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Meeting of G20 labour and employment ministers

Published on September 28, 2011
Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic

Paris, September 26, 2011


Chairmen and managing directors,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I was keen to welcome you to the Elysée Palace to show you the importance France attaches to this meeting of the G20 countries’ labour and employment ministers, the second of its kind, following the one held in Washington in April 2010.

I know that Xavier Bertrand – whom I thank – was in close consultation with you ahead of this meeting. He will allow me also to express my very warm thanks to Gilles de Robien, who did a remarkable job of listening and talking to people.

Ministers, you have an essential contribution to make to the success of the Cannes G20 summit.

Social issues are among the key challenges facing our countries: the crisis has had a devastating impact on our labour markets, with an additional 30 million unemployed people in under two years! And the shock wave has spared no country.

Since your last meeting in Washington in 2010, the world economic and social situation has only reinforced the necessity of putting employment at the heart of our priorities. The G20 will remain legitimate only if it manages to demonstrate its effectiveness at supporting growth and employment.

Financial/economic/social regulation

By putting social issues at the heart of global discussions, we’re learning the lessons of the crisis we’ve been through. What has that crisis taught us? That the illusion of the omnipotence of the market – which didn’t have to face any constraints, which could self-regulate, which could opt out of solid supervision – has caused an absolutely unprecedented crisis. There’s no freedom without rules, and there’s no market without rules.

The crisis has shown that globalization isn’t viable unless it’s stabilized as a matter of the greatest urgency. Admittedly, thanks to the globalization of trade, extreme poverty has diminished worldwide, with the number of people affected falling by 400 million between 1990 and 2005. But at the same time as extreme poverty has diminished, inequalities have risen, with the per capita GDP gap between the world’s billion poorest and billion richest people having virtually doubled since the beginning of this century.

Growing inequalities don’t mean more growth: they undoubtedly mean more instability.

France’s conclusion is that, in addition to financial and economic regulation, we must have social regulation. And in the face of a crisis that has shaken our societies, we can no longer make do with merely showing good intentions: we must start taking action, because unless we do so the response will be protectionism and negative growth, and ultimately a regression in the quality of life. Unless social regulation is put in place, countries will turn towards the wrong solution, protectionism, to defend themselves. No other choice is possible.

The G20 must shoulder its responsibilities, because the G20 represents two-thirds of the the world’s population and 85% of global GDP. Of course, there’s been progress, but it’s still insufficient. My friend Juan Somavia is now invited to all the G20’s meetings. That’s the minimum, but France had to demand it. And I hope Juan Somavia will bang his fist on the table when necessary to get certain points across.

Social welfare/ILO fundamental standards

We’ve been discussing these issues throughout the year. I’m very happy that Xavier Bertrand secured the principle of a ministerial meeting on employment during the coming Mexican presidency, and I thank the Mexican presidency for it.

We also secured the creation of an intergovernmental working group on youth employment, which isn’t just a French domestic or European subject but a truly global one.

The question of strengthening social welfare in all countries has also been raised clearly. Growth and strengthening social welfare. They’re two subjects that must go hand in hand. The emerging countries that have moved in this direction – I’m thinking of Mexico with the “Seguro Popular” programme of 2003, which consisted in providing millions of people with voluntary health insurance at a moderate price – have shown it’s not necessary to choose between growth and improved social welfare. The two go hand in hand.

I want to welcome the very useful contribution of the United Nations’ Social Protection Floor Advisory Group, which is chaired by Mrs Bachelet and in which Martin Hirsch has taken part. Let’s agree on this, too: there’s no question of imposing a single social model worldwide. Nobody has that idea, especially not in France. We’re well aware the differences are huge, but we must have a welfare requirement for the most vulnerable, and we must ensure fundamental labour rights are respected.

The G20 member countries, which are also members of the ILO, must ratify the ILO’s eight conventions on fundamental standards. Let me be clear: there’s a minimum protection floor that concerns all countries, just as the aspiration to democracy concerns all countries. I won’t go into the details of the eight conventions, but you don’t make children work, you don’t make prisoners work, and women and men must be treated equally. What justification can there be for an ILO member country not ratifying the ILO’s eight fundamental standards?

I hope the ILO will give a clear reminder of this at each of the G20 meetings, because unless the G20 countries set the example when it comes to respecting fundamental labour rights, how can we effectively combat a levelling-down of social standards? Is this really what we want as a model? Is it really what our people aspire to? I think if everyone pushes in the same direction, we’re bound to break the status quo.

I’d like us to put the same energy into upholding the ILO’s eight minimum social standards as we put into upholding the WTO’s free trade standards. If our countries put 10% of the energy into backing the ILO that they put into backing the WTO, I promise you things would change.

I hope the big international institutions can cooperate with each other. I’m delighted the IMF is cooperating with the International Labour Office to assess the feasibility of creating a social protection floor. The IMF also has something to say about wealth distribution and fundamental standards. The World Bank has also decided – and it’s a good decision – that 12% of its loans will go to financing social welfare activities, because such activities encourage growth. That’s four times more than in the past. For its part, cher Angel Gurría, the OECD has done an exemplary job of identifying good practice combining the development of employment and the development of social welfare, particularly in emerging countries. There, too, we can’t treat every country the same way, but it strikes me as natural that the emerging countries should be more active on social welfare than the world’s poorest countries. I mean, it’s not asking a huge amount to say that.

The ILO has expressed its wish to have an observer at the WTO at the 23 May conference. It’s not for me to decide on that. But if it were for me to decide, I’d say yes; and if the answer is no, I’d like someone to explain to me how having an observer from the International Labour Organization at the WTO represents an obstacle to free trade, when the two organizations’ members are the same. I’d like to remind people of that.

Business/labour meetings

That’s the message France wishes to carry forward. As Xavier Bertrand is well aware, when we drew up the agenda together, I was told it was too ambitious. I don’t think it’s ambitious enough, because obviously all issues are linked.

I welcome the fact that France is organizing concurrently, for the first time, the meeting of employers’ representatives (B20: Business 20) and a meeting of employees’ trade union representatives (L20: Labour 20). We had to wait for this, mind you! A meeting with business leaders was justified and a meeting with employees’ organizations was supposedly unjustified! Whatever for? According to whose view of the world? According to whose reality? I was keen – François Baroin can testify to this – for the L20 to be treated in the same way as the B20, because, in my opinion, having a meeting with employees’ organizations is as important as having one with business leaders. Both are key contacts and both are central to global growth.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll conclude by saying this to you: crises bring their own share of problems and major crises bring major problems. But major crises also provide an opportunity to make major changes, because there’s an urgent need, and this urgency must lead us to push for these major, pragmatic, fair changes, with the aim of achieving global growth. In no country worldwide can social issues be put aside. And in every country of the world there’s the same demand: protect us.

And it’s this challenge which the French presidency has decided to tackle.

Thank you./.

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