Regaining trust of workers by deepening the social dimension of Europe: Recommendations for a follow-up of the White paper on the future for a social Europe

From 17 to 18 October 2019 took place a seminar about “Regaining trust of workers by deepening the social dimension of Europe: Recommendations for a follow-up of the White paper on the future for a social Europe”, organized by Beweging.academie, with the support of EZA and of the European Union.

30 representatives of workers’ organizations from Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, France, Germany, Austria, Romania, Italy, Ireland and Poland participated in the seminar.

The seminar took place just when the new Commission Von der Leyen and the new elected European Parliament were installed. Commissioner for social affairs Schmit stressed the importance of the implementation and monitoring of the European Pillar of Social rights. This seminar was politically at the right time with its follow-up on the future of a social Europe and at the same time its focus on the need for regaining trust of citizens and workers.

The following topic fields were discussed:

-the deepening of the social dimension of the European Union

-is EU policy human enough?

-recommendations for a harmonisation of citizen's rights.

-round table on social rights

-round table on EU social dimension

-recommendations for minimum standards in social policy

-social governance beyond the White paper

-social governance: bringing the workers back in

-challenges for EU social policy from an institutional perspective

-round table on EU social governance

-recommendations for social convergence in social outcomes

-recommendations how to implement the corner stones of the European Pillar of Social Rights

Seminar results

There is a widespread distrust in political institutions resulting in aversion of traditional political participation.

The seminar showed that there is a relation between this distrust and the distortion of social rights since the ‘80ties (the reforming of the welfare state) and especially since the economic crisis. Especially poor people and low income groups are affected by the crisis, and show a strong mistrust. Globalisation (migration crisis) and the open EU borders (social dumping) and the climate crisis have worsen the (feelings of) insecurity of many. Distrust in political institutions grew with (the feelings) of growing insecurity.

One of the remedies to overcome distrust is promoting deliberative and participative democracy. One of the major limits of most of these processes is their incapacity to include vulnerable people and politically less active in deliberative process, due to the many costs, i.e. the material and symbolic boundaries that impede effective participation in deliberative processes. We contend that this selectivity is a source of exclusion that may in turn produce distrust, polarisation, populism, etc.

Distrust occurs thus when people feel themselves excluded from governance or excluded through governance. Feeling that they have no voice (to have a voice and to be really heard) to realise their life, they back off from society. Where participative culture in institutions as social centres, schools, workplace, … is limited or non-existent (no choice in activation policies) or even in decline (restricted social dialogue), or instrumentalised (pseudo participation in order to realise other goals), trust in democracy decline.

Distrust leads thus to nonparticipation or aversion of traditional political and democratic institutions. The aversion of traditional political participation can culminate in populism, extreme nationalism, and dislodging from society (growing tendency to voting blanc or not going to vote are a symptom of this dislodging).

Distrust leads to political and social alienated people. These group can be circumscribed as people who feel that they have no voice. From previous seminars we can discern that people living in or near poverty meet many barriers to participate or raising their voice. We circumscribe them as Political Alienated People (PEP).

Restoring trust needs thus at the same time an investment in people (restoration of the welfare system) and a restoration of the relation between democratic institutions and political alienated people. Our seminar balances on these two sides of restoration. We put social and economic (pre)conditions for participation first.

Conclusion, resolutions and Demands

The European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) has triggered enormous hopes for a more humane and democratic Europe after a period of harsh austerity that was dictated by neoliberal economic policies. Nevertheless, the present margin of manoeuver for the implementation of the EPSR is rather narrow: limited legislative competencies in the social field, a very limited EU budget, divergence between national contexts and policies, and a multiplicity of competing objectives constitute major obstacles. It is therefore important (a) to extend the budgetary margins and (b) to integrate the principles of the Social Pillar into every fibre of the European policy agenda: in particular, the Europe 2020 strategy, the Social Dimension of the EMU and the Sustainable Development Agenda for the next decade. At the same time, the Social Pillar needs to be framed in a SMART (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-bound) way. This paper provides a set of recommendations for this purpose. Leaving aside the legislative issues, it focuses on the mainstreaming of the EPSR into the EU’s long-term strategies as well as key policy processes and instruments such as the European Semester, scoreboards, the European Structural and Investment Funds, and the horizontal social clause. The main recommendations can be summarised as follows:

•          Integration of the EPSR into the Europe 2020 Strategy with appropriate headline indicators, peer reviews of good practice, benchmarks and monitoring of progress;

•          Extension of the Social dimension of the European Monetary Union, by introducing an ‘excessive social imbalance procedure’, triggered by a specific Alert Mechanism and resulting in an appropriate social stabilisation mechanism, similar to the macroeconomic and monetary imbalance procedure; extension of the Social Scoreboard; and reinforcement of the democratic accountability of the EMU;

•          Integration of the EPSR into the ‘European Economic and Social Semester process’: translation into country-specific recommendations for upward social convergence; assessment of progress based on the ‘Annual Survey for Sustainable Development’, the ‘Joint Employment and Social Development Report’ and the national reform programmes; introduction of accountability mechanisms and sanctions for non-compliance with social minimum standards;

•          Integration of the principles of the EPSR into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its operationalisation through the social SDGs;

•          Establishment of a participatory process in the monitoring of the SDGs at EU level, an EU Multi-Stakeholder Platform with strong participation of civil society along with the social partners;

•          A more systematic and ‘biting’ application of the horizontal social clause: extension of the coverage of (participative) social impact assessment of policy measures; introduction at EU and member state level of legal non-regression clauses in relation to human rights;

•          Development of adequate and fair financial and budgetary instruments for social expenditure: enhancement of the EU’s budget, and in particular the Structural and Investment Funds; proactive use of the European Fund for Strategic Investment for social investment projects; conditioning access to European Structural and Investment Funds upon compliance with social minimum standards; flexible enforcement of the Stability and Growth Pact through a ‘Golden Rule’ for social investment; introduction of social stabilisation mechanisms funded at EU level (e.g. through an EU unemployment re-insurance system); fiscal harmonisation through re-establishment of progressive personal income taxation in all EU countries, with agreed minimum and top rates; minimum rates for corporate taxes and establishment of a Common Corporate Tax Base.