Growing inequalities, particularly resulting in wider income gaps and advancing segmentation and polarization of societies have been officially recognised as a crucial generator of the devastating impact of the initial financial crisis. This further strengthens the concerns of trade unions, as inequality has been rising across the board in Europe, even in countries with successful recoveries and well established welfare state systems. Austerity policies, with wage freezes and job cuts if not tackled and curbed in time are intensifying the accumulation of explosive material for a new and more devastating crisis. On the way, the process equally tends to unravel the very fabrics of societies and threatens democratic structures and processes on all levels – from the individual person to the EU, and internationally.
The patterns of generating inequalities across Europe differ substantially among countries and contexts and produce inequalities in various combinations. The role of labour and social policies in the EU, i.e. the traditional European social model, will continue to be a key reference point and facilitate the orientation of policies. Yet it cannot be expected to exert much formatting influence outside EU, apart from SEE region. In addition, the latest approaches to economic governance in the EU are further weakening that potential. Developing policies in this priority area will be probably dominated by initiatives on the national level where local contexts and contingencies will exert direct impact in shaping.workers’ and trade union opportunities for change. In that case special attention should be placed on horizontal communication among trade unions to avoid pressures for social dumping in a race to the bottom process legitimated by an alleged necessity for competitiveness.