Europe 2019: social and political challenges for the upcoming European governance

From 19 to 20 November 2019 took place in Zagreb a seminar about “Europe 2019: social and political challenges for the upcoming European governance”, organized by Beweging.academie with the support of EZA and of the European Union.

35 representatives of workers’ organizations from Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Austria, Romania, Italy, Czech Republic, Malta, Luxembourg and – as guests- Moldova participated in the seminar.

The seminar took place at a vital EU political moment: after the European election of May 2019, the new European Parliament was just installed with the new repartition of the different members in the thematic commissions. Next to that, the work program and the maiden speech of the new Von der Leyen Commission was upcoming. This made the seminar an ideal moment for presenting policy recommendations and at the same time coming up with foresight policy challenges for this new EU policy makers.

The seminar emphasised thus on social and political strategies for the upcoming European governance, stressing subtopics as social policies, citizenship rights, migration policies, democratic challenges, digitalisation challenges. All topics were retranslated into recommendations for a social agenda for the new EU parliament (cf conclusion, resolutions and demands).

The following topic fields were discussed:

-What social and political strategy for the upcoming European governance from out EZA?

-Social challenges for migration policies in Europe for the upcoming European governance

-Bringing Europe to the citizens- what democratic challenges for the upcoming European governance?

-What social and democratic challenges in Eastern countries for the upcoming European governance?

-What social and democratic challenges in Southern countries for the upcoming European governance?

-What challenges for workers in times of quick digitalisation?

-The social agenda of the new European Parliament

Seminar results

With the European Pillar of Social Rights, Jean-Claude Juncker and Marianne Thyssen set a compass for the future of Europe. For the first time, Europe defined rights to which all Member States are committed, like the right to universal and affordable health care or an adequate income. And for the first time, concrete European legislation and recommendations are connected to this, together with a Social Scoreboard that keeps track of how each country scores on the 20 Principles.

Ursula von der Leyen and Nicolas Schmit have the ambition to continue this work, with an Action Plan for the Implementation of the Social Pillar as a key priority. But trust is not enough. The EP and the EC have to work hard and move forward step by step to make the rights and principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights effective and relevant for people.

And it is about much more than the social: Europe’s success as a social market economy, and as a global player, depends on it. To make Europe stronger, economically and socially, we must invest in people. We must invest in health, in equality, in work, in the European social model. We need to take into account citizenship rights (including social rights) for the most vulnerable in society. Europe should empower and protect people at a personal level, when faced with big trends at a global level – from the digital and green transition to demographic change. That makes the European Social Pillar a Christian-democratic objective at heart: making the bridge from ‘big politics’, to making a positive change in people’s daily lives.

Conclusion, resolutions and demands

We focus on 10 priorities:

On the social:

1.         Step up the fight against poverty: 113 million Europeans – 1 in 5 – remain at risk of poverty, including 21% of European children. Look beyond the numbers, to the people involved. Europe managed to reduce poverty by 6 million people over 10 years. But that is not enough. The new Commission must come up with a new and ambitious anti-poverty strategy. That is step 1 of the Action Plan for the Social Pillar: that’s where it starts. For this, we will need more money for the European Social Fund, and a European Child Guarantee, to break the poverty cylce from early childhood.

2.         Empower workers in atypical work – from the platform sector to low-cost airlines – with health insurance, access to social protection and the right to collective bargaining. Ensuring their social rights is crucial for the stability of their lives, and for the stability of our social model. Already 1/3 of the platform work happens cross-border, that’s why we need to do this together on a European level.

3.         Make sure that work pays. Convergence is enshrined in the European Treaties. Yet since the crisis, we see more divergence. To turn this around, we could set indicators and targets for minimum wages in each country in the European Semester, with the help of social partners. This would stimulate social dialogue, and promote upward convergence.

4.         When work disappears, make sure that Europe stands ready to support workers. That is why we need a Just Transition Fund to help workers in for example the coal sector to get new jobs, and a better funded, more flexible European Globalisation Fund.

5.         Start paying attention to the Social Economy. This is the single biggest growing economic sector in Europe. The social economy gives meaning, not only socially, but economically as well. From education to hospitals. We need to make sure that EU legislation is fit for this sector – too often it is not. The strict limits on subsidies for companies, for example, hinder the social economy which often counts on public-private support. That’s why we need a social economy test for every new piece of EU legislation.

On health:

6.         Improving the safety and health at work, by tackling work-related stress, musculo-skeletal disorders and chronic diseases, and by updating the Carcinogens Directive to limit substances that affect millions of workers across Europe, like gasoline fumes from machines.

7.         A comprehensive policy on prevention and affordable and accessible treatments and medicines for all patients, regardless of their socio-economic background. This is a core principle of the Social Pillar as well. Access to healthcare is a basic right in the EU, not a privilige.

8.         Continue to tackle cancer, and do this by investing in a smart way on a European level: investing to save money, by focusing on prevention (limiting carcinogens on the workfloor, endocrine disruptors in our products and pollutants in the environment); combining our forces to invest in medical research to avoid double-spending; and ensuring that patients don’t pay double for new medical discoveries: if EU investment leads to new treatments or medicines, the EU should ensure clear guarantees that these will be made available at an affordable price to Europeans.

On equality:

9.         A new European Gender Strategy, including binding pay-transparency measures. We have come a long way since the suffragettes, but the pay gap between men and women is still 16% in Europe. What that means is that in mid-October, women start working for free on the same job as their male colleagues.

10.      More support for female entrepreneurs: even in the digital sector, where you need less capital for a start-up, still only one in five entrepreneurs are women.

Social policy, work, health and equality: these are all closely connected. With people’s lives, and with the global challenges that we are facing today. That is what the EU needs to focus on.