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European Commission - Fact Sheet

Towards a European Pillar of Social Rights – Questions and Answers

Strasbourg, 8 March 2016

The Commission has launched today a public consultation on the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Where does this initiative come from?

The European Pillar of Social was announced by President Juncker in his State of the Union speech to the European Parliament, on 9 September 2015. As President Juncker indicated in his speech: “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. And which can serve as a compass for the renewed convergence within the euro area. The European Pillar of Social Rights should complement what we have already jointly achieved when it comes to the protection of workers in the EU. I will expect social partners to play a central role in this process. I believe we do well to start with this initiative within the euro area, while allowing other EU Member States to join in if they want to do so.”

What is the European Pillar of Social Rights?

On 8 March 2016, the European Commission has launched a broad consultation and put forward a first preliminary outline of what should become the European Pillar of Social Rights. This initiative is part of the work undertaken by the Commission for a deeper and fairer Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). As indicated by President Juncker, the initiative is targeted at the euro area, while allowing other Member States to join in if they want to do so.

The European Pillar of Social Rights should build on, and complement, the EU social “acquis" in order to guide policies in a number of fields essential for well-functioning and fair labour markets and welfare systems within the participating Member States.
The principles proposed do not replace existing rights, but offer a way to assess and in future, approximate for the better the performance of national employment and social policies.

Throughout 2016, the Commission will engage in a debate with other EU institutions, national authorities and Parliaments, social partners, civil society, experts from academia and citizens. The outcome of this debate should feed into the establishment of the European Pillar of Social Rights early in 2017.

Once established, the Pillar should become the reference framework to screen the employment and social performance of participating Member States, to drive the process of reforms at national level and, more specifically, to serve as a compass for renewed convergence within the euro area.

Why a European Pillar of Social Rights?

The economic crisis of the recent years has had far-reaching social consequences, which may hamper opportunities for future growth and economic performance across Europe.

At the same time, the current pace and extent of change in the world of work, combined with demographic trends, is further transforming employment conditions.

Looking at Member States sharing the common currency in particular, it is clear that the future success of the euro area depends, in no small measure, on the effectiveness of national labour markets and welfare systems and on the capacity of the economy to absorb and adjust to shocks.

What is the role of the EU in this field?
In line with the principle of subsidiarity, Member States are primarily competent for the definition of their employment and social policy. This includes labour law and the organisation of welfare systems. Such competence is recognised in the EU Treaties which, since the foundation of the European Economic Community, also foresee a role for the EU to support and complement the activities of the Member States.

Action at EU level reflects the Union’s founding principles and builds on the conviction that economic development should result in greater social progress and cohesion and that social policy should also be conceived as a productive factor, which reduces inequality, maximises job creation and allows Europe's human capital to thrive.

This conviction is confirmed by evidence on employment and social performance, and has been accentuated by the crisis of recent years. The best performing Member States in economic terms have developed more ambitious and efficient social policies, not just as a result of economic development, but as a central part of their growth model.

What are the current key trends in societal transformation and in the world of work in Europe?

The scope and nature of challenges confronting the world of work, and society more generally, have changed. Some trends are new, others are long-standing but require further action to address them. Among these are, for instance, changes in societal structures, family and work patterns; longer and more varied working lives; a more diverse workforce and the spread of new forms of work; the paradox between rising levels of education and widespread skills mismatches; new needs and opportunities emerging from progress in life expectancy and demographic ageing; technological change and the digitisation of society and the economy.

What is meant by EU social “acquis”?

The notion of social “acquis” refers to the body of social rules that exist in the EU legal order today.

It first consists of objectives and competences in the social field set out in EU primary law, consisting of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights as interpreted by the Court of Justice of the European Union. These are then implemented by secondary EU law, in particular through Directives.

To give but a few examples, there are EU rules on the protection of workers' health and safety and on working conditions, for example on the rights of young people at work, temporary agency work, part-time work, fixed-term work, protection of employees in the event of the insolvency of their employer and working time. In order to fight discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation (Article 19 TFEU), Directives have been adopted on non-discrimination in employment and occupation and on racial equality. 

What are the EU's competences in the field of social rights?

The EU implements its social mission and objectives on the basis of Article 153 TFEU of the Social Policy. The Union competence is to “support and complement the activities of the Member States" in a number of fields for people both inside and outside the labour market: workers, jobseekers and unemployed. The objective is to improve working conditions, social security and social protection, workers' health and safety, information and consultation of workers, and the integration of persons excluded from the labour market. Given that the Member States participating in the Pillar will be encouraged to take action in areas where they are primarily responsible, the Pillar touches also on areas where the EU has no powers, and no intention, to adopt legislation, but where guidance and exchange of practices would be desirable.

What else is the Commission doing in the social field?

The Commission has already taken a number of initiatives to strengthen efforts on pressing priorities and to refresh the EU social “acquis" to address new challenges in the spirit of the principles that will be part of the Pillar. For instance, during this mandate, this Commission has given greater prominence to social considerations in the coordination of economic policies through the European Semester and in its better regulation activities; it has frontloaded the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) to promote the fight against youth unemployment; it has issued a recommendation on the reintegration of long-term unemployed into the labour market to guide the Member States towards best practices; it has put forward a European Accessibility Act to facilitate access from disabled people to essential goods and services in the single market.

The EU social acquis is also complemented with the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), in particular the European Social Fund (ESF), which every year assists over 15 million people by helping them to upgrade their skills, facilitating their integration into the labour market, combating social exclusion and poverty and enhancing the efficiency of public administrations.

In 2014-2020, with €86.4 billion from the ESF, €3.2 billion from the YEI and another €38.5 billion of co-funding from national funds, the ESF plays a fundamental role in supporting Member States' investment in human capital and thereby in strengthening the competitiveness of the European economy as it emerges from the crisis.  

What is the aim of the consultation?

The consultation process has three aims:

  • To make an assessment of the present EU social “acquis", determining the extent to which existing rights are practiced and remain relevant for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges, and / or whether new ways to deliver on these rights should be considered;
  • To reflect on new trends in work patterns and societies due to the impact of new technologies, demographic trends or other factors of importance for working life and social conditions;
  • To gather views and get feedback on the role of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The consultation should serve to discuss the scope and content as well its role as part of the social dimension of the EMU, and to reflect on the particular needs of the euro area. Finally, this reflection exercise should also help Member States outside the euro area to determine whether to participate in the Pillar.

Everyone can take part in the public consultation by clicking here.

Who will be involved in the consultation process on the Pillar?

In the coming months, the Commission will actively engage with other EU institutions, national authorities and parliaments from all Member States, trade unions and business associations, NGOs, social service providers, experts from academia, as well as citizens. At national level, the Commission willfacilitate discussions through its Representations in the Member States.Likewise, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions will be invited to share their opinion.

A list with past and upcoming events set up to facilitate the dialogue is available here.

What will be the role of the social partners in the construction of the Pillar?

Social partners – both at EU and national level - will be invited to play an active role in shaping the Pillar.

This first preliminary outline of the Pillar will be presented at the next Tripartite Social Summit, on 16 March 2016. In addition, the social partners will be consulted throughout 2016 on various occasions. A list with past and upcoming events set up to facilitate the dialogue is available here.

How will the outcome of the consultation be structured?

To support the consultation, in addition to the general consultation for the public, some dedicated activities will take place to gather feedback around three main themes:

  • Stocktaking of the EU social “acquis": is it still relevant and up to date?
  • The future of work and welfare systems: what are future challenges and opportunities?
  • Role of the European Pillar of Social Rights as part of a deeper and fairer Economic and Monetary Union: what are the key requirements for a functioning euro area?

Which areas of social rights are covered in the draft Pillar?

The policy areas are grouped into the following three main headings:

  • Equal opportunities and access to the labour market, including skills development and life-long learning and active support for employment, to increase employment opportunities, facilitate transitions between different statuses and improve the employability of individuals.
  • Fair working conditions, setting an adequate and reliable balance of rights and obligations between workers and employers, as well as between flexibility and security elements, to facilitate job creation, take-up and the adaptability of firms, and promoting social dialogue.
  • Adequate and sustainable social protection and access to high quality essential services, including childcare, healthcare and long-term care, to ensure dignified living and protection against risks and to enable individuals to participate fully in employment and more generally in society.

Within these three headings, 20 policy domains have been identified, to which different principles are attached. These principles take as a starting point a number of rights already inscribed in EU and other relevant sources of law, and set out in greater detail possible ways to operationalise them. It is possible to comment to read more about these various domains and to comment directly on each of them by clicking here.

Why does the Pillar focus on the euro area Member States?

There is still a wide heterogeneity of situations among euro area member states and the experience of the past two decades has shown that persisting economic and social imbalances in one or several Member States may put at risk the performance of the euro area as a whole, and that an inability to correct these may result in even more costly divergence.

The euro area is drawing the lessons from the crisis of recent years and has embarked on a process of further integration and consolidation. This necessarily includes a social dimension. The Five Presidents' Report on Completing Europe's EMU stresses that "Europe's ambition should be to earn a 'social triple A'" and that "for EMU to succeed, labour market and welfare systems need to function well and in a fair manner in all euro area Member States".

While recalling that there is no "one-size-fits-all" template, the Report underlines that the challenges are often similar across Member States. It also calls for a stronger focus on employment and social performance as part of a broader process of upward convergence towards more resilient economic structures within the euro area

While focusing on the euro area, the Pillar will remain open to all Member States wishing to join.

What will be the legal form of the Pillar?

The legal nature of the European Pillar of Social Rights itself will need to take account of the legal framework at EU level and factor in the focus on the euro area. While various instruments can be considered to establish the Pillar, the Commission will find it essential to involve Parliament and Council, as well as other EU institutions, and to gather broad support for the implementation of the Pillar.

What are the next steps?

In the following months, the Commission will actively engage with stakeholders through the public consultation. The consultation process should be concluded by 31 December 2016, as the basis for the Commission to put forward a final proposal for the Pillar early in 2017.

The feedback received will also serve as a contribution to the work on the White Paper on the future of Europe's Economic and Monetary Union, foreseen in spring 2017.

 

MEMO/16/545

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