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Social rights: EU prepares to address citizens' disconnect

Social rights: EU prepares to address citizens' disconnect

Marianne Thyssen - Photo EC

(BRUSSELS) - More "fairness and social justice in Europe" is the aim of of the European Commission as it prepared next steps towards a European Pillar of Social Rights Monday at a high level conference in Brussels.

A new impetus on the social front is promised by the EU institutions in 2017 following widespread discontent among Europe's citizens, manifest in particular in last year's Brexit vote in the UK.

A broad public consultation last year on a European Pillar of Social Rights produced more than 16,000 contributions. Today's conference was the occasion for a first detailed look consultation results, and prepares the way for detailed proposals in March this year, as well as a "Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth" summit in Gothenburg on 17 November.

Since Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker announced the initiative in September 2015, there has been a wide debate with stakeholders on the content and role of the Pillar and 'how to ensure fairness and social justice in Europe'.

Yesterday, the European Parliament adopted a resolution. The European Economic and Social Committee is set to adopt an opinion later this month. The Committee of the Regions contributed with an opinion and also European and national social partners with their reports (report of BusinessEurope, report of ETUC).

Mr Juncker said: "Since the start of my mandate, I have made clear that I wanted a 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."

Sweden's prime minister Stefan Loefven said: "In these challenging times, we need to show that we can deliver results in peoples' everyday lives. A more social Europe, with fair working conditions, effective labour markets and a strong social dialogue, should be a priority for all of us."

At the conference, Commissioner Marianne Thyssen said she understood "the uncertainty, fear, and even anger of people who feel 'disconnect' with the great changes taking place in the world".

She said the recovery would continue to be weak "if we do not tackle the social impact of the crisis and make fairness a priority".

The social pillar is expected to address the legacy of the worst economic and social crisis in recent times. With the world of work and societies changing fast, and new opportunities and new challenges arising from globalisation, the digital revolution, changing work patterns or demographic developments, the Commission is looking to work for "a more prosperous and future-proof Europe, where economic and social developments go hand in hand".

The Pillar will set out a number of key principles to support well-functioning and fair labour markets and welfare systems. It has been conceived as a reference framework to screen the employment and social performance of participating Member States, to drive reforms at national level and, more specifically, to serve as a compass for the renewed process of convergence across Europe.

Specific challenges, said Ms Thyssen, included:

  • Creating better life chances for young people;
  • ensuring a good work life balance
  • making sure peoples skills keep pace with change; and
  • Ensuring nobody is left behind.

"It is now time that we agree on a shared vision for social fairness", said Ms Thyssens: "That we use our respective tools to make the Pillar a reality. And that we share ideas and experience, to learn from one another so as to ensure progress around the Pillar.

Press release Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth

Memo: Towards a European Pillar of Social Rights – Questions and Answers

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