One year of the European Pillar of Social Rights: a true game changer?

One year ago European Union leaders proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights at the EU Social Summit in Gothenburg.  As representatives of civil society organisations working in the social field we welcomed the proclamation, seeing it as an opportunity to bring a renewed sense of social purpose to the EU.  The jury is still out whether the European Pillar of Social Rights will really impact the EU’s overall direction of travel. Anniversaries are reflection times and in the next two days over 150 European civil society representatives, European, national and local officials and academics from 12 countries of the European Union will gather in Lisbon to take stock, to debate and to discuss how to turn the tide towards a truly Social Europe.

Social fragmentation and growing inequality, exacerbated by poorly thought through austerity measures and fiscal consolidation, have undoubtedly contributed to a breakdown in trust in the European Union, and a resurgence of nationalist politics. Worryingly the current trend seems to be to prioritise border control, security and defence. In our view these are superficial responses to the symptoms of failed policies and they don’t address the root causes of fear in our societies.

Since Gothenburg there have certainly been positive developments. Important legislative proposals have been made by the European Commission which are now in the political process. We are working with our partners and peers to ensure these initiatives succeed, so that working conditions, care leave and social protection improve across the Union.

But there is much more to a truly social Europe.  We also need to make progress on gender equality, minimum income, children’s rights, housing, access to health and education, migrants’ integration and non-discrimination, to name just a few.  At the heart of this transformation we need to strengthen civil society so that policies are designed with people who are directly affected. In short we need a comprehensive and ambitious strategy for implementation of all the principles set out in the Pillar.  This is our goal for the next parliamentary term to 2024.

Whilst opinion polls such as the Eurobarometer “Parlemeter 2018”, tend to show that EU citizens are concerned about poverty and inequality (41 % respondents putting combating poverty and social exclusion on top of their priority list for the European Parliament, followed by youth unemployment, listed by 33%), are we confident that the EU has the right tools at its disposal to help the Member States address these challenges?  Given the upcoming European Parliament elections, how can we ensure the principles outlined in the European Pillar of Social Rights really connect to the realities and concerns of European citizens?

There is much that worries those of us working in the social sector in Europe today, but there is also much to give us hope.  The exhibition ‘Made in Social Europe’ which will be launched tomorrow in Lisbon showcases just a few of the many inspiring practices run by organisations involved in Social Platform member networks.  Against a backdrop of Brexit and elected governments in Hungary, Poland and Italy which seek to undermine European values, we will talk about the growth in activism and citizens’ engagement.  And given the dramatic failure of our economies to effectively anticipate and manage the financial crisis, we’ll also be discussing the emergence of new investment and financing models measured by their positive societal impact, not their financial return.

Choices are available.  Both from a social and environmental perspective, we are running out of time to change the predominant paradigm of how our economics function.  The Sustainable Development Goals and the Pillar of Social Rights have the potential to be positive road maps. We can also draw inspiration from the grassroots. Now it’s time to bring that vision of transformative change to EU level and to elect leaders willing to drive this agenda forward.

Join our Flagship Conference “Building Social Europe” online and be part of our joint efforts to strengthen Europe’s social dimension!

Kélig Puyet, Director of Social Platform