It’s time to invest in people – Social Platform European Parliament event on the European Pillar of Social Rights and ESF+

On 28 January 2020, Social Platform co-hosted a European Parliament conference, together with Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Brando Benifei. The event was the first in a series of Social Platform European Parliament events focused on different aspects of the European Pillar of Social Rights (Social Pillar). This conference analysed the link between the Social Pillar and the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) programme, which is the European Union’s main financial instrument for improving workers’ mobility and employment opportunities and strengthening social cohesion, improving social fairness and increasing competitiveness across Europe for the 2021-2027 period.

The objective of the meeting was to debate how ESF+ can support the implementation of the Social Pillar through legislation and policies, both at EU and national level. The proposed ESF+ could support the concrete implementation of the Social Pillar, if it is given the adequate budget to reach the goals set in the Commission’s proposal. This issue is at stake in the current trialogue negotiation on ESF+ between the Council of the EU, the European Parliament, and the European Commission.

The meeting was opened by Social Platform President Piotr Sadowski and Brando Benifei MEP. Mr Sadowski reminded participants that civil society organisations have a strong knowledge base about the people whose interests they represent, but that they often lack a seat at the negotiating table. Brando Benifei MEP confirmed that in order to deliver the best policies for people across and to create a more social Europe, all stakeholders, including civil society organisations, must work together. Therefore, he highlighted the importance of the regulation containing strong provisions on partnership, including committing 2% of available funds to capacity building of civil society organisations and social partners (representatives of businesses and employees).

European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit described in his keynote speech several significant challenges that Europe is facing. But, as he pointed out, the biggest challenge we have in Europe is a lack of social convergence. He highlighted the need to have active social policy-making to reduce social gaps. He also underlined the importance of concluding the ESF+ negotiations swiftly. Commissioner Schmit said: “We cannot define ambitious programmes like the European Green Deal and at the same time fail to agree on ambitious resources. If we want a strong social Europe, we cannot reduce the resources of ESF, otherwise the good principles of the Pillar will mainly remain good principles.”

Heather Roy, Social Platform Treasurer, presented key elements of Social Platform’s position on the ESF+ programme, adopted in 2018, as well as its contribution to the European Commission consultation on the programme to start the panel debate. She was followed by Anja Freytag, Alexis Ridde and Germana Viglietta, from the Permanent Representations of Germany, France and Italy respectively. They addressed various issues from a Member State perspective related to the content and implementation of ESF+. For instance, they highlighted the importance of striking a good balance between setting aside certain percentages of the ESF+ budget for specific policy objectives and leaving the national, regional and local public authorities enough flexibility to spend the money on the priorities that are most important. They also warned about administrative complexities that might arise from combining several funding programmes in ESF+ and described the risk of low uptake of funding opportunities if the administrative burdens on potential funding beneficiaries are too high.

Following the panel debate, participants discussed various topics with the panellists, including the inclusion of the child guarantee, the importance of awareness-raising around the Social Pillar and its full implementation and the role civil society can play in this regard.