Brussels has long been waiting for the so-called European Pillar of Social Rights. At long last the time had come this week: the Commission presented a number of papers, indicators and initiatives. As feared, however, the plans hardly usher in the urgently needed change of direction towards a social Europe with binding high minimum standards and a departure from neoliberal economic policies. Instead, existing European and international rights have simply been reinforced.
Published was a recommendation with 20 principles and rights on equal opportunities and labour market access, fair working conditions as well as social protection and social inclusion, which - identical in context - was also published as a recommendation for a joint proclamation for Parliament, Council and Commission. In addition, four legislative and non-legislative initiatives, a Social Scoreboard as well as a reflection on the social dimension of Europe were introduced.
20 principles and rights
The principles and rights focus in particular on the social convergence within the Eurozone. It is up to the Member States outside the Eurozone whether they want to join these efforts. That some of the Member States will not take up this offer does not only seem to be likely since the statement of the Hungarian Minister of Social Affairs, László Herczog, who rejected a binding social pillar. The first impression also shows that social commitment within the European context is above all seen as a means to an end – namely ultimately for boosting economic growth. Equal opportunities, social protection, labour market measures and also education serve to ensure the faster and more successful participation in the labour market to stimulate growth – it appears that they are only awarded a value in itself to a limited extent.
1 Scoreboard and 4 Initiatives
The Scoreboard comprises existing indicators in 12 different sectors; it shall monitor the implementation of the Social Pillar and is to be integrated into the European Semester. On the one hand, the four initiatives consist of two communications on the reconciliation between work and family life and on an interpretation of Posting of Workers Directive on the other. In addition, two new consultations on modernising the rules on labour contracts and access to social protection were initiated. A more comprehensive assessment from the point of view of the AK will follow.
The reflection paper on Europe's social dimension is the first of a total of five papers, which were announced within the scope of the broader discussion on the Commission’s White Paper on the Future of Europe. Similar to the White Paper, the Commission paints three different scenarios as to how one could continue until 2025 – this time, there are three options with regard to the social dimension and here too the possibilities vary between deeper and reduced integration: (1) restriction of freedom of movement, (2) coalition of the willing and (3) deepening of mutual relationships by the EU 27.
No fundamental change of direction in sight
Overall, the AK had expected more: what is needed is a fundamental change of direction to a social Europe, towards determining and implementing minimum standards, which goes hand in hand with a departure from current European economic policy – for example by establishing a Social Progress Protocol. Strict fiscal rules and so-called “structural reforms” are a stumbling block for public investments and put pressure on with regard to reducing labour standards, such as relaxing protection against dismissal, decentralising collective agreement systems or wage restraint. A truly social Europe would have the chance to offer something in reply to the loss of trust and the strengthening of anti-EU parties, by giving - in case of doubt - priority to social fundamental rights over economic freedoms and competition rules.