European Pillar of Social Rights: going forward together?
On 23 January 2017 the European Commission organised a conference on the European Pillar of Social Rights which gathered European institutions and agencies, EU Member States, social partners and civil society. AGE Platform Europe took part the event to highlight the social situation of older people in Europe and voice their concerns and expectations.
The conference presented and discussed outcomes of the public consultation carried out in 2016 to collect views and define the direction of the European Pillar of Social Rights. With 16,500 online contributions and 200 position papers, the consultation caught attention among various stakeholders who pointed out to the two main findings:
- economic and social policies were considered as two sides of the same coin;
- the Pillar should help to enhance social convergence within the EU while respecting the subsidiarity principle.
At the same time however, the consultation highlighted a number of diverging views on how to address social issues, e.g. BusinessEurope spoke against strengthening labour and social security laws and in favour of more global competitiveness while the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) asked for the opposite.
For AGE members, the key element contained in the initial outline of the Pillar’s proposal was the reference to the right to access quality, affordable long-term care services. We also welcomed the European Commission to have highlighted the challenge of financing long-term care services in order to ensure adequate access for them to all. In our common response to the consultation we therefore applauded the above references which, if implemented, would set out standards for a domain in which the European Union is not active yet. Read here AGE full contribution to the consultation
Although recognising the need to build on the existing social provisions, the Commission clarified that future action to be introduced as part of the Pillar would mainly include new provisions in the labour market, in particular to address the emergence of new types of employment and further digitalisation of economy. This will mainly consist of a list of principles that will act, once adopted, as a reference framework to screen employment and social performance of participating EU Member States and to drive reforms at national level.
A consolidated version of the European Pillar of Social Rights should be presented in the first half of 2017.
The conference regrettably focused mainly on inputs from social partners who spoke in a series of plenary panel discussions. However, a large number of other NGOs contributed to the possible extend to six thematic workshops on labour market and skills, poverty, working conditions, work development, social protection and the social dimension of the Economic and Monetary Union.
On behalf of civil society’s organisations active in the social filed, the President of the Social Platform, Jana Hainsworth called on the Commission to come with concrete action to make the Pillar a reality for people at the grass-root level. In particular, she pledged in favour of a greater budgetary flexibility in the EU’s economic governance i.e. to provide Member States an incentive for more investment in the social field. She also recalled the importance of the place of civil society organisations in debate and policy making at EU level alongside social partners workers. The role of civil society is more crucial than ever in the context of the continuous public mistrust in policy makers and the European project as a whole. In the press release released to mark the conference, the Social Platform reminded the three core principles underpinning the European social model and enshrined in European and international law:
- quality employment;
- adequate income support; and
- access to quality, affordable and accessible services.
These standards should be the basis of any proposal for a European Pillar of Social Rights and ‘should not be overshadowed by an overwhelming focus on the risks and opportunities linked to digitalisation and new forms of employment; even though these evolutions are important, they should not take precedence over these principles’, stressed the Social Platform’s President.
From the perspective of ageing population and older workers in particular, the rapid digitalization of employment is of key importance, yet tend to be forgotten in EU Agenda for new Skills and Jobs. Alongside the rapid developments in the digital field, educational backgrounds are likely to become out-dated more and more swiftly. Communication and information technologies are constantly evolving requiring continuous education and retraining at all ages to keep pace with new skills requirements. This issue does not only concern current senior workers, but also young people who as future older workers will face similar problems. The too little focus on skills and adaptation to the technological change in national policy social agenda is a lost opportunity. This is also contradictory with the on-going pension reforms imposing prolonged working career and enhancing employability of workers as a mean to make pension systems more sustainable and adequate.
In the closing speech of the conference, the Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker insisted on his initial commitment to more social Europe: “We have taken important first steps to achieve that. This year will be crucial. Following the broad public consultation, it is time to establish the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Social Summit in Sweden will help us to deliver the momentum and put social priorities where they belong: at the top of Europe's agenda.” Awaiting Commission’s final proposal, AGE will continue calling for specific provisions in relation to older people, namely on age-friendly working environments and work conditions, as well as long-term care.
For more information on this event, you may contact Maciej Kucharczyk, firstname.lastname@example.org