Thursday, 5 October 2017

Consultation report on European Pillar of Social Rights

In February and March I wrote a number of blog posts compiled in the entry EU social market economy and social pillar. It is time to register the progress of the social dimension and the social pillar of the European Union, but let us first return to the public consultation after a reminder of one of the aims of the EU, as laid down in Article 3(3) TEU: a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress.

While we are at it, why not recall the horizontal clause (provision having general application) Article 9 TFEU? Like this:

Article 9

In defining and implementing its policies and activities, the Union shall take into account requirements linked to the promotion of a high level of employment, the guarantee of adequate social protection, the fight against social exclusion, and a high level of education, training and protection of human health.

Consultation on European Pillar of Social Rights

In March 2016 the European Commission launched a public consultation on a European Pillar of Social Rights, presenting four documents for orientation. There was a test version of the Social Pillar  in the annex to the communication:

Launching a consultation on a European Pillar of Social Rights; Strasbourg, 8.3.2016 COM(2016) 127 final (11 pages; available in 23 official EU languages)

First preliminary outline of a European Pillar of Social Rights; Strasbourg, 8.3.2016 COM(2016) 127 final ANNEX 1 (18 pages; available in 23 official EU languages)

The communication was accompanied by two commission staff working documents (SWDs):

The EU social acquis; Strasbourg, 8.3.2016 SWD(2016) 50 final (17 pages; only in English)

Key economic, employment and social trends behind a European Pillar of Social Rights; Strasbourg, 8.3.2016 SWD(2016) 51 final  (37 pages; only in English)  

Consultation report

This time I am not going to return to the documents which launched the public consultation lasting until the end of 2016, but head for the summary of the contributions during the consultation process.

The Commission staff working document (available only in English) accompanying the Communication Establishing a European Pillar of Social Rights COM(2017) 250 “presents the consultation process and summarises its main findings”:

Report of the public consultation; Brussels, 26.4.2017 SWD(2017) 206 final (53 pages)

The consultation report, which was published on the same day as the Reflection paper on the social dimension of Europe COM(2017) 206  and the launch of the social pillar (link above), reveals how active and organised the consultation process was.

The role of the member states and the EU Council is crucial regarding the establishment of and the Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights COM(2017) 251, the upcoming Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth 17 November 2017 i Gothenburg - #SocialSummit17 on Twitter - and the chances for practical progress, given the social policy powers vested in the member states.

Therefore, it is interesting to see how active the member states were during the public consultation (page 6):

Member States engaged actively in the consultation. The Commission received contributions from 21 national governments or their responsible ministries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden and the UK. Moreover, five national parliaments (the German Bundesrat, the French Assemblée Nationale, Italy's Camera dei Deputati, the Czech Senate and Romania's Camera Deputaților) and a number of regional governments and authorities handed in their replies.

For the general reader the trends and challenges are valuable. Thus, it is worth quoting (page 7):

During consultation events and work streams discussions, four key priority trends emerged which the Pillar should address:  

  • The social consequences of the financial crisis, with increasing poverty, social exclusion, inequalities and unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment and among young people, and the long period of economic stagnation, with low growth and competitiveness;  
  • Technological progress and automation; the future of work, the emerging digital labour market, education and reskilling;  
  • Demographic developments, with the ageing of Europe's population; the modernisation of social protection and welfare systems; and  
  • Economic divergence across Member States.

Citizens first

Not only do we have the aims of the treaties, we also have the interests of the citizens of the European Union to guide action (page 9):

For experts, the debate should not be about ‘more or less Europe’, but about putting ‘citizens-first’ to provide security, opportunity and resilience in times of change. The consultation highlighted that the challenges of societies and the world of work are often similar across Member States. Therefore, the Pillar was seen as a means to set the conditions for sustainable convergence towards better employment and social outcomes, by creating a common consensus on social goals against which reforms can be pursued.

How can this be made to contribute to competitiveness and fiscal sustainability? These questions were important for many respondents (page 9).

Euro area or beyond?

Is the European Social Pillar for the euro area, or for the EU27 as a whole? The European Parliament had contributed with its views (page 11):

In the consultation, it was recognised that more in-depth action to stimulate convergence towards better employment and social outcomes in the euro area would be key to make its single monetary policy suitable for all its members, to improve its functioning, and to reinforce the EMU's economic, social and political resilience. The European Parliament for instance considered that the constraints of euro area membership call for additional specific social targets and standards to be established and relevant financial support to be considered at the euro area level, while remaining open to non-euro area Member States on a voluntary basis [European Parliament resolution P8_TA(2017)0010 of 19 January 2017 on a European Pillar of Social Rights (2016/2095(INI))]

The reference to the European Parliament resolution reminds us of the keynote call, paragraph 1:

  1. Calls on the Commission to build on the review of the social acquis and of EU employment and social policies as well as on the outcomes of the 2016 public consultation by making proposals for a solid European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) that is not limited to a declaration of principles or good intentions but reinforces social rights through concrete and specific tools (legislation, policy-making mechanisms and financial instruments), delivering a positive impact on people’s lives in the short and medium term and enabling support for European construction in the 21st century by effectively upholding the Treaties’ social objectives, supporting national welfare states, strengthening cohesion, solidarity and upward convergence in economic and social outcomes, ensuring adequate social protection, reducing inequality, achieving long overdue progress in reducing poverty and social exclusion, facilitating national reform efforts through benchmarking and helping to improve the functioning of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and of the EU’s single market;

After an introductory part, the consultation report discusses the role and the nature of the Social Pillar, with the second half dedicated to the principles (under the headlines equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions and adequate and sustainable social protection).

I am impressed by the process, as well as the presentation. Complex issues are presented clearly as a valuable background for EU #SocialRights and the upcoming #SocialSummit17, as well as the Commission’s priority to deepen the economic and monetary union (EMU) - #deepeningEMU on Twitter.  

Ralf Grahn

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