A turning point for social Europe ?

On 17 November, the European Pillar of Social Rights was jointly signed by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission. This proclamation took place at the Social Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, 20 years after the first and only EU Summit focusing on social affairs. We welcomed this as a success, carefully highlighting the need to quickly transform pledges into deeds. A first test was the launch last week of the European Semester 2018, and many more steps are expected by the end of the year. Will the EU pass its social diploma?

A positive signal that Member States are getting serious about social rights is the fact that the Social Summit was attended by Heads of State and Government, allowing this important topic to be catapulted to the highest political level. I joined a delegation of Social Platform members to formally attend the Summit, both having the opportunity to speak directly to our leaders in the Summit’s workshops and chat with them in the coffee breaks. Along with our member European Youth Forum, we were one of only two civil society organisations represented at the Summit – our ongoing involvement is key to ensure that the EU’s social agenda moves beyond employment, instead taking into account the rights of all people in Europe.

The general openness to the aims of the Social Pillar and the call by French President Emmanuel Macron to make the Social Summit a regular meeting were two positive developments. However, despite these steps in the right direction, we are not yet at the point where we can be sure that a socially strong Europe is guaranteed. Achievements touted by EU leaders such as the economic recovery are not necessarily successes for social rights; the recovery is not benefitting people equally, with huge inequalities between and within Member States. It’s clearer than ever that economic progress does not necessarily translate to social progress.

In the form of last week’s Semester package, we’re seeing signs of support for economic and social convergence. In particular, we welcome the commitment to use the European Pillar of Social Rights as a “compass” in the implementation through the European Semester as a very positive step forward. We also welcome the proposed changes in the employment guidelines, including elements that will ensure better redistribution of taxes, fair wages providing for a decent standard of living, and support for social housing and adequate minimum income ensured through social protection systems.

The next test will be to get a clear mandate and political will from the Commission to have a coherent set of indicators. In a moment in which we are going to change the architecture of the economic and monetary union, another test will be to assess how much fiscal space will be given for social investment at Member State level. Finally, the ultimate test will be December’s European Council meeting, where social issues are on the agenda and Heads of State and Government will have a chance to discuss how they build upon the momentum of the Social Summit.

As representatives of civil society convinced that to revive the European Union and regain people’s trust political leaders will need to ensure that our Europe is based on solid social ground. The Social Summit has opened the door for constructive dialogue with civil society and we stand ready to support these developments.

Best wishes,

Kélig Puyet, Director of Social Platform