors more touched by competition and that, because of this reason, have developed short-term strategies for surviving to a wild dumping are those that are more threatened.
Q.: Finally, if you wished to create a cooperative, which would be its main activity?
A.: I have already participated and I am member of a housing cooperative for social purposes, offering a dozen of associations working in the social fields of premise shared services, a common work ethic, a knowledge platform and services. If I had to create another, it would be based on the field of art production (cinema, theatre, image, new technologies): I am convinced that in this matter which cannot be conceived without a real human commitment, without a guideline that makes sense; there is a huge need for sharing strategies and resources.
1994-1999: Co-president of the Ecolo party in Belgium
1999-2003: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Mobility and Transport in the Belgian government of Guy Verhofstadt
2004-2009: re-elected as Co-president of the Ecolo party
2009: elected MEP (EFA / The Greens) and Vice-President of the European Parliament
Interview conducted by Olivier Biron, CECOP
International Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and
Service Producers' Cooperatives
Secretariat: C/O European Cooperative House - avenue Milcamps 105
1030 Brussels, Belgium
Tel: +32 2 543 1033, fax: +32 2 543 1037