European Social Deal – Where are we today?

“European Social Deal – Where are we today?” was the theme of the EZA Conference held in Brussels from 3-4 March 2020 (with financial support from the European Union). Approximately 100 participants from around 20 European countries discussed the future of a social Europe and the social and worker policy initiatives that were started by the new European Commission (EC) under Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Focus areas included the coordination of minimum wages and social security systems, as well as the future of occupational training in the digital age.

Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner of the Directorate-General Employment, Social and Integration pointed out that when it comes to digitization and climate change, the European Union (EU) is currently in a transformation phase, and that it will be important to ensure that this phase is fair and that particularly the social aspects of these changes are taken into account so that we all can emerge as winners from this process.

Therefore it is important to focus on gender equality and youth employment and develop a strong strategy to fight against poverty. This requires fair minimum wages that enable people to live a dignified life, as well as the promotion and strengthening of collective bargaining and labour agreements. Strong unions and workers’ organizations are also required to strengthen democracy. Europe must invest more heavily in social issues, and the European Pillar of Social Rights (ESSR) must be implemented to fight against inequality and to ensure that no one is left behind, which is the goal of Commission President von der Leyen.

The international secretary of the Bulgarian union PODKREPA and EZA Vice Chairman Vesselin Mitov, who is also a labour representative in the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), emphasised the importance of the ESSR and noted that increasing uncertainty with regard to labour market access, employment relationships and inequality in the EU represents a big challenge for European policy-makers. To fight against involuntary migration within the EU, he calls for dignified minimum wages and dynamic wage development, which can only be promoted when a positive climate regarding the social dialogue becomes commonplace. In addition, he also advocated an improved youth guarantee and called on political leaders to quickly respond to these challenges.

In the opinion of Liina Carr, Association Secretary of the European Association of Trade Unions, a stronger social Europe represents an important contribution to Europe's future and an effective means to promote democracy and the fight against racism and xenophobia.

The fight against poverty is an urgent problem for the EU because poverty is increasingly becoming a cross-border issue. Minimum wages that enable people to lead dignified lives do not exist in many places. Wages that guarantee such a life can only be found in labour agreements. Gender equality can only be achieved when there is a change in the deep-rooted ways of thinking that are pervasive in our society.

Agata Dziubińska-Gawlik, President of the European Meeting Centre - Nowy Staw Foundation (FNS-EDS), noted that labour markets are undergoing rapid change and that efforts must be made to advance the digital literacy of workers. In addition, the social economy also plays an important role in helping people enter the labour market - particularly young people.

Members of the European Parliament (MEP) Cindy Franssen and Dennis Radtke called on the EC to accelerate the implementation of the ESSR and to provide separate financial resources, rather than simply reallocating funds from the European Social Fund (ESF) for this purpose (“Just Transition Fund”).

Besides coordinating minimum wages in Europe, it is also important to strengthen the binding effect of collective agreements. The social dialogue needs a re-start. MEP Radtke estimated that the “Green Deal” initiated by Commission President von der Leyen will lead to job losses and called for the creation of new and good jobs.

Regarding the coordination of social security systems, it was noted that the EC is preparing a new directive that is supposed to describe the general principles and set out benefits for unemployed individuals, families and long-term care. In addition, options for combining the claims of different member states are supposed to be created, along with provisions against benefit fraud and misunderstandings in this area.

Not everything can expected to be done at the European level. The main objective is to ensure that national social security systems in EU move closer together in order to find a balance between the member states and protect mobile EU citizens.

When it comes to the coordination of minimum wages in the EU, the EC is primarily concerned with protecting workers who do not enjoy a lot of negotiating power. The calculation of minimum wages raises the question of what a fair wage is, how the social partners are included in the binding calculation of minimum wages, and the extent of the coverage.

In the opinion of workers’ organizations, the minimum wage must be based on the actual cost of living; a sole focus on a percentage-based median wage leads to excessively low minimum wages, particularly in low-wage countries. The EU calls for a legally binding instrument that regulates minimum wages in Europe. The workers’ organizations believe that they can act as an impetus for positive wage developments. At the same time, covering as many workers as possible with labour agreements, which are negotiated in the social dialogue, is also a non-negotiable requirement.

The digital age requires that education systems - both with regard to their direction as well as the contents and the infrastructure - address the extent to which digitisation has penetrated all areas of life and initiate the appropriate steps. With regard to the work environment, qualitative changes can be observed in the labour market. The social dialogue comes under pressure due to the shifting balance of power.


  • Workers must have the feeling that Europe is there for them. This happens if e.g. social security systems are coordinated at the European level, which facilitates and protects employment mobility.
  • Even if there are large differences between minimum wages in Europe, their coordination is an important step towards greater convergence and an impulse for positive wage developments, which must be secured mainly by labour agreements in the social dialogue. Minimum wages must be given a legally binding framework at the European level, they must defined with the involvement of the social partners, and their amount cannot be based solely on median wages.
  • Digital illiteracy must be overcome and occupational training must be strengthened in view of the digital work environment.
  • With regard to the EU’s “Green Deal”, there must a change in thinking and the intended reorganization must also provide answers to the related and urgent social questions. This requires social investments that cannot consist solely of reallocated ESF resources.
  • EZA feels a responsibility to contribute to these issues in education and discussions.