Digitalisation and robotisation: our review of the informal meeting of EU Ministers of Employment & Social Policy 19-20 July 2018

Informal meeting of employment and social policy ministers on 19th July 2018 – Family photo. Copyright BKA/Michael Gruber

Informal meetings of employment and social affairs ministers are good occasions for Social Platform to take the pulse of Member States positioning around social issues. Last week Austria chose the topics of digitalisation and robotisation. The inputs focused on platform work and the risks and opportunities of robots in the workplace. As is usual in informal meetings, the debate doesn’t directly focus on legislative initiatives of the European Commission. The Council Recommendation on on access to social protection for workers and the self-employed was explicitly referred to by Thyssen and social partners. In our intervention as Social Platform we expressed support for the initiative, regretting that will not take on the more ambitious form of a Directive.

The lunchtime debate on the EC proposals for the next EU budget focused primarily on ESF+ and the European Globalisation Fund. Several Member States referred to the importance of linking funding to implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, but worryingly several also called for budget tightening or removing ring-fencing of resources for poverty and social exclusion in the interest of flexibility and more Member State autonomy in deciding the priorities. Social Platform reaffirmed that the budget needs to go hand-in-hand with a vision for Europe – a vision that aligns the EU with the sustainable development goals and aims at leaving no one behind – a position echoed by the contribution of the European Economic and Social Committee representative.

Overall, several Member States referred to how to counter social inequalities that can be exacerbated by platform work and robotisisation. However, the overall tone was more upbeat than we as civil society would look at the future given current trends and there seemed little overall appetite for more EU level regulation.

It is less than a year before the European Parliament elections. Several countries whose representatives we spoke to have elections in the coming months (Sweden, Latvia, Luxembourg, Finland). The backdrop to the meeting is an Austrian Presidency reluctant to drive a more social agenda for Europe, and several incumbent parties struggling to contain (& respond to) rising populism and increasing nationalistic discourse.

Social Platform also used the occasion to gather support for our Flagship event, which is now confirmed for 29-30th November in Lisbon. It will be the occasion to take stock of progress one year on from the Proclamation of the Pillar of Social Rights, looking at what both the EU and Member States have put in place to ensure its implementation and follow-up. It will also help raise the profile of civil society and reaffirm the importance of involving both the EU and national levels in policy making, implementation and monitoring.

Jana Hainsworth, President of Social Platform