Proclamation of a European Pillar of Social Rights: First step towards a social Europe?

EU Social Rights Pillar Following the compromise found by the EU Council in October, the ‘European Pillar of Social Rights’ proposed by the European Commission in April 2017 should be proclaimed at the European Social Summit in Göteborg on 17 November 2017. AGE will be part of a Social Platform delegation participating in the Summit. While the proclamation of the Pillar will be a milestone for European social policy, the concrete application will depend on resolute actions by the Commission and member States. AGE therefore calls for a coherent plan of action to realize the proclaimed rights.

Towards more social convergence in Europe

The European Pillar of Social Rights seeks to address the current social fragmentation and social dumping in Europe by delivering new and more effective rights for citizens in three main categories:

  • Equal opportunities and access to the labour market
  • Fair working conditions
  • Social protection and inclusion.

Many of the 20 rights/principles formulated in the proposal are very relevant and important to older people, in particular:

  • The right to equal opportunities for women and men, and regardless of age and disability is affirmed and includes access to employment, social protection, education and goods and services available to the public.
  • The right to ‘active support in employment’ is important to older jobseekers, who are often left out of active labour market policies that could help them (re)integrate the labour market.
  • The right to lifelong learning is fundamental – applying this to persons of all ages is crucial to preserve employability, social inclusion and even health
  • The right to work-life balance takes the most concrete form and has been presented with a legislative proposal featuring five days per year of paid leave (equivalent to sick leave) to care for dependent relatives (read our factsheet here), as well as investment incentives and the development of indicators for quality and accessibility of long-term care. The proposal is currently debated by the EU Council and the European Parliament in the legislative process
  • The right to long-term care states that everyone has the right to affordable long-term care services of good quality, in particular home-care and community-based services. Supporting AGE’s recommendation, this principle now recognises formally the right to long-term care for the first time at EU level.
  • The right to old-age income has been formulated with the aims of ‘living in dignity’ and ‘equal opportunities of women and men to acquire pension rights’, important areas in a context of declining replacement rates and a gender pension gap of almost 40%.
  • The right to minimum income refers to the right to benefits ‘at all stages of life’, supporting AGE’s recommendation to extend it beyond the working-age population, and includes ‘effective access to enabling goods and services’, therefore taking account of non-monetary aspects when defining an adequate income to live in dignity
  • The right to health care refers both to preventive and curative health as well as affordability and quality, all important points for enabling not only longer, but healthier lives and equity in health outcomes
  • Inclusion of persons with disabilities has the aim to make them ‘participate in society’, a formulation going much beyond inclusion in the labour market only.
  • The right to access essential services of good quality, including water, sanitation, energy, transport, financial services and digital communications, and to get support for access to such services for those in need.

For more information on what is implied with each right, the Commission has published a Staff Working Document accompanying the Communication on the European Pillar of Social Rights.

EU Council agreement on Pillar of social rights

The EU Council, giving the mandate for the signature of the Pillar of Social Rights, modified slightly the initial proposal, namely with regard to the enforceability of rights/principles enumerated in the Pillar, the importance of social partners and the financial obligations deriving from the document, but the provisions contained in the main part of the text have not been changed.

Although the text would have a constitutional value, it does not confer new competences or tasks upon the Union, which means that the European Union will not adopt directives on the design of pension, health and long-term care systems, for example. Nevertheless, the Union will be bound to respect the principles in the legislation it is able to adopt and that makes reference to it. Even though the compromise text states that the rights are not directly enforceable without implementing measures, the European Court of Justice could in the future refer to the Pillar of Social Rights in the interpretation of Union law.

AGE assessment and follow-up

AGE welcomes the green light given by the Council for the proclamation of the Pillar, as it gives momentum to the development of social policies in the European Union and brings to the agenda important areas of interest to older people that are currently not – or not sufficiently – covered by European policy.

AGE had contributed to the public consultation preceding the proposal for a European Pillar of Social Rights in 2016 and has actively supported the Pillar’s proposals since its publication. We believe that building a strong Pillar of Social Rights at European level is a necessary response to the high poverty rates and increasing inequalities resulting from a decade of economic crisis and leading to much criticism towards the European Union.

In our contribution, we called on the EU to make more reference to existing international rights instruments and to ensure real political commitment and visibility for the EU Pillar to avoid the errors of the past such as the lack of progress on Europe 2020 Strategy’s social targets.

AGE will continue to monitor policy developments in relation to the proposed rights/principles. The number of issues and policy areas covered by the Pillar means that its implementation will be spread out over several years. Most probably, discussions on the post Europe 2020 Strategy will be linked to the Pillar and therefore our advocacy work to influence future growth/social agenda will also build on the follow-up to the Pillar.

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