The ambitious Portuguese Presidency officially ended on 30 June 2021. The first six months of 2021 were still dominated by the Covid-19 crisis and important measures to tackle it. The highlight of the Presidency was the Social Summit and the Porto Declaration. Slovenia, who took over the Presidency on 1 July, has big shoes to fill.
On 1 January 2021, Portugal had taken over the Presidency from Germany, setting out ambitious plans, in particular – according to its Programme - in the social sector. Important social policy proposals and initiatives were presented under the Portuguese Presidency, for example the Directive on Pay Transparency, the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Child Guarantee as well as the recent new EU strategic framework on health and safety at work. The Child Guarantee has already been adopted by the Council - still under the Portuguese Presidency. In the coming months, Member States have to submit their national Action Plans on combating child poverty – an important project from AK’s point of view.
Highlight: Social Summit in Porto
With publishing the Action Plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) in March 2021, the Commission has also presented the projects for the coming months and years. May saw the highlight of the Portuguese Presidency, the Social Summit in Porto. In the Porto Declaration, the heads of state and government committed themselves to the Action Plan and the three targets mentioned in it – employment, education and life-long learning, combating poverty. The Declaration is an important step towards a social Europe and has been welcomed by both AK and trade unions.
EU Minimum Wage Directive: no agreement reached
The Portuguese Presidency has advanced important projects at Council level – among other the EU Minimum Wage Directive, which was published in autumn 2020, having had the support of AK, trade unions and European Parliament. The Directive would contribute to improving the working and living conditions of millions of people in the EU, apart from being an important step for social convergence in the EU. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to reach agreement under the Portuguese Presidency, which is not least due to the hostile stance of some Member States – among them Austria. It is now up to the Slovenian Presidency to achieve this; its goal is to reach agreement on the Minimum Wage Directive by the end of the year with the broadest support possible of Member States.
Slovenia: Resilience, strategic autonomy and recovery
The Slovenian Presidency has ambitious plans at social policy level – to implement the obligations agreed at the Social Summit in Porto and to advocate a social Europe. Another goal is to drive forward the negotiations regarding the Pay Transparency Directive, whereby special focus shall be placed on the influence of digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence on gender equality in the labour market. In respect of social policy, the Slovenian Presidency will also emphasise the quality of work, which is instrumental for the quality of life of all generations.
Social policy: Focus on Health Union
Within the context of the Covid-19 crisis, the focus is also on health sector issues. Against this background, the Slovenian Presidency intends to continue the negotiations on coordinating social security systems and to try to reach agreement with the European Parliament to guarantee social security rights for mobile workers in the EU.
Slovenia will also focus on the availability of and access to medical drugs. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown who important the supply of medical drugs and guaranteeing the EU’s open strategic autonomy are. Close attention shall also be paid to the role of the EU concerning global health policy and Europe's Beating Cancer Plan.
However, overall, the social policy chapter in the Programme of the Slovenian Presidency is not too wide-ranging. In contrast to the German or Portuguese Presidency, Slovenia is not attempting to propose any additional dossiers to deepening the EPSR, which have not yet been scheduled by the Commission.
AK/ÖGB letter on the Social Summit (German only)