Social Platform presents its key messages on the European Semester Autumn Package to the EU Social Protection and Employment Committees

On 1 December 2020, Social Platform spoke at a joint virtual meeting of the European Union’s Social Protection Committee (SPC) and Employment Committee (EMCO) to share reaction to the newly published draft Joint Employment Report 2021, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Joint Employment Report is part of the Autumn Package, a package of documents published in Autumn that launches the yearly Semester cycle. It provides an annual overview of the main employment and social developments in the EU as a whole.

Following a presentation of the various Autumn Package documents by the European Commission, an initial reaction of the social partners representing employers and employees and reactions by the Member States’ representatives, Heather Roy, member of Social Platform’s Management Committee, presented Social Platform’s views on the package.

She urged the EU institutions to ensure that the European Semester process supports sustainable economic growth that is inclusive and benefits all. While the 2021 Semester documents refer to the necessary twin green and digital transition, she emphasised that Europe needs a triple transition that also addresses inequality and poverty, improves working and living conditions for all and rebuilding of Europe towards a more socially just Europe. To achieve this, social, economic, and environmental priorities in the process must be on an equal footing. She therefore voiced regret about the lack of mainstreaming of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the European Pillar of Social Rights as well as various thematic strategies foreseen at EU level to help implement it throughout the Semester process. Indeed, by focusing on the twin transition, the Semester currently contributes to implementing some of the more environmental SDGs. She underlined that if social priorities are not mentioned explicitly – including through dedicated earmarking, which is missing – and if vulnerable groups are not mentioned specifically, they risk not being part of the reforms.

She also highlighted the need to reform the Social Scoreboard to improve the European Semester process. Indeed, the Social Scoreboard tracks trends and performances across EU countries in 12 areas and feeds into the European Semester process. However, monitoring of performance in 12 areas means that it does not cover the 20 principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Moreover, it uses averages, which does not really support strengthening social standards but rather leads to averaging them. In addition, the Social Scoreboard is not sufficiently disaggregated by gender and various groups in vulnerable situations, therefore overlooking their specific situations and barriers. These issues need to be addressed to improve the impact of the European Semester. This also entails better and speedier data collection at national level, which Ms Roy encouraged Member States to work towards.

With regards to the Joint Employment Report, she highlighted the importance of guideline 8 on poverty and social exclusion, especially with regards to vulnerable groups. She reminded that people do not always fit easily into one or two population groups and showcased the importance of intersectionality and compounding multiple discrimination in this context. She also criticised that the Joint Employment Report did not contain any references to social services, which are crucial in the context of the response to COVID-19. She called on Member States to use the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which will make €672.5 billion in loans and grants available to support reforms and investments undertaken by Member States, to also address the social services sector, which can provide much employment but needs significant investment.

Finally, she pointed out significant concerns about civil society engagement in this European Semester cycle. She highlighted that the changed architecture of the Semester process in this cycle, including the changed responsibilities both at EU and national level, creates severe difficulties for civil society organisations (CSOs) who are trying to influence the process. This is problematic, as the involvement of social partners and CSOs is crucial to ensure good policy-making. She therefore urged Member States to ensure transparency and engagement of CSOs and social partners in all stages of the development and implementation of the plans.

More information on our views with regards to necessary reforms of the European Semester process can be found in our analysis of the 2020 Semester cycle and the 2021 cycle to date.