Europe's Future on the Line In Response to Jobs Crisis

EC's Delors says strong, imaginative action is essential

FOR Jacques Delors, the way Europe responds to its deepening unemployment crisis will provide the crucial test of whether Europe ``is opting for survival instead of decline.''

The European Commission president spoke those words at a recent conference on job creation in Europe. But the idea that Europe will rise or fall on its response to the jobs crisis has been his conviction since at least June, when he delivered a scathing look at the European Community's job-creation performance at an EC summit in Copenhagen.

In increasingly blunt attacks on what he considers Europe's ``passive'' response to the employment conundrum, Mr. Delors says the nearly 20 million unemployed across the 12-nation Community will rise to 30 million by the end of the decade unless serious, imaginative, and in some cases revolutionary action is taken.

The Commission president's recent speeches on the issue are designed to prepare both European leaders and the public for the white paper on job creation and Europe's competitiveness that he will deliver to the EC's December summit in Brussels.

The paper will take a hard look at ways of reducing employers' costs. (In Europe, government withholding and other costs to companies equal 40 percent of gross national product, as opposed to 30 percent in the United States and Japan.) Other ideas will include sharing and adding jobs through shorter working hours, the need to increase Europe's rate of investment, developing information technology, and improving infrastructure as a means of further integrating the EC's Single Market.

Given Delors's social-democratic political affiliation, his report will shy away from the kind of wholesale deregulation and social-welfare cuts that Britain's Prime Minister John Major would prefer. The white paper is also viewed as Delors's swan song, since he has said he will leave his post by the end of 1994.

But Delors's aides say it won't be like the white paper that led to the EC's Single Market, which many consider Delors's triumph. ``That was a legislative program of some 300 directives needed to make an integrated market function,'' says one official close to Delors. ``This will be more of an analytical and reflective work. It will propose paths to take but very few legislative proposals.''

The lack of top-down directives will be in part a sign of the times: The EC has shifted to a more decentralized stance in recent months, and the bruising the European Commission took during the drawn-out ratification of the Maastricht Treaty has left it shy of proposing centralized responses to national crises.

The Commission also has little legislative responsibility in many of the areas where action might be recommended, such as labor regulations or social legislation.

At the same time, Commission officials realize a sense of expectation is building in anticipation of Delors's report. ``The anticipation is already too high, and that's certainly a danger,'' says a Delors aide. Reports that Delors will offer a program designed to create 20 million new jobs by the end of the decade, and reduce Europe's unemployment, now 11 percent, to 5 percent, are exaggerated, he adds. ``Delors hasn't talked of any target below 6-7 percent.''

But even that goal assumes a job-creation performance in the range of the US during the 1980s, when the US created more than twice the number of jobs created in Europe. And if the current tepid recovery in the US shows one thing, it is that job creation for a mature economy is no longer an easy feat.

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