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17 November 2017 – Proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights

The European Pillar of Social Rights has been proclaimed jointly by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission at the Social Summit, which took place in Sweden on Friday 17 November 2017. The Summit was a key moment to steer the work forward, in line with the broader discussion on the social dimension of Europe.

This proclamation by European leaders of the European Pillar, if followed through and actioned by member states, provides an opportunity to restore the social priorities which were so much a part of the European agenda in the early years of the expanded EU.

The ESCRI urged the Irish government to proactively engage with the European Pillar of Social Rights by responding constructively to the 2015 recommendations of the Constitutionnal Covention to strengthen the protection of such rights in our constitution. This would provide a framework through which the Pillar of Social Rights could be applied in policy and practice in Ireland.

Since the early years of the expanded EU, Europe has been beset by economic downturns, austerity and poverty – 118 million Europeans are now living in poverty. Widespread unemployment, especially among the young, and a fading of the guarantee that employment income can underpin a sustainable family life are the inevitable outcome of creating an unregulated, socially neutered model of development. The Social Pillar provides a basis for a restoration of the balanced social and economic development model which maximised both citizen and business benefit prior to the introduction of pernicious and destructive neoliberalism.

While people benefit from economic development they are not merely the consumers of economic product. People also have a social existence which gives them dignity and meaning. Human rights gives people dignity, respect and self-worth. The range of social rights outlined in the European Pillar of Social Rights gives expression to economic, social and cultural rights while addressing their indivisibility from civil and political rights.

The agreed Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights was initially published by the European Commission in April of this year following an extensive Commission consultation throughout 2016 on the EU Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar of Social Rights covers 20 specific policy areas under three broad categories:

  • Equal opportunities and access to the labour market: Education, training & life-long learning; gender equality; equal opportunities ; active support to employment.
  • Fair working conditions: Secure and adaptable employment, wages, information about employment conditions and protection in case of dismissal; social dialogue and involvement of workers; work-life balance; healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment and data protection.
  • Social protection and inclusion: Childcare and support to children; social protection; unemployment benefits; minimum income; old age income and pensions; health care; inclusion of people with disabilities; long-term care; housing and assistance for the homeless; access to essential services.

At the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council of 23 October 2017 in Luxembourg, EU Ministers of Employment and Social Affairs expressed their unanimous endorsement of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar will be proclaimed by the Parliament, the Council and the Commission at the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth, taking place on 17 November in Gothenburg. The Council also agreed on a general approach regarding the Commission’s proposal to revise the rules on the posting of workers.

Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, in charge of Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, welcomed the agreement and said: “The Pillar marks an important step forward for social Europe. The unanimous endorsement of the European Pillar of Social Rights shows that all Member States are committed to striving for better working and living conditions throughout our Union, in light of challenges such as an ageing society, globalisation and digitalisation.”

Irish Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina
Doherty attended the Council of Ministers and explained: “Since the idea of a European Pillar of Social Rights was first mooted, Ireland has been fully
engaged throughout the process. The Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights will be an important political commitment which provides guidance to Member States and the EU institutions. Its aim is to ensure that we have a social system which is robust in the face of 21st century challenges such as globalisation and the changing nature of work. The Government is fully supportive of the principles set out in the Proclamation and so I am delighted that my European colleagues and I agreed the text so that it can be proclaimed at the Social Summit in Gothenburg on 17th November”.

More background and reactions

At his 2015 State of the Union address, EU Commission President Juncker first mentioned the idea of a European Pillar of Social rights: “I will want to develop a European pillar of social rights, which takes account of the changing realities of Europe’s societies and the world of work.” A first outline of the Pillar was presented on 8 March 2016, followed by a broad consultation of Member States, EU institutions, social partners, civil society and citizens. On 26 April 2017, the Commission presented a final text, which contains 20 principles and rights to support fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems, serving as a compass for a renewed process of convergence towards better working and living conditions among EU Member States.

“Some hope is in the horizon.” says Sérgio Aires, President of EAPN. “The discussions about the future of Europe are an opportunity for the EU to show we care about the 25% of citizens living at risk of poverty. That’s the scenario that should drive the overall discussions. It is an opportunity to show we recognize our mistakes and restart the European project towards its original objective: peace and social cohesion. On 17th November this year an important step towards poverty eradication can be concretized. The Gothenburg Social Summit must be able to show the political determination to make a definitive step forward in this direction by agreeing on a mandatory implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights – and not only for the Eurozone. The Pillar must be implemented with good participative governance including civil society and those who are most affected by the current lack of social rights. It must be backed by adequate financing, enabling governments to invest in adequate social protection systems, quality services and jobs and a stop to austerity cuts. Above all it must lead to concrete positive improvements in the real lives of people experiencing poverty across the EU!”

Read Make Social Rights the beating heart of Europe! EAPN position on the European Pillar of Social Rights

Read also:

Will new Social Dialogue include and value the most deprived? – ATD Ireland

A youth perspective – European Youth Forum

Policy position paper – Eurochild

Priority 19: Housing! – FEANSTA

Will the European Pillar of Social Rights reach the most vulnerable in the EU? – ATD Europe

Social Rights First – European Trade Unions

Eurostat Pillar Data

 

A Major Step for the Recognition of a Socio-Economic Ground of Discrimination

In June 2017, Deputy Jim O’ Callaghan and Deputy Fiona O’ Loughlin
introduced a Private Bill in front of Dáil Éireann to amend the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000 by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a person’s social and economic background.

After an adoption of this first step in June 2017, the “second step” debates took place in the Parliament on the 8th and 9th November 2017 and the The Dáil divided in this way: Yes 85; No 48; Abstained.

This is an historic step forward gained mainly by activists and volunteers from the  “Equality and Rights Alliance” which published in 2016 ‘An analysis of the introduction of socio-economic status as a discrimination ground’, a report examining the existence and use of the ground in equality law and policies across Europe.

Follow all the Dáil Éireann proceedings here!

On the very same day, All Together in Dignity Europe published a position paper to call for an all EU recognition of the “socio-economic ground” in national and European equality and anti-discrimination laws.

 

Ireland Has Failed To Provide Adequate Housing Conditions on Local Authority Estates

Tenants  in Ireland led by Community Action Network (CAN) and other NGOs such as FLAC Welcome European Committee of Social Rights Finding That Ireland Has Failed To Provide Adequate Housing Conditions on Local Authority Estates.

The Committee found Ireland in violation of Article 16 of the Revised Social Charter, which protects the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection, including the provision of family housing.

This is the beginning. The Decision means that the Irish Government must now take stock of the housing conditions, and put in place a timed programme with clear targets to address the issues. They will have to report on progress to the Council of Europe at regular intervals.

The Community Action Network (CAN) and Flac, two active members of the ESC Rights Initiative, have been working with local authority tenants across Ireland who live in deplorable conditions – a violation of their Human Rights.

The Council of Europe provides for groups whose Human Rights as set out in the EU Revised Charter of Fundamental Rights are not being protected by the State to take a Collective Complaint. CAN organised tenants to gather the evidence needed to substantiate the Complaint, supported by The Centre for Housing Law, Right and Policy at NUI Galway and Ballymun Community Law Centre. In 2014, a complaint was finally submitted by a recognized European Human Rights body FIDH, to the Council , with the support of affiliate member FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) along with PILA (Public Interest Law Alliance). After two years of deliberation, the Committee finally announced its decision on October 23rd 2017!

The Committee found Ireland in violation of Article 16 of the Revised Social Charter, which protects the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection, including the provision of family housing.

At a press conference on Monday 23rd October, following the announcement, Cecilia Forrestal of Community Action Network said that she was hopeful that the Government would see the European decision as a positive contribution to its overall housing vision and would take the necessary steps to bring its laws, policies and practices back into line with European housing standards. Member states are obliged to take steps to address any violations found by the European Committee.

‘This is an important benchmark decision and it demands a serious response,’ she said. ‘We urge the Minister for Housing particularly to see this decision as a positive contribution to Irish housing policy. Nobody wants to see Irish State housing being run down. These Irish citizens have a right to a decent home, in particular the children living in State housing.’

Debbie Mulhall, a resident and community leader in Dolphin House said: ‘This decision recognizes for the first time that that it is the state’s landlords, the local authorities, that have failed to take the adequate measures necessary to ensure our basic right to proper housing.’

This is the beginning. The Decision means that the Irish Government must now take stock of the housing conditions, and put in place a timed programme with clear targets to address the issues. They will have to report on progress to the Council of Europe at regular intervals.

CAN, Flac and other Irish Community Groups want to thank all those who helped us to reach this point, and particularly those residents who have worked tirelessly to assert their rights. They look forward to building on this momentous result.

The full legal Decision on Merits by the European Committee of Social Rights is available here.

Read Pila’s article here.

To read the case report by the IHREC click here.

Further Background:

The Revised European Social Charter was ratified by Ireland in 2000. The Charter sets out legal standards in economic, social and cultural human rights, in areas such as housing and accommodation, education, social welfare and protection, and in employment. It also protects vulnerable groups such as children, people with disabilities and older people. It is the Council of Europe’s counterpart for economic, social and cultural rights to the European Convention on Human Rights.


In contrast to the European Convention on Human Rights, the supervision of the European Social Charter provides for a ‘collective complaints’ mechanism where representative organisations of employers, of workers, and certain international non-governmental organisation holding participatory status with the Council of Europe may take a legal challenge concerning a general situation rather than a breach for an individual person. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)  is one of the NGOs recognised by the Council of Europe for the purposes of collective complaints procedure.

The article of the European Social Charter which Ireland has been found to be in violation of, is as follows:

Article 16, Part I:The family as a fundamental unit of society has the right to appropriate social, legal and economic protection to ensure its full development. 

Article 16, Part II: The right of the family to social, legal and economic protection. With a view to ensuring the necessary conditions for the full development of the family, which is a fundamental unit of society, the Parties undertake to promote the economic, legal and social protection of family life by such means as social and family benefits, fiscal arrangements, provision of family housing, benefits for the newly married and other appropriate means.”

  • The legal basis for the decision on merits is Article 16 of the Revised European Social Charter. Ireland has not accepted Article 31 of the Charter which guarantees the right to housing, and the Irish government argued that the complaint focuses on matters that ‘in substance fall within Article 31 of the Charter’. However, the European Committee of Social Rights decided that some of the issues also fall within the scope of Article 16 of the Charter in so far as they relate to family housing. (paragraph 24 of the Decision on Merits)
  • The European Committee of Social Rights stated that assessments of the conditions of local housing are carried out at ‘considerable intervals’ and that ‘no national timetable for the refurbishment of local authority housing stock exists’. (paragraphs 115 and 120)
  • The European Committee of Social Rights also noted ‘that many of the local authority estates were some time back, ear-marked for regeneration, amounting to Government recognition that they were, inter alia, in poor condition’. Although new regeneration programmes have subsequently been developed, ‘not all of these to date have been completed, with the result that certain local authority tenants remain living in substandard housingconditions’. (paragraph 117)
  • The Committee found that sewage invasions, contaminated water, dampness, and persistent mould raised ‘serious concerns’ for habitability. It particularly noted ‘the high number of residents in certain estates in Dublin complaining of sewage invasions (for example the Dolphin House complex) years after the problems were first identified’. (paragraph 119)

See also the ATD Human Rights Leaflet prepared at the occasion of our 2017 conference.

A Basic Need, A Human Right! Housing Conference on Habitat Day!

On World Habitat Day 2017, the South Dublin County Public Participation Network and the Rights Platform will launch a major Housing report at the conference “Housing – a basic need, a human right”


The primary aim of this conference is to highlight and seek solutions to the national housing and homelessness crisis as it relates to availability and affordability of housing as it impacts on South Dublin County.

In doing so the speakers hops to provide clarity with regard to the existing housing context, identify barriers to the resolution of the housing crisis, both at a policy and implementation level, and make policy and implementation recommendations that will enable central and local government to deliver its housing targets. A number of housing experts will provide the context of the national and local housing policy and implementation issues, and offer solutions to the crisis.

Free download: the conference paperthe conference infographic

The conference will also act to strengthen the capacity of the South Dublin County Public Participation Network (SDCPPN) to contribute to housing strategy at local government level.  Parallel workshops will be hold and aimed at offering the space for individuals to express their solutions as the SDCPPN develop a position on housing which can be referenced in the relevant arenas within South Dublin County Council.

Louis Fitzgerald Hotel – 2nd October
Naas Rd – Newlands Cross – Clondalkin, Dublin 22

09:30am – Registration and Refreshments
10:00am – Chair Anna Lee – Welcome note
10:05am – Aiden Lloyd – setting the context
10:30am – Simon Brooke – National Housing Policy
11:00am – South Dublin County Council – Strategy to deliver social housing in South Dublin, including challenges and constraints
11:30am – Orla Hegarty – Solutions to Affordability
12:00pm – The workshops

  • Social housing
  • Traveller accommodation
  • Disability and Housing Needs
  • Homelessness

13:00pm – Lunch
13:45pm – Feedback from workshops by Siobhan Lynam
14:30pm – Rory Hearne – Housing Approaches and Rebuilding Ireland
15:00pm – Panel discussion with Simon Brooke, Orla Hegarty, Rory Hearne 15:30pm – Final comments and closing

The Social Charter, a Social Constitution for Europe?

The Council of Europe has produced this film with the aim of promoting the European Social Charter. This is a new way of communicating about human rights. The film implies that the implementation of the Charter contributes to the quality of people’s everyday life. It shows this through images of positive everyday situations, reflecting circumstances in which social rights are fully effective.

At a time when these fundamental rights are under pressure or even at risk, this treaty guarantees day-to-day human needs: work; health; housing; education; social security and protection, welfare services. The film suggests that implementing this Social Constitution of Europe therefore means ensuring dignity, bringing people together, contributing to their individual and collective wellbeing, as well as leading to social cohesion, peace and economic development.

The film has been made in the framework of the Turin process for the European Social Charter, an initiative launched by Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland in 2014 to reinforce the Charter, one of the key priorities of his mandate.

The film can be downloaded: long version and short version.

A Right to Housing Seminar with Mercy Law Resource Centre

One active member of the ESC Rights initiative, the Mercy Law Resource Centre,  with Senator Colette Kelleher (Independent – Civil Engagement Group) and Simon Community invite you to a A Right to Housing Seminar!

· Date: Thursday, July 13th, 2017

· Time: 10.00am – 2.00pm

· Venue: Emmet Theatre, Trinity Conference Centre, Trinity College Dublin.

This seminar will bring together key stakeholders to outline the importance of a constitutional right to housing and to map out the next steps that could be taken, working collectively, to advance the right to housing from a policy, legislative and constitutional perspective.  Speakers  to date are:

· Kitty Holland, The Irish Times.
· Rory Hearne, NUI Maynooth.
· Karen McLoughlin, SIPTU.
· Niamh Randall, Simon Communities.
· Maeve Regan, Mercy Law Resource Centre.
· Professor Gerry Whyte, Trinity College Dublin.

To register for this free event please RSVP to communications@simoncommunity.com by Monday July 10th. For further information please contact 01 671 1606.

The Council of Europe campaigns to reinforce social rights in Europe

On 29 and 30 June 2017, the Conference of the International NGOs at the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted both statements to support the strengthening of Social Rights in Europe. PACE adopted a resolution on “The ‘Turin process’: reinforcing social rights in Europe”.

The so-called “Turin process” was launched by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in 2014 and aims at strengthening fundamental rights in Europe, especially the better implementation of the European Social Charter of the Council of Europe into European Union law.

In its latest resolution, PACE now states that “social rights are fundamental human rights” which should be granted to all citizens. The parliamentarians are concerned about the lack of compliance with social rights standards as outlined in the European Social Charter in different European states, but also in EU legislation. Unfortunately no Irish TDs participated to the Vote.

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PACE parliamentarians and International NGOs (see communiqué below) call upon EU policy and law makers to incorporate the European Social Charter into the European Pillar of Social Rights to improve common bench-marking and coordination of social rights within Europe. With regards to complaint mechanisms, the resolution calls for a strengthening of the collective complaints mechanism linked to the European Social Charter.

Thanks to participatory status at the Council of Europe, many INGOs are able to launch complaints at the European Committee of Social Rights in cases of possible non-compliance with the European Social Charter. Currently a complaint submitted by FIDH is focusing on housing conditions in Council Estates in Ireland.

 

Together in Equality, Together in Pride, Together in Solidarity!

Ireland made history on the 22 May 2015 with the Yes Equality approved by 62% of voters at a referendum with a turnout of 61%. The Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution permits now marriage to be contracted by two persons without distinction as to their sex. This was the first time that a state legalised same-sex marriage through a popular vote.

The 1st March 2017 was again a historic day for Ireland. After decades of campaigning by Travellers and allies, activists and human rights organisations, there finally came the moment when the Irish State recognised that Travellers are a minority ethnic group. The excitement on that day was palpable. The intense emotion and pride of that moment when the Taoiseach made his address is something many in the LGBTQ community related to.

Now Ireland is invited to make history again… let say in 2019! Will you join the campaigners of the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Initiative and call on the Government to respond to the citizens vote of the Constitutional Convention of 2014? In February 2014, the recommendations of the 8th Constitutional Convention Report on Economic Social and Cultural Rights recommended by 85% support votes that the Constitution be amended to strengthen the protection of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. If the Government doesn’t respect the decision of the body it created, let’s be active citizens together and make it happen in a democratic way.

Join the ESC Rights Initiative and let’s prepare together the Yes Solidarity referendum!

 

Jane O’Sullivan (Community Law and Mediation) writes about the ESC Rights Conference!

This article is a guest piece by Jane O’Sullivan of Community Law and Mediation first published in the PILA Bulletin: 24 May 2017

The Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Initiative (ESCRI) is a coalition of over 60 civil society organisations that support strengthening the protection of economic, social and cultural rights in the Irish Constitution.  Members of the ESC Rights Initiative include Age Action, All Together in Dignity, Community Action Network, Community Law and Mediation, Focus Ireland, Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Mercy Law Resource Centre.  ESC rights belong to everyone in Ireland. The Irish Government committed to uphold them when it ratified the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1989. The protection of these rights is necessary to ensure a life of dignity.

On Wednesday 29th March 2017, the ESC Rights Initiative’s first conference brought together a diverse range of stakeholders to consider enforceability and accountability mechanisms for ESC rights at national, regional and international level and the need to enhance the protection of these rights. Speakers considered why enforceable ESC rights are important and the real and practical difference enforceability could make for individuals and groups in Ireland.

The conference was opened by Aiden Lloyd of the ESC Rights Initiative.  Before a capacity crowd, Jamie Burton of Doughty Street Chambers in London gave an enlightening keynote address.  The first panel, chaired by Anastasia Crickley, examined a State’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, how these obligations have been interpreted in other jurisdictions and how a balance can be achieved in the separation of powers between the different branches of government.   Dr Helen Johnston, Senior Policy Analyst, National Economic and Social Council, Colin Harvey, Professor of Human Rights Law, School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast and Gerry Whyte, Professor of Law, Trinity College Dublin provided a thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion.

The second panel was chaired by Dr. Liam Thornton of UCD Law School and asked what enforceable economic, social and cultural rights would mean in practice.  The wonderful contributions of Siobhan Curran of Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, Eoin Carroll of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, Dr Austin O’Carroll and Debbie Mulhall of Dolphin House Community Development Association and founding member of Rialto Rights in Action, put socio-economic rights in the context of real life and gave everyday examples of how the protection of these rights would affect the lives of people, particularly those at the margins of our society, for the better.

The third panel, chaired by Cecilia Forrestal of Community Action Network, explored how we can meaningfully progress towards the realisation of ESC rights in Ireland. In particular, panellists suggested mechanisms and strategies to trigger the implementation of ESC rights in a manner that allays the concerns of the State and citizens alike.  This final panel featured excellent presentations by Mary Murphy of NUI Maynooth and IHREC, Eilis Barry, CEO of FLAC and Dr Padraic Kenna, Lecturer in NUI Galway’s Department of Law.

Michael Farrell, member of the Council of State of Ireland, the Irish member of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and former senior solicitor at FLAC expertly summed up a day of rich discussion in his closing remarks.

The consequences of a lack of enforceability of ESC rights in Ireland are stark.  There is work to be done and this event, showing the wealth of knowledge in theory and practice, as well as a strong sense of solidarity and decency backed by strong legal obligations, was an important step on that journey.

The ESC Rights Initiative is delighted to announce that videos of contributions  and photos of the event  are now available on its website.

You can follow the work of the Initiative on Twitter and on its website.

This conference was funded by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Grant Scheme 2016-2017.

The European Commission presented the project of European Pillar of Social Rights

 

 

Building a fairer Europe and strengthening its social dimension is a key priority for the current European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker

On 26 April 2017, it delivered on its promise to adopt its proposal for the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar sets out 20 key principles and rights to support fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems. The Pillar is designed as a compass for a renewed process of upward convergence towards better working and living conditions in Europe. It is primarily conceived for the euro area but applicable to all EU Member States wishing to be part of it.

The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: “As Commission President, I have been seeking to put social priorities at the heart of Europe’s work, where they belong. With the European Pillar of Social Rights and the first set of initiatives that accompany it, we are delivering on our promises and we are opening a new chapter. We want to write this chapter together: Member States, EU institutions, the social partners and civil society all have to take on their responsibility. I would like to see the Pillar endorsed at the highest political level before the end of this year.”

The Pillar was prepared by the Commission, under the leadership of Vice-President Dombrovskis and Commissioner Thyssen, in close consultation with stakeholders at all levels. It reaffirms rights that are already present in the EU and international legal acquis and complements them to take account of new realities. The principles and rights enshrined in the Pillar are structured around three categories: equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions and social protection and inclusion. They place the focus on how to tackle new developments in the world of work and society at large so as to deliver on the promise of the Treaties of a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress.

Delivering on the principles and rights defined in the European Pillar of Social Rights is a joint responsibility of Member States, EU institutions social partners and other stakeholders. The European institutions will help to set the framework and lead the way forward for the implementation of the Pillar, in full respect of Member States’ competences and social dialogue traditions. A number of principles and rights included in the Pillar will require further legislative initiatives to become effective. Where needed, existing EU law will be updated, complemented and better enforced.

Already today, the European Commission flanks the European Pillar of Social Rights with a number of further concrete legislative and non-legislative initiatives such as on the work-life balance of parents and carers, on the information of workers, and on access to social protection and on working time. These initiatives illustrate both the nature of the issues covered by the Pillar as well as the way in which its principles and rights can be implemented.

A social scoreboard is also established to track trends and performances across EU countries in 12 areas and to assess progress towards a social “triple A” for the EU as a whole. This analysis will feed into the European Semester of economic policy coordination.

Delivering on the Pillar’s principles and rights is a dynamic process. The Pillar will inspire the work done in the context of the European Semester and on the completion of the Economic and Monetary Union. In particular, the Pillar should serve to re-start the process of convergence within the EMU and some of the principles and rights could act as guidance towards more binding standards for the euro area. The European funds, in particularly the European Social Fund, will also provide financial support to implement many key aspects of the Pillar.

  • Next Steps

The Pillar presented on the 26th April under two legal forms with identical content: as a Commission Recommendation, effective as of this day and as a proposal for a joint proclamation by the Parliament, the Council and the Commission. On this basis, the Commission will now enter into discussions with the European Parliament and the Council to work towards broad political support and high-level endorsement of the Pillar.

  • The European Parliament calls for highest possible common standards

On 26th April, MEPs stressed in a debate that the “European Pillar of Social Rights” which includes common EU-wide social rights should be pegged at the highest level and not lead to a “race to the bottom”.
“The Pillar’s three key parts – equal opportunities in access to the labour market, fair working conditions and social protection – were presented by Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who stressed the need to promote “upward convergence” among EU member states by reforming working and social conditions on the best available model. In the ensuing debate, MEPs mostly agreed with the proposals, although several speakers called for more ambitious legislation at EU level. They also felt that more needed to be done to fight poverty and youth unemployment. Others pointed out that social security systems, which are costly, are the responsibility of national governments, and therefore opposed shifting more powers to EU level. Commissioner Marianne Thyssen wrapped up the debate by reiterating that the pillar is the start of the process and provides guidance for better employment, while the details will have to be hammered out in consultations with social partners, and debates between the European Parliament, the EU Commission and the member states.”

  • The European Anti-Poverty Network welcomed the good intentions behind the European Pillar of Social Rights but is asking: “is it enough to save Social Europe?”

The European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) is the largest European network of national, regional and local networks, involving anti-poverty NGOs and grassroots groups as well as European Organisations, active in the fight against poverty and social exclusion. It was established in 1990.

EAPN welcomeed the adoption of the Communication and the Social Pillar package as an important demonstration of a will to deliver on President Juncker’s promise of the “Social Triple A”, at a time when Europe faces the consequences of long standing mistakes and a real threat of disintegration. However, we are concerned about the concrete impact on the lives of the 1 in 4 Europeans living in poverty.  Will it help to guarantee or reinforce their social rights? Will it help to rebalance the EU priorities to ensure economy policies deliver for people, not just for business? These in the end will be the key tests if people are to renew their faith in Social Europe.

Initial key positive elements include a clear rights-based approach aiming at upward convergence on rights as well as improving take up of rights. Some important improvements are seen in the key principles – for example the recognition that children have a right to protection from poverty, the new provision of a right to social protection to apply to all types of workers; the recognition of the right to adequate unemployment benefits for reasonable duration, and very importantly for EAPN, the explicit stating of the right to a minimum income that ensures a life in dignity. The legislative proposals on work-life balance and access to social protection also appear a positive step forward, as do the extension of a social scoreboard and the mainstreaming of monitoring through the European Semester.

However, the pillar remains a framework of principles rather than binding obligations that can guarantee rights, particularly for the most vulnerable, and initially it is only focused on the Euro area, and this is one of the major concerns. The lack of focus on poverty and social exclusion (beyond children), or link to Europe 2020 targets raises high concerns. We would need to see more concrete benchmarks particularly in key areas of social protection and social inclusion, linked to active inclusion, and explore in detail how the package will be implemented on the ground with the involvement of Member States and stakeholders. The lack of concrete legal and non-legal initiatives and proposals for EU frameworks on minimum income, minimum wage and funding levels for social protection raises worries of how the package will benefit those people who are not working, or only in poor quality jobs. Finally, whilst civil society is identified as an actor to aid implementation, civil dialogue is not considered on a par with social dialogue, which is a very difficult to understand – and accept – missed opportunity.

“We had, understandably, great expectations about the pillar. As we have said so many times, we believed this could be the last chance for rebuilding a Social Europe. Therefore, and believing that this initiative will really make a difference to people’s lives, we actively involved our members and people experiencing poverty in consultations at local, national and EU levels. It is absolutely vital that this initiative leads to concrete and some immediate results for people living in poverty, otherwise it will be impossible to keep and gain support for defending Social Europe – or any Europe at all.” said Sérgio Aires, President of EAPN.

EAPN will be examining the package in detail with its members over the coming weeks.

  • FEANTSA warmly welcomed the fact that Priority 19 is “housing and assistance for the homeless”

FEANTSA is the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless, the only European NGO focusing exclusively on the fight against homelessness. FEANTSA’s ultimate goal is an end to homelessness in Europe. Established in 1989, it brings together non-profit services that support homeless people in Europe with over 130 member organisations from 30 countries, including 28 Member States.

FEANTSA warmly welcomed the fact that Priority 19 is “housing and assistance for the homeless”, stating:

  1. Access to social housing or housing assistance of good quality shall be provided for those in need.
  2. Vulnerable people have the right to appropriate assistance and protection against forced eviction.
  3. Adequate shelter and services shall be provided to the homeless in order to promote their social inclusion.

This brings together various aspects of the right to housing in a new way at EU level. It establishes that everyone in the EU should have a decent home, with social housing or housing assistance provided to those who need it. People should be protected from eviction and no one should ever be left without shelter.

FEANTSA is hopeful that Priority 19 can become an actionable framework for real progress. It is campaigning for the EU to be fair, and stand up for homeless people. FEANTSA will be working in the next weeks and months to ensure that the Pillar delivers more than the proclamation of housing rights. It will  work with the Commission, national governments, regions, cities and other stakeholders to turn Priority 19 into more political ambition and concrete measures to put an end to homelessness and secure the right to housing for all.

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  • The Background to the Pillar

The EU is home to the most advanced welfare systems in the world and to a wealth of best practices and social innovations, but it needs to confront and adapt to unprecedented societal challenges. Although economic and social conditions across Europe have improved and employment has never been as high, the aftermath of the crisis of the last decade is still far-reaching, from long-term and youth unemployment to risks of poverty in many parts of Europe. At the same time, the world of work and our societies are changing fast, with new opportunities and new challenges arising from globalisation, the digital revolution, changing work patterns and demographic developments. All levels of public authorities, social partners and civil society share a responsibility and an interest in working for a more prosperous and future-proof Europe, where economic and social developments go hand in hand.

The Juncker Commission made a social Europe one of its priorities from the very start, as reflected in its Political Guidelines of July 2014. In September 2015, on the occasion of President Juncker’s first State of the Union, he said: “We have to step up the work for a fair and truly pan-European labour market. (…) As part of these efforts, I will want to develop a European Pillar of Social Rights, which takes account of the changing realities of Europe’s societies and the world of work.

Since this announcement, the Commission has engaged actively with Member States, EU institutions, social partners, civil society and citizens on the content and role of the Pillar. In March 2016, the Commission presented a preliminary outline of the European Pillar of Social Rights, and launched a broad public consultation to gather feedback, which concluded in January 2017 with a high-level conference.

Building on the input received during the consultation, the Commission now puts forward its proposal for a European Pillar of Social Rights, which is about delivering new and more effective rights for citizens. The Pillar takes direct inspiration from the richness of the practices across Europe, and builds on the strong body of law which exists at EU and international level.

For more information

MEMO: The European Pillar of Social Rights – Questions and Answers

Factsheet: European Pillar of Social Rights

Commission Communication on the European Pillar of Social Rights

Further information on the 20 principles and rights under the European Pillar of Social Rights

Report following the public consultation on the European Pillar of Social Rights

Factsheet: Social Scoreboard

Brochure: Social Scoreboard 2017

Social Scoreboard online tool

Website on the European Pillar of Social Rights

EU Press release: Delivering on the European Pillar of Social Rights

Reflection paper on the social dimension of the future of the EU

EAPN Position Paper on the Pillar of Social Rights

FEANTSA press release

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