The European Pillar of Social Rights – the ultimate test for Europe…and civil society

Perhaps more than ever before, the European project finds itself in a make-or-break situation. The road ahead is littered with potholes that could see the EU injured beyond repair, with the French elections next Sunday and the never ending Brexit spectacle as just two examples. But in the face of such challenges, the EU has drawn its ace card: the European Pillar of Social Rights.

The Pillar is a huge test for the EU and Member States and could be the first concrete example of multi-speed Europe in practice. It is a huge test for the media, the important role of which is under close scrutiny in light of the growing trend of fake and biased news.

And it is also a huge test for civil society. We are uniquely placed to give decision-makers an insight into the direct impact that EU and national policies have on people – including those living in vulnerable situations – and how inclusive approaches and services benefit all members of society. This is especially important where the Pillar is concerned as it is a key tool currently at our disposal to secure our vision of a strong, inclusive and sustainable social Europe. This is our chance to demonstrate our true value, and I am delighted that it is against this backdrop that I have joined Social Platform as Director.

Over the coming weeks and months Social Platform will mobilise our members to ensure that the Pillar reaches its full potential: quality employment (including minimum wages and work-life balance), adequate income support throughout the entire life cycle (starting with minimum income), and universal access to quality services. It’s true that we can already identify ways in which the Pillar can be strengthened. We want the EU to end its tunnel vision on jobs; too little attention is paid to promoting social policies and investment that address those who are furthest from the labour market or are not of working age.

We also want to see more proposals from the EU on how it will ensure the Pillar is enforced across Member States, whether through concrete legislation, adequate funding or the right incentives. It is said that Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, so we must learn lessons from past attempts that looked good on paper but did not deliver. In that respect, we must make full use of what makes the Pillar different from past initiatives in the social field: its rights-based approach!

These are things that we want the EU to do, but civil society’s role isn’t simply to issue a list of demands and hope they are taken on board. As with all policy-making, our true worth is in our ability to highlight where the EU can make a real difference to people’s lives, and how such differences can and should be made. Social Platform alone brings together 47 European networks that represent tens of thousands of local and national NGOs working directly with people whose voices are rarely heard in EU-level decision-making. The future of Europe depends on initiatives like the Pillar coming through for people, and as much as it is the responsibility of European leaders and Heads of State, it is the responsibility of an umbrella organisation like Social Platform and our allies to fight for a Pillar that has a truly positive impact. The road ahead may be a rough one, but we are ready for the ride.

Best wishes,

Kélig Puyet, Director of Social Platform