by Jan Smets (editor-in-chief CDR) & Benjamin Dalle (director Ceder)
This publication about Social Europe comes at a pivotal moment for the future of Europe. As called for by President Juncker in his State of the Union address on 13 September 2017, the European Pillar of Social Rights was proclaimed at the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth in Gothenburg more than a year ago, on 17 November 2017. European Commissioner Marianne Thyssen has taken the initiative to launch the Pillar and has inspired us to take this visionary project to the next level.
Before the financial and sovereign debt crisis of 2007-2008, there was an established conviction that Europe would remain one of the leading global powers of the 21st century. The strength of Europe’s welfare state model, its pooled sovereignty and its pacifist project was an attraction pole for many countries in the world. But a succession of crises have shattered both trust within the European Union as it did outside of it. Already in 2005, when the Dutch and the French people denounced the Treaty establishing a European Constitution, it became clear that not all Europeans had an adamant confidence in the project of an ever-closer Union.
Subsequently, the financial crisis of 2007-2008, the migrant crisis of 2015, as well as a series of terrorist attacks threw the European Union deeper into an existential crisis, and right up until this day we are being challenged by an intense period of reflection. Nowhere is this more clear than with the current debate on Brexit. We are on the threshold of redefining the European Union, of explaining to people where we want to go next and of regaining confidence in favor of the European project. Undeniably, these crises put us to the test, but they also give us the extraordinary opportunity to redefine Europe. At times when Europe seems to be on the defense, we want to emphasize with this publication the importance of Social Europe for rethinking our future. Being in a crisis always entails making a decision, making hard choices about where to go next: the Pillar and the Rhineland model of the social-market economy are part of the vision that Christian Democrats have put forward to lead Europeans into a new future.
What is Europe? For Christian Democrats Europe is more than a market place, more than the free movement of capital alone, more than statistics and credit agencies. Instead, Europe is a powerful idea carried by and through people. Because we put people at the center of our political vision, we are convinced that a free market cannot be sustained without proper social and ecological standards. The Pillar therefore transpires this vision and ushers in a window of opportunity to show to people that the European Union is there for them, by virtue of them, and not despite them. Undoubtedly, this window of opportunity is now at our doorstep: 239 million people are currently at work in the European Union, we have known a period of growth and the minds are set in the right direction to draw lessons from this period of crises. But it is now up to us, Member States and civil society, to implement what the Juncker Commission has set out.
In her introduction, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen, reveals a compass for further action to guide us in its implementation. Based on a process of intense consultation rounds with several actors, the Pillar responds to a need for equal opportunities on our labour markets, fair working conditions and access to social protection for all. Importantly, she indicates the time has come for Member States, civil society and social partners to use the Pillar as a yardstick for reform in building a fairer and more Social Europe together.
Testimony to the fact that the European Union is building actively towards the construction of a full-fledged social market economy, is Jeroen Jutte’s article on the integration of the Pillar in the European Semester, through a Social Scoreboard. Drawing from his experience as a civil servant with DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, he considers the European Semester to be the most appropriate tool for monitoring action in key economic areas and pursuing a high level of commitment by Member States to deliver on them. According to him, the integration of the Pillar in the Semester points towards increasing economic and social convergence.
In response, Ive Marx, Professor at the University of Antwerp and Chair of the Department of Sociology, sheds a critical light on this positive outlook and sees important margins for improvement. Besides mending and actually lifting social safety nets for the worst off failing to reap the benefits of economic expansion, he also points towards full and systematic integration of social indicators – such as progress on minimum incomes – and thorough follow-up mechanisms.
The three subsequent chapters dive deeper into the content of the Pillar and its principles by highlighting three specific aspects: work-life balance, workers’ rights and long-term care. Tracing the evolution of the work-life balance in Europe, Eoin Drea, Senior Research Officer at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, identifies how the recent Work-Life Balance Proposal of the European Commission marks a first step in attempting to build a meaningful work-life balance policy for Europe. More work however needs to be done to move Europe from a maternity leave to a paternity leave society in which the daily stresses of family life are more evenly balance between men and women.
From a Belgian perspective, Member of the Belgian Federal Parliament, Nahima Lanjri evaluates our country’s efforts in meeting the proposals brought forward in the Work-Life Balance Directive. Although she concludes Belgium meets most demands, she welcomes the Directive for offering flexibility in implementing leave and work arrangements tailored to the current and changing needs of parents and caregivers.
Combining their efforts, Luc Cortebeeck, who was Chair of the Governing Body of the ILO from June 2017 to June 2018, and Chris Serroyen, Director of the Research Department of ACV-CSC Belgium, warn for unrealistic expectations of what Europe can do. In so doing, they instead make an appeal for tangible progress in the area of social rights and rules, setting out social objectives that are as concrete as economic and budgetary objectives.
Véronique Willems, Secretary General at SMEunited, the association for Crafts and SMEs in Europe, however stresses the need, not to consider the Pillar as a working agenda for the EU, nor to proclaim new rights, but on the contrary to use it as a compass for addressing issues at the appropriate level. According to her, the main deficit lies not with the lack of rights at the European level, but with social and economic governance. The mainstreaming of the Pillar in the Semesters therefore offers a hopeful vantage point for improvement.
Turning our attention to a Central European perspective, Tomáš Szalay and Michaela Laktišova, researchers at the Health Policy Institute in Bratislava, Slovakia, tie demographic developments, the migration crisis and declining birth rates to the challenges in the field of long-term care. They highlight the receding role of the family in providing informal care and the problems this entails for the formal long-term care system. Szalay and Laktišova thereby underline the need for a holistic approach of needs and the support provided, combining both informal and formal care.
In this context, Jozef Pacolet, Emeritus Professor at HIVA and the Catholic University of Leuven, sketches the historical developments that led up to the inclusion of long- term care in the Pillar, and points towards the slow, but sure progress that has been made in the field of long-term care in Europe.
Belgian federal Minister for Work, Economy and Consumer Affairs, Kris Peeters, concludes by underlining that Europe is more than a market and stressing that deepening the single market must be accompanied by gradually harmonizing minimal social standards. The Minister identifies three areas where we can make headway: a European Labour Authority; enacting legislative proposals such as the World-Life Balance Directive, the Directive on Predictable Working Conditions and the Directive on the Coordination of Social Security Systems; and financial investments in the framework of the Multiannual Financial Framework. Essentially, he states, the Pillar is about social fairness. For CD&V deepening the single market therefore equals the provision of the same quality of social protection.
We wish you an interesting and inspiring read.