Brussels’ plans for EU minimum wage meet Nordic skepticism

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The European Commission building in Brussels | Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

Commission says it won’t force countries to introduce a statutory level.

STRASBOURG — The European Commission wants to introduce an EU-wide minimum wage, and says it will try to bring skeptical Nordic nations on board.

Nicolas Schmit, the commissioner for jobs and social rights, said Tuesday that a consultation had been launched on the plans in a bid to fight “wage dumping” across the bloc, with workers in some countries earning much less for similar tasks than in others. If there’s enough support among EU countries, it could lead to a new law.

However, Schmit stressed that Brussels had listened to criticism from Nordic countries, which fear that such an initiative could undermine their long-established systems of collective bargaining.

“I’ve had a lot of discussions with Swedish and also the Danish labor unions, employers and also the Swedish and Danish governments,” Schmit said. “So it will be very clear that in a future legal text, we will assure [there are] all kinds of provisions which make clear that the collective bargaining system, as it functions in Sweden, in Denmark and maybe in some other countries, is absolutely protected.”

He said there would be “no obligation whatsoever to introduce some legal or statutory minimum wage.”

Denmark, Sweden and Finland don’t have a minimum wage. Instead, salaries are directly negotiated between unions and employers and are generally much higher than in most other EU countries.

Peter Hummelgaard Thomsen, the Danish employment minister, tweeted Sunday that there was a “great need for social convergence” across Europe, “but this must be done without undermining collective bargaining models that work.”

Schmit argued that, instead of targeting Scandinavian countries, his ideas for a “legal framework for minimum wages” were actually focused on certain EU states that already have a minimum wage, but which is too low, although he didn’t name names.

“Some countries have minimum wages that we believe … do not guarantee a dignified standard of living,” he said.

He said the Commission would now consult social partners in EU countries to see if action is needed, and decide on legislative proposals based on that feedback.

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