In spring this year, the EU Commission presented a first draft for a more social Europe. The new “Pillar of Social Rights” is to strengthen the social dimension in Europe; however, how this will be achieved is still not quite clear. The concrete proposal is expected for early next year. In order to debate how this social dimension might look like, the German Trade Union Federation (DGB), the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB), the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour (AK EUROPE), the European Social Observatory (OSE), Diaconia Germany, SOLIDAR and the Representation of the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia hosted a panel discussion.
Allan Larsson, Special Advisor for the European Pillar of Social Rights of Commission President Juncker commented that Europe would urgently need a new approach to the obviously failed neoliberalism. For him there is no doubt that, if the counter-concept shall be effective, the pillar has to supplement the fiscal pact by a social pact based on rights and principles: “Economic and social policy are two sides of a coin and must not be separated”. Maria João Rodrigues, MEP, rapporteur for the Pillar of Social Rights in the Employment Committee, spoke about the current negotiations in the European Parliament. These were proving to be difficult in particular with regard to the question of the concrete achievement of objectives, such as how the pillar of social rights should be embedded legally binding or how and what resources could and should be made available.
Esther Lynch of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) argued from a trade union perspective that it was no longer acceptable to regard labour as a commodity – as it had been the case with the Troika measures in Ireland for example – and that all fundamental and employees' rights had to be evaluated from this perspective. Such a point of view implies that social rights must have the same status as economic rights, such as the four market freedoms. Josef Wöss, head of the social policy department at the Austrian Chamber of Labour Vienna is convinced that a social Europe requires a holistic approach including a social progress protocol, a realignment of fiscal policy (keyword “Golden Investment Rule”) and an active policy measures against inequality. He welcomes the proposal of a Framework Directive to ensure adequate minimum wages for all European member states; however, he warns against limiting oneself only to these. In order to achieve sustainable internal demand, all wages have to develop in accordance with productivity growth.
Ruth Paserman, deputy Head of Cabinet of EU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Marianne Thyssen, hinted that the expectations, which were put on the Commission proposal, would probably not be fulfilled. According to her, the Pillar of Social Rights will not become legally binding per se but will become politically binding by the recommendations of the Commission and heads of state and government. Esther Lynch and Josef Wöss clearly rejected such political lip service. Without being legally binding, social fundamental and employees’ rights - for example in court - cannot be enforced. This is not the way to make Europe more social.