Social Platform turned 20 – is the EU more social now?

Last week we marked the 20th anniversary of Social Platform. Like any anniversary, it was time for celebration but also time for self-reflection. We obviously celebrated that we grew in number, with 29 more European networks than the first 19 who set up the Platform. Since 1995 we have fought hard for social change: in 2000, we championed a social agenda for Europe; in 2004, we called for the Charter of Fundamental Rights to be legally binding for the EU; over the years we have advocated for progressive EU laws in the area of non-discrimination, for the legal protection of social services, and for the EU to prioritise the fight against poverty. At our event we debated social Europe with speakers from the European Parliament, BUSINESSEUROPE, the Open Society European Policy Institute and a former President of Social Platform, and the question that I have been mulling over since then is: are we doing enough to steer the EU towards fulfillment of our social rights?

Over the last 20 years, Social Platform’s members have held close their faith in social Europe and tirelessly advocated for EU social rights enshrined in the treaties. But our victories laid out above have been too few or too specific to counteract the predominance of the economic and internal market agendas. Even though we adapted our strategy to lead the fight in internal market, competition and trade policies, assessing the challenges we are faced with today can be demoralising as times; a seemingly never-ending economic crisis that leaves millions of people in unemployment and poverty, high levels of inequality and inability to address the humanitarian crisis in accordance with our human rights standards.

So we need to look to the future, starting now. The President of the European Commission has spoken of a “last chance Commission” and promised a pillar of social rights to be announced next spring. For us to be able to celebrate a 40th anniversary, such a pillar must be strong and not based on soft instruments that Member States don’t pay attention to. It will have to lead the way towards the kind of Europe we want, where people’s welfare is seen as an investment and not an impediment. It must not be a pillar that stands alone in the desert, but should be supported by the internal market, trade policies and investment packages instead of being at loggerheads with them. It will be an economy at the service of our population and not the other way around. This is what a pillar of social rights means, and this is what we will advocate for in 2016.

Wishing you all Happy Holidays!

Pierre Baussand, Director