Social Europe at a crossroads – will the European Pillar of Social Rights survive the European elections?

As the European Union enters the final stages of its preparations for the European Parliament elections, many of us are beginning to take stock of what progress has been made so far on Social Europe – and what still needs to be done. The current Commission is counting on the European Pillar of Social Rights to be its social legacy. As we prepare to welcome an influx of new decision- and policy-makers, what is the state-of-play of this important initiative?

In the last month there have been positive developments on social legislation. The Parliament, Commission and Council of the EU reached an agreement on working conditions. The new proposal delivers some new protections for workers, including communication of rights between employers and their employees. But the proposal falls short of some expectations. Read more in our article here. Furthermore, after years of deadlock pertaining to maternity and paternity leave, the Parliament and Council reached agreement on the Work-Life Balance Directive. While the Directive secures important rights for parents, it is a watered down version of the original commission proposal, as explained in our article here. Work-life balance was also a topic covered at a meeting between a delegation of Social Platform members and the European Institute for Gender Equality in Vilnius on 31 January and 1 February. Read our meeting report here.

While any progress on improving the social rights of people in the EU is welcome, there are two important things to note about recent developments. Firstly, progress has been extremely slow. This is partly due to the inefficient system that decisions are made on social policy in the EU. The Commission has launched a roadmap to address this very issue: read our analysis here.

Secondly, if the EU is to achieve its dream of achieving a ‘Social Triple A’ rating, it is time to seriously address the imbalance between social and economic governance. While this year’s Annual Growth Survey made a positive balance between economic and social considerations, acknowledging the lack of inclusive economic growth and the depth of inequalities in Europe, the 2019 Euro Area recommendations do not reflect these social ambitions. In the future, consistency will need to be improved in the various elements of the European Semester, with due weight given to fiscal and social investment considerations.

The EU and Member States must also consider social rights in an even bigger framework, and the Commission’s 2030 Agenda is the opportunity to make this shift. At the end of last month the Commission released its long-awaited reflection paper on the 2030 Agenda. Sustainable development is a necessity to secure well-being within planetary boundaries and the EU has a crucial role to play towards more sustainable societies – read our reaction here.

The upcoming elections and the huge transitions that will take place in the EU institutions are the key moment to ensure that social rights are brought much higher up the EU agenda. This can only be achieved if people in Europe go out and vote for representatives committed to standing up for social rights in the face of increasing ‘us’ versus ‘them’ rhetoric in certain Member States. Many of our members are already mobilising their constituencies to get these commitments from the representatives in their countries, and to vote accordingly. Whether the focus is on families, inclusion of older people, the rights of the LGBTI community, or sustainable housing, these are issues that truly impact the daily lives of people in Europe. People in the EU have the opportunity to vote for candidates who commit to protecting and promoting these rights over the next five years – let’s use these coming months to show people that their vote counts!