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