Bursting the Brussels Bubble

Working in a network of EU civil society organisations is an immense privilege. However, there is no denying that for many of us, we can be swept up by technical jargon and macro-level work, which often overlooks engagement with the groups of society we exist to serve.

The EU or ‘Brussels Bubble’ is impenetrable for the vast majority of citizens. For this reason, the third anniversary of the proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights felt like a bittersweet occasion. On the one hand, I revelled in the opportunity to celebrate the Social Pillar and what it was created to commit to achieve – the improvement of social rights for EU citizens and better working and living conditions across Europe.

Yet, the bitterness of our current reality is that most Europeans are unaware of the Social Pillar and its principles. If implemented effectively, the Social Pillar could have far-reaching, positive, impacts. Unfortunately, the lack of engagement by EU institutions and Member States simply means that those who are most affected by social inequality and injustice are not being heard at decision making tables, and their lived-experiences are not shaping the policies which will impact them the most.

Therefore, when the EU Commission launched its public consultation inviting input towards the development of its Social Pillar Action Plan, Social Platform leapt at the opportunity to drive forward our own ideas of what an ambitious and comprehensive Action Plan should look like.

You can read our full paper or our bitesize fact sheets online. However, in continuing with the theme of this November editorial, I want to shine a light on one of our most important areas of recommendation: the investment in people.

For Social Platform, the investment in people means inputting time, energy and resources in order to amplify the voices of everyday Europeans.

In order to involve civil society in the realisation and monitoring of the implementation of the commitment included in the Social Pillar, EU institutions and Member States need to develop an open dialogue with people and civil society organisations that represent them. This doesn’t simply mean launching a public consultation. Instead, proactive engagement should filter into all levels of EU and national society through relatable methods of communication that inspire people to make their voices heard and contribute to building more inclusive societies. We also need to spend time communicating with and informing people what the Social Pillar is and the impact of achieving its principles.

At Social Platform, we have been working hard to communicate our recommendations with the EU institutions and Member States, alongside proactively engaging with members of the public on the Social Pillar. This month, our policy team co-ordinated a hugely successful virtual event, “A Social Europe for all with all. Developing an Action Plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights”. Co-hosted with Katrin Langensiepen MEP, this seminar was attended by over 115 participants from civil society organisations, EU institutions and other stakeholder groups. This was an important event which gave our network the opportunity to have our key recommendations listened to, debated and taken forward into future high-level discussions.

We have also launched our online Social Pillar campaign, aimed at engaging people outside of the ‘Brussels Bubble’ on the principles of the Social Pillar and what their impact could have on their everyday lives. Our campaign video features real life experiences from real people living in Europe and is designed to showcase that discussions on the Social Pillar are not just for decision makers, but for people, too.

The work that civil society organisations do across the EU is invaluable in progressing social, human and economic rights. The European Pillar of Social Rights can and will contribute to advancing this work. However, we must remember to put people at the heart of the process and ensure that the EU institutions and Member States leverage their expertise and guarantee that measures taken correspond to people’s needs and experiences.