The State of the Union must be social

In two days European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will deliver his State of the Union address at a critical time. When he began his mandate, President Juncker presented his team as the “last chance Commission”. With the United Kingdom’s referendum on membership of the European Union piling pressure on the European project, the Commission’s chief has to deliver a new impetus, and it has to be social.

This is not only my opinion – it is shared by 176 other civil society organisations and trade unions at European and national level in our common statement calling for “A new Europe for people, planet and prosperity for all”. We want President Juncker to take the lead to ensure that EU economic policies go hand in hand with strong social and environmental policies. Far from being empty words, the Commission has the perfect opportunity to move the EU in a new direction through its proposal for a pillar of social rights. As it stands now, the pillar contains many good elements but it lacks teeth. The question is: how much of his political weight and resources is President Juncker ready to invest to make the pillar a positive force for people? Better social protection for all, fair working conditions, equal opportunities and access to jobs – these are objectives we can work together on with the Commission and Member States.

And it isn’t just pressure from civil society and trade unions urging President Juncker towards a new social direction for the EU. On the same day as the State of the Union, the European Parliament will vote to adopt a report on social dumping which calls for “action against breaches of social rights by combating tax fraud and tax evasion, in order to guarantee fair competition and a level playing field for enterprises”. The Commission’s action against Apple concerning its tax payments in Ireland was unprecedented, and indicates that the Commission is ready and willing to be stronger in the face of unfairness. I hope this will spread to social unfairness and not just economic.

There are many other social issues to be addressed in the EU that I can’t possibly list them all in this editorial. President Juncker can be sure that we will be listening on Wednesday as he stands before the European Parliament, and we will be expecting courageous and comprehensive action from then on. It’s time for this Commission to give social rights a chance.

Let’s engage!

Pierre Baussand, Director