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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.

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 has put forward its proposal for a European Pillar of Social Rights on 26 April 2017. At the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council of 23 October in Luxembourg, EU Ministers of Employment and Social Affairs came to an agreement to sign the Proclamation of the Pillar on the occasion of the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth on 17 November 2017 in Gothenburg.

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 and rights essential for fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems in the 21st century. 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 guidefor the renewed process of convergence towards better working and living conditions in Europe.

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, the Pillar also complements existing principles and rights by adding new principles that take account of new realities, arising from societal, technological and economic developments. 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.


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. For this reason, the European Pillar of Social Rights is notably conceived for the euro area but it is addressed to all Member States.

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 the legal form of the European Pillar of Social Rights?

On 26 April, the Pillar was presented under two legal forms: as a Commission Recommendation, effective as of 26 April, and as a proposal for a joint proclamation by the Parliament, the Council and the Commission. On the basis of this text, the Commission has entered 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. At the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council of 23 October in Luxemburg, EU Ministers of Employment and Social Affairs gave their unanimous endorsement of to proclaim the Pillar by the Parliament, the Council and the Commission at the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth, taking place on 17 November in Gothenburg.

Given the legal nature of the Pillar, the principles and rights are not directly enforceable, but require dedicated measures or legislation to be adopted at the appropriate level, 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".

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.


How is the Commission delivering on the European Pillar of Social Rights?

A number of principles and rights included in the European Pillar of Social Rights will require further legislative or non-legislative initiatives to become effective. Where needed, existing EU law will be updated, complemented and better enforced, as exemplified by the rest of the package presented alongside the Pillar.

On 26 April, parallel to the presentation of the Pillar, the Commission adopted a proposal on work-life balance, it launched two social partner consultations, one on modernising the rules on labour contracts (Written Statement Directive) and one on access to social protection, and it adopted a clarification of the Working Time Directive.

What else is the Commission doing in the social field?

Building a more social and fairer Europe did not start when the European Pillar of Social Rights was presented. This 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. 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

Proposal

Commission Adoption Date

Status

Mainstreaming of social priorities and indicators in the European Semester of Economic Policy Coordination

 

November 2014

Embedded in the annual cycle of the European Semester

Legislation to boost the Youth Guarantee by raising the prefinancing of the Youth Employment Initiative

4 February 2015

Adopted by European Parliament and Council on 19 May 2015

Launch of a New Start for Social Dialogue

5 March 2015 – EU-level conference 'A New Start for Social Dialogue'

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

European platform to enhance cooperation in tackling undeclared work

9 April 2014

Adopted by European Parliament and Council 9 March 2016, launched on 27 May 2016

Social impact assessment of the new Stability Support Programme for Greece

20 August 2015

Published on 20 August 2015

Announcement on the establishment of a European Pillar of Social Rights

15 September 2015

Announced by President Juncker in his 2015 State of the Union address, followed by a public consultation that ran from March to December 2016

Recommendation on integrating the long-term unemployed in the labour market

17 September 2015

Adopted by the Council on 17 February 2016

Legislation on making products and services more accessible for people with disabilities

2 December 2015

Currently discussed in European Parliament and Council

Legislation to revise the rules on the posting of workers

8 March 2016

Agreement reached in Parliament and Council, now pending interinstitutional discussions

Legislation on improving working conditions in the fishing sector, implementing an agreement of EU social partners

29 April 2016

Adopted by the Council on 19 December 2016

Legislation on the protection of workers from exposure to cancer-causing chemicals at work (batch 1)

13 May 2016

Adopted by European Parliament and Council on 11 July 2017

Recommendation on "Upskilling Pathways": New Opportunities for Adults (under the New Skills Agenda for Europe)

10 June 2016

Adopted by Council on 19 December 2016

Recommendation to revise the European Qualifications Framework (under the New Skills Agenda for Europe)

10 June 2016

Adopted by Council on 22 May 2017

Initiative to support the modernisation of vocational education and training (under New Skills Agenda for Europe)

10 June 2016

5 December 2016 – First European Vocational Skills Week

 

Next European Vocational Skills Week: 20 – 24 November 2017

 

Entry into force of the Enforcement Directive, facilitating the enforcement of the rules on posting of workers by national authorities

18 June 2016

Adopted by the European Parliament and the Council on 15 May 2014

Legislation to make skills and qualifications more visible through a revision of Europass (under New Skills Agenda for Europe)

4 October 2016

Currently discussed in European Parliament and Council

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

1 December 2016

Operational on 1 December 2017

Launch of the European Solidarity Corps (first phase)

7 December 2016

Operational on 7 December 2016, first placement in March 2017

ErasmusPro: Promoting long-term placements abroad for vocational education and training learners

7 December 2016

First placements in 2018

Legislation to modernise the rules on the coordination of social security systems

13 December 2016

Currently discussed in European Parliament and Council

New strategy to improve health and safety at work

10 January 2017

Currently under discussion in Advisory Committee on Safety and Health at Work

Legislation on the protection of workers from exposure to cancer-causing chemicals at work (batch 2)

10 January 2017

Currently discussed in European Parliament and Council

Launch for a Blueprint for Sectoral Cooperation on Skills, a network between business, trade unions, education and public authorities, to deliver sector-specific solutions to skills needs in an era of technological change

26 January 2017

Six pilot sectors launched in January 2017 (automotive; defence; maritime technology; space – geo information; textile, clothing, leather and footwear; and tourism). The next 6 sectors will be announced in October 2017

Presentation of the European Pillar of Social Rights

26 April 2017

Discussions towards joint proclamation by European Parliament, Council and Commission ongoing

Presentation of the Social Scoreboard to monitor Member States' progress on social indicators

26 April 2017

Operational on 26 April 2017, to be embedded in the European Semester

Legislation to improve the work-life balance of working parents and carers

26 April 2017

Currently discussed in European Parliament and Council

Revision of the Written Statement Directive, to ensure fair and predictable labour contracts

26 April 2017

Launch of the 2nd stage of the social partner consultation on 21 September 2017. Proposal expected by the end of 2017.

Access to social protection for workers in non-standard employment

26 April 2017

Social Partner consultation ongoing

Guidance on the implementation of the Working Time Directive

26 April 2017

Applicable since 26 April 2017

Reflection paper on the social dimension of Europe by 2025

26 April 2017

Discussions ongoing, next key moment: Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth

Legislative proposal to foresee the European Solidarity Corps with a dedicated budget (second phase)

30 May 2017

Currently discussed in European Parliament & Council

Recommendation on higher education and vocational graduate tracking

30 May 2017

Currently discussed in Council

Launch of the EU Skills Profile Tool for non-EU nationals (under the New Skills Agenda for Europe)

20 June 2017

Operational on 20 June 2017

Legislation to improve the working conditions of seafarers on board of EU-flagged vessels, implementing a social partners agreement

27 July 2017

Currently discussed in Council

Announcement of a European Labour Authority

13 September 2017

Announced by President Juncker in his 2017 State of the Union address. Proposal expected by the end of 2018.

Setting up a Quality Framework for Apprenticeships (under the New Skills Agenda for Europe)

5 October 2017

Currently discussed in Council

 


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.

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

Website on the European Pillar of Social Rights

Follow Jean-Claude Juncker on Facebook and Twitter

Follow Valdis Dombrovskis on Facebook and Twitter

Follow Marianne Thyssen on Facebook and Twitter, #SocialRights

 

*Document originally published on 26 April 2017, updated on 24 October 2017

 

 

MEMO/17/1004

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