The eyes of all those concerned with social Europe are now on the high-level summit at the end of this week (7-8 May) in Porto. The Portuguese Presidency is hoping to renew the political and institutional support for the European Pillar of Social Rights, but most of all, to advance its implementation at the European and national level. For this occasion, the European Commission has published its Action Plan on the implementation of the Pillar. The plan aims at providing a ‘social rulebook’ to accompany the green and digital transitions which are this Commission’s main priorities, and is an attempt to operationalise the 20 principles of the Pillar, which for the most part constitute an unclear collection of often symbolic proposals. Thirty years after the Charter of Fundamental Social Rights, this most recent initiative of the European Union in the social field once again constitutes an attempt to compensate for the gaps created by austerity and to counteract national social policies which risk wrecking the European project, rather than a stand-alone long-term vision for social Europe.
Coming back to the current Action Plan, we can distinguish three big objectives in it: at least 78% of the population between the ages of 20 and 64 should have a job by 2030; at least 60% of the adult population should participate in education activities or training each year; and the number of people threatened by poverty or social exclusion should be reduced by at least 15 million by 2030. In normal circumstances we would have been celebrating this as an important step forward for social Europe. Unfortunately, however, these are not normal times, as we are still slowly coming out of a pandemic which has shaken up all that was previously considered stable (budget deficits, the European budget, etc.), and we also are facing an ambitious green transition which will have far-reaching consequences for the way we produce and consume. What is more, we are entering the next phase of the digital transformation in which AI could fundamentally change our societies and workplaces. All these changes could potentially lead, or may in fact already be leading, to different forms of inequality – something which is barely mentioned in the 50 pages of the Action Plan.
The objectives laid down in the Commission’s proposal are certainly not negligible but they are not commensurate with the challenges that lay ahead for post-Covid societies. If we want this fourth attempt in the history of the EU to put social policies on the agenda to succeed, strategic foresight must be a central part of it. It should not be forgotten that the proposal currently on the table is partly the result of a political power configuration across European countries that has not changed since the start of this crisis. The coming elections in Germany and France could, however, produce a positive change. Another window of opportunity may also be the Conference on the Future of Europe which begins this month and which should facilitate an open and inclusive debate on the future direction of the EU and its political priorities. So far, however, this initiative has lacked serious political support from the Member States, and it remains to be seen whether the conference will lead to a revision of the EU treaties.
The topics which will be under discussion at the Porto Summit are at the core of the ETUI’s research and education work. You can find an overview of our most recent publications here – if you are one of the many concerned with social Europe, they may be of interest to you.
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