On 17th November 2017, the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) had been proclaimed at the Social Summit in Gothenburg. One-and-a-half years after this proclamation and prior to the coming EU elections it is now possible to take stock. On March 28th 2019, discussions on the implementation and an outlook on the future were held in a public hearing in the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels.
Even though the 20 principles of the EPSR have no legally binding and enforceable character, they were nevertheless the impetus for legal acts in respect of the labour and social rights, such as the directives on Work-Life-Balance, on fair and transparent working conditions or the regulation on the European Labour Authority. Hence, due to the EPSR as the driving force it has been possible to further develop social rights at European level and to take steps towards a more social Europe.
Apart from the legislative sector, Raquel Lucas and Marie-Anne Paraskevas (both DG EMPL) emphasised during the EESC hearing the significance of EPSR within the scope of the European Semester process as well as of the Multiannual Financial Framework, in particular of the European Social Fund+ (ESF+). At least with regard to the ESF+, the AK is unable to agree with the analysis of the Commission; in this case, a minimum share of 10 % of the EU budget would be necessary to meet important social, integration and labour market policy challenges of the EU. From the point of view of the Commission representatives, Member States are now also required to implement the EPSR. Because – as was pointed out - the EPSR was adopted as a joint proclamation of all three institutions.
However, does the EPSR now provide the citizens with the proclaimed rights and benefits it had promised? Zane Rasnača, researcher at the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), addressed this question. In a comparative ETUI country study (Greece, Ireland, Latvia) it was examined to which extent the EPSR principles had been implemented. The study found that some Member States already had regulations, which corresponded to the EPSR principles. However, in many cases the EPSR principles were only implemented at national level or not at all. Another finding was that implementation concentrates on certain principles whilst others are being ignored. One has to draw the conclusion implementation of social rights at the national level is lacking a direct connection to the EPSR; however, there is a tendency at EU level to proclaim any legal enactment as a product of the EPSR.
Sabastiano Sabato, Policy Officer at the European Social Observatory (OSE) assessed – as in the annual publication “Social policy in the European Union: state of play 2018“ (ETUI/OSE) and the EESC study “Implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights” (2018) – the role of the European Semester. According to his conclusion, the process of the European Semester has been shaped more social since 2014. The development between 2017 and 2018 also suggests clear effects of the EPSR (“pillar effect”). Data confirms an increase of “social country-specific recommendations (sCSR)” by the Commission to individual Member States. If one differentiates the sCSR according to their political orientation, one notices a significant increase of sCSR, which aim at improved social protection, whilst sCSR with neoliberal political orientation are clearly in decline. According to Sabato, in spite of these positive developments, the lack of coordination between economic, fiscal and social strategies might make the implementation of the EPSR in the Member States insufficient. The statement made by the Commission in 2017, according to which the EPSR would have to be implemented in accordance with “available resources” and a “solid budgetary management“ of the Member States, does also have a restrictive effect.
Whether the implementation of the Social Pillar will progress as it did in the “success story” of its first one-and-a-half years, will become apparent after the EU elections in May 2019 and by the newly formed European Commission on the basis of its new Work Programme. On behalf of the European Trade Union Confederation, Ben Egan referred to numerous open projects to strengthen Europe’s social dimension. He named many projects, which are important also from the point of view of the Chamber of Labour, among other more Democracy at the workplace, reinforcing cross-border collective bargaining, improving occupational health and safety in case of carcinogenic working substances (so far 24 limit values have been created, at least 50 have been demanded), converting the framework agreement on psychosocial risks into a directive, revising the Stability Pact as well as strengthening social dialogue.