Keeping Social on the Agenda

What a rollercoaster the past six months have been. Rarely in recent history have we experienced a health and socio-economic crisis of this magnitude; one that has transcended every geographical boundary and left few people untouched.

Yet, even though this has truly been a global pandemic, the polarisation of our experiences is a sombre reminder of the vast social inequalities that exist across every region, country and continent. For many of us, myself included, we’ve had to adapt to changes – working from home, socialising less, not seeing family and friends, cancelling work and holiday plans. Of course, these experiences are incomparable to those being felt by millions of Europeans who have lost their jobs and income, those on the frontline, the countless whose mental health has suffered or who have had to interact with precarious and low paid working contracts in an attempt to make ends meet.

These groups are amongst the most vulnerable in our societies and are being impacted the greatest by this crisis. This pandemic has reinforced the necessity to increase social and civil dialogue within the EU institutions – to place equality and social inclusion at the heart of our collective agenda.

It was therefore disheartening that the State of the Union and the 2021 Annual Growth Strategy delivered a blow to the progress of this programme last week.

Of course, there’s no denying the power behind Ursula von der Leyen’s first State of the Union address as President of the Commission. She spoke eloquently on areas that many of us have been advocating on for years – the weakness of our system to respond to health crises, the necessity to implement a minimum wage, a renewed and progressive commitment to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Yet, amongst the grandiose of those welcomed promises, there was little to no mention of social protection systems, social inclusion or how to integrate economic and green policy with the pillar of social rights.

Taking minimum income as an example, an area we have been actively campaigning on at Social Platform for some months (read our position paper on this topic). Ursula von der Leyen made it clear that minimum wages were a priority and she, rightfully, praised the European instrument for temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE). However, the narrative around how to guarantee minimum wages or the social protection systems that must be implemented were lacking. Indeed, minimum wages are not enough to guarantee poverty eradication or social inclusion. We need an EU framework directive on adequate minimum income, affordable services and permanent job protection schemes that mitigate the rise of unemployment out with the parameters of a global crisis.

As with the State of the Union, the 2021 Annual Growth Strategy was loud and clear on its economic and environmental commitments, but silent on the European Pillar of Social Rights. In its effort to stimulate employment and sustainable growth through the digital and green twin transition, temporarily suspending country reports and corporate social responsibilities, it leaves very little space for dialogue with and engagement of civil society. Now more than ever, we need to make sure that social investment is at the centre of the EU’s recovery and resilience plans, so that no one is left behind and inequalities are truly addressed.

Our emphasis on the need to place equality, social inclusion and the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights at the heart of our collective agenda is not an attempt to undermine the focus on the green and digital transition. Indeed, our voice and the voices of the civic spaces we serve are crucial in ensuring that this transition protects vulnerable groups and keeps the social dimension at the heart of the discourse.

As the third anniversary of the European Pillar of Social Rights approaches, we will continue to advocate for its full implementation as we work towards a truly social Europe.

Piotr Sadowski 
President of Social Platform