EU states should guarantee minimum income for citizens - Juncker

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attends a debate on the priorities of the incoming Malta Presidency of the EU for the next six months at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission wants all EU member states to introduce minimum wages and incomes for their workers and unemployed, the head of the EU executive president said on Monday, in an effort to combat growing social inequality and poverty.

The Commission, which has limited powers in the area of social policy, is preparing an overhaul of the EU’s functions and targets and wants it to include tackling social and economic injustices that have often been successfully exploited by right-wing eurosceptic parties across the 28-nation bloc.

“There should be a minimum salary in each country of the European Union,” Jean-Claude Juncker told a conference on social rights in Brussels, adding that those seeking work should also have a guaranteed minimum level of income.

Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg, said each state should be free to set its own minimum wage, but added: “There is a level of dignity we have to respect.”

Living standards and costs vary widely across the EU, and some parts of the EU, especially in southern Europe, are suffering very high levels of unemployment.

Juncker urged companies to adopt a minimum wage to help counter “social dumping” - a term that describes the employment of cheaper labour, sometimes involving migrants or moving production to lower-wage countries.

Juncker said reforming EU social policy should start within the bloc’s 19-country euro zone, which already shares a single currency and fiscal supervision.

The Commission will present its reform proposals in the coming weeks, before a summit in Rome on March 25 that will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations of today’s European Union.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Gareth Jones