On 8th July 2019, a meeting took place of the Council of the European Union on the “Economy of Wellbeing”, which the Finnish Presidency chose as a key issue of its time in office. This focus shall help to shape Europe’s future and move the people to the centre of policy-making again.
Based on an OECD Report, the current Presidency of the Council strongly focuses on the issue “Economy of Wellbeing”. According to its own statements, it wants to move people to the centre of politics again and to make the EU the most competitive and socially inclusive economy in the world. In doing so, the Finnish Presidency wants to drive forward an approach where sustainable economic growth and human wellbeing support each other. The broad concept of the economy of wellbeing shall cover the policy areas employment/social policy, healthcare, education and equality.
The first Council meeting at the beginning of July on this issue between the competent Ministers of the Member States already took place in the so-called EPSCO Council, which deals with employment, social policy, healthcare and consumer protection, shortly after Finland had taken over the Presidency. Their focus was on the question as to how the social dimension in the EU could be strengthened and how ecological sustainability could be promoted.
Austria supports setting of priorities
Overall, Member States welcomed the setting of priorities; several countries also emphasised the connection to the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Austrian Minister of Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection Brigitte Zarfl also declared within the scope of the public meeting of the EPSCO Council on 8th July that Austria would support this approach. Well-designed social expenditure would be investments, which “would not only benefit people, but also because of their stimulating and stabilising effect also the economy and thereby the national economies”. The considerations of the OECD on the “Economy of Wellbeing” should also flow into the follow-up strategy of the EU-2020 Strategy - apart from the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, said Social Minister Zarfl.
Necessary measures from the AK’s perspective
From the point of view of employees and consumers, it is to be welcomed that the issue of “Economy of Wellbeing” has found its way onto the agenda of the Council. However, it remains to be seen what measures will follow the setting of priorities and to what extend this approach will be integrated in the work of the future European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen. In any case, based on the ESDE Report 2019, the present Commission has already shown that the fight against climate change can be used as a driving force for growth and employment. In addition, it recommends to make social investments and to invest in the skills of people to maintain economic growth.
To implement the wealth and sustainability approach, many Member States pointed out within the framework of the EPSCO Council to use existing proven structures - for example the European Semester, which forms the framework for coordinating the economic policy of EU countries. However, from the AK’s point of view, the European Semester- to achieve the “Economy of Wellbeing” - should not simply be continued in its existing form, but realigned by clearly embedding the goals: to ensure a balanced economic development and at the same time to drive forward the achievement of social and ecological improvements, a “Magic Square of Economic Policy oriented towards prosperity” should be established within the framework of the European Semester. Within this framework, it is important to reach a consensus that the economic policy pursues interests such as full employment, a high level of fairly distributed material wealth, quality of life and ecological sustainability - preserving economic stability - as balanced as possible. Apart from that, assessing the progress of these objectives and monitoring the “Wellbeing” development at national level is also required.
Another important measure to implement the wealth and sustainability targets are public investments: from the AK’s point of view a key focus of investment for Europe’s socio-ecological renewal is urgently needed to cope with climate change and to create wealth at the same time. The OECD Report and the Commission’s Reflection Paper “Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030” also suggest an increased focus on social investments. However, due to the fact that EU fiscal rules limit the scope for public investments, implementing a Golden Investment Rule, which takes public investments in the future out of the calculation of public deficits, is necessary.