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European Commission - Fact Sheet

The European Pillar of Social Rights - Questions and Answers

Brussels, 26 April 2017

Where does the initiative on a European Pillar of Social Rights come from?

Building a fairer Europe and strengthening its social dimension is a key priority for this Commission, as indicated in the Political Guidelines of July 2014. In his first State of the Union speech to the European Parliament on 9 September 2015, President Jean-Claude Juncker announced the European Pillar of Social Rights: “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.”

Since then, 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. The work on the Pillar was steered through a project team of Commissioners led by Vice-President Dombrovskis and Commissioner Thyssen. It benefitted greatly from the views and outreach of Allan Larsson, special adviser to the President on the European Pillar of Social Rights.

Building on the input received during the consultation, the Commission now puts forward its proposal for a European Pillar of Social Rights. 

What is the European Pillar of Social Rights?

The EU is home to the most advanced welfare systems in the world and to a wealth of best practices and social innovations. The Pillar takes direct inspiration from the rich variety of these practices across Europe, and builds on the strong body of law that exists at EU and international level.

The European Pillar of Social Rights sets out 20 key principles to support fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems. The Pillar has been conceived as a reference framework to screen the employment and social performance of participating Member States, to drive reforms at national level and, more specifically, to serve as a compass for the renewed process of convergence towards better working and living conditions in Europe, primarily for the euro area but also for all EU Member States wishing to be part of it.

The 20 principles and rights enshrined in the Pillar are structured around three categories: (1) equal opportunities and access to the labour market, (2) fair working conditions and (3) social protection and inclusion. They place the focus on how to deliver on the promise of the Treaties of a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress.

The Pillar reaffirms a number of rights already present in the EU and in the international legal acquis. As such, the Pillar does not affect principles and rights already contained in binding provisions of Union law: by putting together principles and rights which were set at different times, in different ways and in different forms, it seeks to render them more visible, more understandable and more explicit for citizens and for actors at all levels.
At the same time, it complements existing principles and rights to take account of new realities.
Most of the tools to deliver on the Pillar are in the hands of local, regional and national authorities, as well as social partners, and civil society at large. The European Union – and the European Commission in particular – can help by acting in areas where it shares a competence, by setting the framework, giving the direction and establishing a level-playing field, in full respect of specific national situations and institutional set-ups.

What is the legal form of the European Pillar of Social Rights?

The Pillar is presented under two legal forms today: as a Commission Recommendation, effective as of today, and as a proposal for a joint proclamation by the Parliament, the Council and the Commission. On the basis of this text, 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. These legal forms take account of the absence of Union powers to adopt binding legislation in certain areas covered by the Pillar. The use of a joint proclamation is modelled upon the precedent of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. In a first instance, the text which is proposed is identical to the Recommendation mentioned above, but it could be amended in light of the discussion with the two other Institutions, and the Commission Recommendation could also be amended eventually as a result.

The preamble of the Recommendation and of the draft proclamation make it clear that the Pillar is primarily conceived for euro area Member States but applicable to all Member States wishing to be part of it. It will now be for the Parliament and the Council, representing all Member States, to discuss the draft proclamation.

Given the legal nature of the Pillar, the principles and rights are not directly enforceable: they require a translation into dedicated action and/or separate legislation, taking account of the specific legal context and division of responsibilities between the different levels of authorities and the social partners. A staff working document summarises the state of play.

It is also important to stress that in many instances, the major issue is not so much the recognition of rights but rather their actual take-up. This is why an important aspect of the follow-up to the Pillar will be on implementation and enforcement of the "acquis".  

Why do we need a European Pillar of Social Rights?

Building a fairer Europe and strengthening its social dimension is a key priority for this Commission. In spite of recent improvements in economic and social conditions across Europe, the EU needs to confront and adapt to unprecedented societal and labour market challenges. The economic crisis of the recent years has had far-reaching social consequences. Simultaneously, the current pace and extent of change in the world of work, combined with demographic trends, is further transforming employment conditions and society at large.

Looking at euro area Member States in particular, it is clear that the future success of the common currency 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, and on a renewed process of convergence towards better working and living conditions.

The Rome Declaration of the leaders of 27 EU Member States on 25 March 2017outlined the importance of a strong social Europe, based on sustainable growth, which promotes economic and social progress as well as cohesion and convergence, upholding the integrity of the internal market and taking into account the diversity of national systems and the key role of social partners, for the EU27 going forward. The Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth, to be held in Gothenburg on 17 November 2017, will be a further key moment to take these initiatives forward. 

What is meant by EU social “acquis”?

The notion of social “acquis” refers to the body of social rules that exists in the EU legal order today. It 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 Rightsas interpreted by the Court of Justice of the European Union. These are then implemented by secondary EU law, in particular through Directives. In the social field, the acquis consists of a body of more than 50 Directives that have been developed on the basis of the Treaties since 1958.

To give a few examples, there are EU rules on equality between women and men; the rights of posted workers; coordination of social security systems; 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 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.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is an important source of reference. The provisions of the Charter are addressed to the institutions, bodies, offices and agencies of the Union with due regard for the principle of subsidiarity and to the Member States when they are implementing Union law.

Finally, the EU social "acquis" also includes 'soft law', such as Recommendations on minimum income, on active social inclusion, on providing a youth guarantee, on investing in children and on skills. The objectives set out at EU level in terms of employment, poverty reduction and educational attainments are also key political references.  

What is the role of the EU in the field of social policy?

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. This includes the competence to legislate at EU level where applicable, the "open method of coordination" whereby national policies are assessed, and some EU funding.

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 be conceived as a productive factor, which reduces inequality, maximises job creation and allows Europe's human capital to thrive. The EU implements its social mission and objectives on the basis of Article 153 TFEU.

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 also touches on areas where the EU has no powers, and no intention, to adopt legislation, but where guidance and exchange of practices would be desirable. For instance, in the field of wage bargaining, the Pillar does not challenge in any way the diversity of practices which exist across Europe and recognises the role and autonomy of the social partners.

What else is the Commission doing in the social field?

The Commission has already taken several initiatives to address pressing priorities and to renew the EU social "acquis" in the spirit of the principles and rights that are part of the Pillar.

For instance, the Juncker Commission has given greater prominence to social considerations in the coordination of economic policies through the European Semester; it has frontloaded the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) to speed up 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 legislative proposal for a European Accessibility Act to facilitate access from disabled people to essential goods and services in the single market.

The Commission also proposed a revision of the Posting of Workers Directiveas well as of the coordination of social security systems between Member States – both proposals aiming at creating fairer, clearer and enforceable rules, and which are pending before the European Parliament and Council. It has also tabled a proposal to increase workers' protection against exposure to cancer-causing chemicals at the workplace.


Table: Commission proposals in social field since November 2014


Commission adoption date


Pre-financing of Youth Employment Initiative

4 February 2015

Adopted on 4 February 2015

New Start for Social Dialogue

4 March 2015

June 2016: Joint statement signed by the European Commission, the Dutch Presidency and Social Partners, confirming their shared commitment to social dialogue.

Platform against undeclared work

9 April 2014

Adopted on 9 March 2016

Recommendation on the integration of the long-term unemployed in the labour market

17 September 2015

Adopted on 15 February 2016

Accessibility requirements for products and services

2 December 2015

Currently discussed in European Parliament & Council


Revision of Posting of Workers Directive

8 March 2016

Currently discussed in European Parliament & Council


Protection of workers from exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work: exposure limit values (batch 1)

13 May 2016

First trilogue took place on 30 March 2017

Commission proposal for a Council Recommendation on establishment a Skills Guarantee (under New Skills Agenda for Europe)

10 June 2016

Council Recommendation adopted on 19 December 2016 on Upskilling Pathways: New Opportunities for Adults

Commission proposal for the revision of the European Qualifications Framework (under New Skills Agenda for Europe)

10 June 2016

Currently discussed in European Parliament & Council


Common framework for the provision of better services for skills and qualifications (Europass - under New Skills Agenda for Europe)

4 October 2016

Currently discussed in European Parliament & Council


Launch of the "Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition" (under New Skills Agenda for Europe)

1 December 2016

1 December 2016

Commission proposals supporting VET modernisation, such as possible revision of the European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for Vocational Education and Training (EQAVET) and the European Credit System for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET)

5 December 2016 - First European Vocational Skills Week

Next European Vocational Skills Week: 20 – 24 November 2017


Revision EQAVET & ECVET to be expected in 2018

Proposal for a European Solidarity Corps

7 December 2016

Scheduled for adoption in Spring

Coordination of social security systems

13 December 2016

Currently discussed in European Parliament & Council

Protection of workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or mutagens at work (batch 2)

10 January 2017

Currently discussed in European Parliament & Council


Launch of a Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills

January 2017

First E+ Sector Skills Alliances calls to support European partnerships in the 6 pilot sectors launched in January 2017, identification of additional sectors in the course of 2017.


The EU social priorities are financially supported by 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. Over 2014-2020, with €86.4 billion from the ESF, €4.4 billion from the Youth Employment Initiative (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 will be the cost of the European Pillar of Social Rights?

There will be no direct cost related to the European Pillar of Social Rights. The Pillar is to be implemented according to available resources and within the limits of sound budgetary management. In particular, as foreseen by the Treaties, the establishment of the Pillar does not affect the right of Member States to define the fundamental principles of their social security systems and should not affect the financial equilibrium thereof. 

At EU level, European funds, in particular the European Social Fund, will support the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The 2014-2020 programmes in the framework of the European Structural and Investment Funds, as well as other key financial programmes such as the Youth Employment Initiative, Erasmus+, the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund and the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived will play a key role to support many principles of the Pillar. The Pillar will also be a reference for the design of the post-2020 EU financial programming period. The Commission will work closely with the Member States, local and regional authorities to make sure that future EU funding is targeted to the identified priorities.

How does the European Pillar of Social Rights relate to the reflection paper on the social dimension of the future of Europe?

On 1 March 2017, the European Commission presented a White Paper on the Future of Europe. It was the starting point for a wide-ranging debate on the future European Union with 27 Member States. The reflection paper on the social dimension of Europe, also presented today, is the first in a series of follow-up papers, looking at where we want to be in 2025. It raises questions on how to sustain our standards of living, create more and better jobs, equip people with the right skills and make our society more cohesive, in light of tomorrow's society and world of work, and how can we adapt and protect Europe's social market economy.

The reflection paper focuses on key trends for the next decade and anticipates what further developments may transform European societies and the world of work. It also sets out a number of options on how we can collectively respond, by building a Europe that protects, empowers and defends. The European Pillar of Social Rights, also given its dynamic nature, is a key response to build more future-proof labour markets and societies across Europe.

For more information

Press release: A European Pillar of Social Rights

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Follow Marianne Thyssen on Facebook and Twitter, #SocialRights


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