After serving as an MEP for nearly 23 years, Marianne Thyssen made the move to European employment, social affairs, skills and labour mobility commissioner last November. She tells us, "working as a European commissioner is, in a certain manner, a continuation of my previous work and engagement".
In this new role she insists, "my goals for the next five years are crystal clear - fighting for better jobs and for better social protection, fighting against poverty and social exclusion".
Yet she accepts the fact that she has not entered office at an easy time, saying, "the employment and social situation continues to be a serious concern. When unemployment and poverty reach the unacceptable levels that we see now in many of our member states, there are long term negative effects on growth and growth potential."
"Current technological and economic drives present the EU with opportunities to capitalise on its human capital its scientific strengths and well developed infrastructure"
The Belgian appears to have studied the situation carefully, saying, "currently, 24 million people in the EU are unemployed. Five million young Europeans between 15 and 24 are neither in employment nor in education or training. Around 124 million people face poverty or social exclusion. My heart and mind is with all those people struggling to make ends meet or on the verge of social exclusion."
Thyssen explains, "in order to reverse the high levels of unemployment, my goal is to focus on people’s skills and to promote apprenticeships and entrepreneurship, with a particular attention to the long-term unemployed and young people.
For the latter, the implementation of the youth guarantee continues to be a top priority to facilitate school-to-work transitions".
She adds that "labour mobility across the single market can also help tackle the current imbalances in employment levels among member states. The objective is to develop a dynamic and integrated EU labour market, instead of 28 divergent ones, while preventing abuses and distortions".
In addition, she is convinced that "social protection has a key role to play and therefore we need to continue modernising our social security systems to make them more effective and efficient."
The former MEP has vowed to tackle youth unemployment, an issue which has plagued the EU for a number of years. She believes the youth guarantee scheme "requires in-depth structural reforms of training, job search and education systems to drastically improve school-to-work transitions and the employability of young people".
However, she is aware this will take time, as putting these measures in place "is a major structural reform in the mid to longer term - this cannot be delivered from one day to the next".
"Currently, 24 million people in the EU are unemployed. Five million young Europeans between 15 and 24 are neither in employment nor in education or training. Around 124 million people face poverty or social exclusion"
But she remains confident that "its impact will last for many years, as it aims to address structural problems such as a poor performance of education systems or an insufficient use of apprenticeship schemes, among others."
Thyssen also says, "I have the ambition of speeding up the implementation of the youth employment initiative - a European funding instrument to reinforce and accelerate measures against youth unemployment".
And while she concedes that the process has been fairly slow so far, she explains that "this is partly due to the fact that member states have faced difficulties in providing the necessary payments to start activities and initiatives to promote youth employment. That is why I have proposed to increase the amount of available pre-financing to address the lack of funding at national level - I am very determined to make this work."
Unfortunately, unemployment does not only affect young people, and Thyssen is well aware of this.
She is adamant that "following the weak delivery of the Europe 2020 strategy, the EU needs a new growth agenda, which should focus on employment and social policies. As Europe cannot compete on labour costs, or reduce its environment agenda, growth depends very much on its investment, research and innovation skills, education and entrepreneurship".
In her view, commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s investment plan, which Brussels hopes will bring in €315bn, will help Europe gain "a competitive edge".
In addition, while certain observers remain wary of technology taking over from workers, Thyssen underlines that "current technological and economic drives present the EU with opportunities to capitalise on its human capital, its scientific strengths and well developed infrastructure - workers’ involvement in innovation should be an integral part of production processes and also a way for higher productivity."
The commissioner knows that she will not be able to go it alone, insisting, "without hesitation, the European parliament can only expect fruitful, open and honest collaboration from my side. I hope we will be able to advance the employment and social agenda and work together to address the many challenges we are facing and improve the living conditions for European citizens."