Webinar Europa 2021: What social priorities for Europe in the first half of 2021?

On November 19, the Portuguese Minister for Labour, Solidarity and Social Security, Ana Mendes Godinho, joined Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, at a webinar to present the priorities in the social and employment dimension for the upcoming Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, due to start in January 2021.

After a year highly disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is no longer a surprise that such a press conference took place online. At this press conference, anticipating the upcoming 6-month Portuguese Presidency of the Council, which is taking over after Germany on January 1 2021, the priorities and focus areas within the social domain of the Portuguese government were presented.

A lot of energy will be casted into the coronavirus economic crisis recovery. For that matter, both Commissioner Schmit and Portuguese Minister Ana Mendes Godinho highlighted the necessity of a social, green and digital recovery. Godinho stressed that no green and digital transitions were possible without the basis of a fair social framework.

To respond to this green and digital agenda, the Portuguese Presidency will prioritise the development of skills, notably VET skills, not only to bridge the gap between education and labour market (thus, favouring the integration of young people into the labour world), but also to empower unemployed and underemployed people, in order to upgrade their skills and, consequently, wage valorisation.

The Portuguese Presidency will notably strive for the social inclusion of those most vulnerable. Tackling poverty issues will be a big focus area, with expected initiatives on homelessness, a child guarantee and the inclusion of disabled people. On this regard, two high-level conferences are to be organised: one on homelessness and another one on disabled people.

Commissioner Schmit also stressed an employment policy initiative of the European Commission in the pipeline: a proposal for an EU Pay Transparency Directive, which should be made public in the beginning of 2021. He also mentioned that the Commission is currently working on a proposal on platform workers. Furthermore, both Schmit and Godinho were hopeful to adopt the EU directive on adequate minimum wages during the first semester of 2021.

Last, but certainly not least, the Portuguese Presidency will culminate in a conference centred around the European Pillar of Social Rights, foreseen to take place in May 2021 in Porto. As it happens, and after approximately 4 years of the signing of the Gothenburg Declaration, the Portuguese Presidency will peak with the adoption of an action plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights.

There were certainly several sounding words being used at the press conference: resilience, solidarity, convergence, cohesion. At CESI, we wait to see them becoming actions.

Secretary General Klaus Heeger commented: “The Portuguese Minister certainly seems to be committed to a successful Presidency of the Council, with a focus around employment and social issues. At CESI we are glad to see a valorisation of VET skills on the European Agenda, as it is an issue which we have been advocating for several years. We are also expecting a bold action plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights, and a Pay Transparency Directive which effectively help close the gender pay and pensions gap.”