European Commission 2022 Work Programme – enough ambition to ensure Europe’s social recovery?

© European Commission 2022.

What better way to spend a rainy October workday than getting a cup of tea and reading the newly published European Commission Work Programme for 2022? 😉

In this blog, I’ll give my assessment on the programme and on whether it’s ambitious enough to help Europe recover fully and swiftly from the devastating social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, there are not too many surprises from the social perspective, compared to what was already announced in the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan and President von der Leyen’s State of the European Union speech.

Social progress in 2022

Putting the Social Pillar into practice is mentioned in the chapter on “An Economy that works for people” but most of its initiatives focus significantly more on economic reforms than on people. A legislative proposal on protecting workers from asbestos, one on fair taxation and the foreseen Recommendation on minimum income (which remains below our calls for a directive on adequate minimum wages) are the only social initiatives included here.

A few more social initiatives are mentioned in the chapter on “Promoting our European way of life”. The ALMA programme will help young people who are not in employment, education, or training to gain professional experience abroad. It’s a good initiative, which would be made even better if companies were obliged to pay a salary to participants, so they don’t encourage unpaid labour done by far too many young people.

The planned activities around improving equity in education are interesting, but I do wonder why they only focus on higher education where disadvantaged students are underrepresented due to a lack of equity that already exists in lower levels of education.

The European care strategy is a very welcome initiative, and it’s positive that its initial focus on long-term care as mentioned in the Social Pillar Action Plan has been expanded to also include childhood education and care. Hopefully, this will contribute to Member States achieving the Barcelona targets for high quality and affordable childcare, which the Commission will also revise.

A welcome (albeit currently vague) addition is the proposal to tackle harmful practices against women and girls. I am looking forward to seeing which practices will be addressed in this initiative and hope that it will include a strong intersectional perspective, looking especially at protecting women and girls in more vulnerable situations.

Are some social policies slipping through the net?

However, a few initiatives that were set in the Action Plan for 2022 are not explicitly mentioned in the 2022 Work Programme. This includes several reports or reviews of existing policies, but also initiatives such as the ones on “Pathways to School Success”, “Collective Bargaining for the Self-employed”, or “New Tools and indicators on Access to Healthcare”. I hope that they will remain on the Commission’s radar for 2022.

Overall, the Commission is slowly but surely progressing in its work to make the Social Pillar a reality. Social Europe is not built in a day and the EU cannot achieve it on its own, with significant action needed at national, regional, and local level as well. Nevertheless, more EU ambition in the social field will be key to really rally decision-makers behind efforts to leave no one behind.