On 12 December, the European Social Observatory (OSE) together with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) presented their latest publication ‘Social policy in the European Union: state of play 2017’ in Brussels. Due to the fact, that the European debate has recently put greater focus social policy, the presentation of this annual publication was of particular significance this year. Trade unions and employee representatives are loudly demanding more initiatives for a social Europe.
Gabriele Bischoff, President of the EESC Workers' Group in the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), emphasised the importance of the Publication “Social policy in the European Union: state of play 2017” in the context of the current debates on a social Europe. 2017 could be seen as the parting year in European social policy. On the one hand, since 2016, the discussion on the social dimension of the EU has picked up speed and as recent as 17 November 2017, the heads of state and government solemnly proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights at the EU Social Summit in Gothenburg. On the other hand, the fine words of this proclamation must now be followed by deeds, which reach people and which lead to noticeable improvements of their working and living conditions. The publication would mark the state of EU Social Policy prior to the proclamation the Social Pillar and should contribute to supporting the path afterwards towards a social Europe.
Philippe Pochet, General Director of the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), made an attempt to put the debate on the social dimension of the EU into historical context: right from the start, the European Project has been dominated by economic integration and due to the principle of unanimity, EU Social Policy was only possible to a limited extent. In this context, Pochet advocates the theory that a certain cycle can be observed in the history of European integration: every 15 years, a new discussion begins on the social dimension of the EU, which always lasts about six to seven years. Based on these experiences, it is not unlikely that this pattern will also be repeated in the current debate on the Social Pillar.
This means that there is probably not much time left to strengthen the social dimension of the EU. Consequently, the tenor of the discussants was clear: without it, the European Union will continue to lose trust. At the moment, Europe was still the continent of anxieties about the future. What was required was a clear vision of a social Europe, which improves the living and working conditions of all people. Hence, Katja Lehto-Komulainen, ETUC Deputy General Secretary, called for an Action Plan to put the principles of the Social Pillar into action; she in particular emphasised the challenges because of the increasing insecurity of the working world and the rising poverty in spite of being in employment.
The editors want to use the publication to make a contribution on the path towards a social Europe. In the first part, they take a closer look at Europe's big future questions and their possible impact on the social dimension of the EU. The second part deals with concrete, social initiatives at EU level. First print copies can already be ordered from the European Social Observatory ; in a few weeks they will also be available as free download.