Last week, the European Commission issued its long-awaited set of measures to improve the EU’s social dimension. Under the heading ‘European Pillar of Social Rights and accompanying initiatives’, the Commission presented its proposals to give flesh to 20 principles and rights in the areas of equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions and social protection and inclusion, which should guide the EU’s and the Member States’ future on employment and social affairs policies.
Rightfully, the new Pillar has given rise to criticism also among trade unions at national and EU level especially due to uncertainty about and effective implementation and enforcement mechanisms. However, we should not forget is that it was the European Commission that triggered the Pillar based on President Juncker’s stated objective to achieve a ‘Social Triple A’ rating, a vision which was immediately countered by the many opponents of a more social EU who referred to restricted EU competences in that field and used this to try to put social concerns at second place.
The Pillar is accompanied by legislative proposals in the area of work-life balance. Of course, there could have been more teeth in the European Commission’s proposals, but if concrete EU legislation can have a positive impact on millions of workers in the EU, then this is worth fighting for. Moreover, if the European Commission puts a new focus on a better implementation and enforcement of existing EU social and employment legislation at the national level, and if a careful scrutiny on how the Member States work to fill the 20 principles and rights with life can be realised, then Europe may still become more social than it currently is. By building on the Pillar’s principles and rights, and by calling upon a “joint responsibility of the EU, Member States, social partners and other stakeholders” to deliver them, progress can be achieved.
The most important is that we all realise what is at stake. Social policy means solidarity, and solidarity means, to a certain extent, giving up self-centredness. This is a message which is not easy to convey in times of rising nationalism, but which, hopefully, reaches not least those going to the polls next Sunday in France.
Sometimes, conveying positive messages on the EU may not be the worst thing to do. The media attention given to the EU’s social ambitions especially at the national level last week shows that there is indeed room for positive EU news.
The Commission’s proposals may lack teeth, but for CESI it is now mainly up to the 27 remaining Member States or, as a last resort, a “coalition of the willing” to show that there is a willingness to bite. In the end, it is up to all of us to bite.
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