The demand and need for a ‘more social Europe’ comes from European citizens, and is strengthened by political will to foster cohesion in increasingly fractured and hostile environment. The European Commission is developing a potential EU Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) which will identify common principles, needs, and challenges in employment and social policies amongst states in Europe. It is an important step, potentially helping to protect those most in need and preventing people and families falling into poverty which is crucial for health and wellbeing; improving social protection and employment for all is an important way to address health inequalities. The initiative has attracted a lot of interest, with around 16,500 responses to the recent EPSR consultation. On 23 January a large number of policy makers, industry and trade unions representatives, civil society and other stakeholders, were brought together to discuss the next stages development for the European Pillar of Social Rights.
During the conference, Vytenis Andriukaitis, Commissioner for Health & Food Safety made the link between health and social conditions clear: “Poor living standards, unhealthy working environment, poor nutrition, all this leads to illness and shortens people's lives….in all EU Member States, people with lower income and lower education still suffer worse levels of health than people with higher income and better education. In other words, how long you live and how healthily you live depend on social determinants”.
There is strong will and momentum behind the EPSR from the European Commission. However, several challenges remain:
The outcome of the European Pillar of Social Rights consultation is not yet clear. Marianne Thyssen, commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, highlighted during the conference that whilst member states are not the only bodies responsible for social policy, they are primarily responsible. The idea of shared responsibility was the key message across the conference; the challenge remains to ensure that this will not dilute responsibility, delay results, and weaken impact.
The EPSR will, in the first instance, concern Eurozone countries. Changing the “EU social acquis” will go hand in hand with reforms for economic fiscal and monetary Union and it is unclear what will happen in the countries outside. Several speakers stated that social policy is directly connected with economic policy, saying that they are ‘two sides of the same coin’. If inequalities in social rights and entitlements persist, the exacerbated likelihood of labour migration, raised by a Czech Minister, could lead to further increased intra- EU migration towards countries with better social welfare provisions.
Unemployment is a persistent problem. While the European Commission is talking about upward convergence, skills development and adapting people to changes in the labour market, representatives of trade unions highlighted the need to address the real and pressing needs of people currently facing unemployment and poverty pay. Focusing on creating more jobs and strengthening the welfare systems could address this.
The European Parliament encourages the Commission to take bold action. However, the Member States seem determined to maintain the level of decision at national, regional and local level. This is all fine as long as overall economic policy reforms are supporting social rights and improved social protection.
The outcome of this extensive consultation process will be seen in March when the European Commission will publish proposals for a more concrete version of an EPSR. . The most important challenge for the EU is to respond to the expectations of European citizens and to fulfil one of its core roles: ‘to promote a high level of employment, guarantee adequate social protection, fight against social exclusion and ensure a high level of education, training and protection of human health’ (Article 9 of the TFEU).
A suggested European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) was first introduced by European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker in September 2015, in his State of the Union speech. It is foreseen as self-standing reference framework of legal nature which “takes account of the changing realities of the world of work and which can serve as a compass for the renewed convergence within the Euro area”[i].
On 8 March 2016, the European Commission put forward a first, preliminary outline of a potential EPSR. The aim is to build on, and complement, the EU social “acquis" – its body of laws, rules and processes – to help guide social and employment policies
An EPSR may help to screen the employment and social performance in member states and help drive reforms at national level. The initiative is targeted at member states from the Eurozone countries, but others in the EU Single Market may also adopt measures.
EuroHealthNet has contributed to the EC consultation and published our position here.
For more information
- Press release: Commission prepares next steps towards European Pillar of Social Rights
- Text adopted by the European Parliament: A European Pillar of Social Rights European Parliament resolution of 19 January 2017 on a European Pillar of Social Rights (2016/2095(INI)) http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+TA+P8-TA-2017-0010+0+DOC+PDF+V0//EN
- Priority policy area: Towards a European Pillar of Social Rights http://ec.europa.eu/priorities/deeper-and-fairer-economic-and-monetary-union/towards-european-pillar-social-rights_en
EuroHealthNet is informing and consulting its members and partners on the possible impacts of these developments by the EC. If you have any comments or evidence, please contact our policy senior coordinator at email@example.com
[i] European Commission (2015) State of the Union 2015: Time for Honesty, Unity and Solidarity. European Commission, Press Release Database, Press Release Details, State of the Union 2015: Time for Honesty, Unity and Solidarity. Accessed 29/03/2016, available [online]