Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,
At today's College meeting we had several important issues.
First, we adopted a major social package. I will elaborate on the reflection paper on the social dimension of Europe and the European Pillar of Social Rights. The reflection paper follows the White Paper presented early March and feeds into the wider debate on Europe's future.
The reflection paper provides an overview of the social realities in Europe and the challenges awaiting us. Digitisation, globalisation and demographic transformations already make their impact felt and will only deepen with time. New work patterns – often based on freelance or self-employment, increasingly also in the collaborative economy and online platforms – all add to the need to revisit our social "acquis".
The reflection paper looks at Europe in 2025 and offers food for thought on current trends themselves and on their potential impact on our labour markets, our welfare systems and society as a whole. It discusses how we can offer effective education and opportunities for skills development throughout people's lives and how we should adapt social legislation to the new ways of work. It deals with how we can get the policies right and who should be doing what, from appropriate forms of social dialogue to the way we want the EU to shape the social agenda in the future.
In the logic of the White Paper, the reflection paper is meant to kick-start a debate and presents a number of options for the future of social Europe. This debate boils down to a very political question: what role can and should the EU play in the social field in the future? Clearly, this is a field where subsidiarity plays a large role, but where action at European level also has real value added.
The options discussed in the paper are, broadly speaking,
- to limit the social dimension of Europe to the issue of free movement;
- to have a coalition of willing Member States move forward in the social field;
- or to deepen the social dimension of Europe together with all 27 Member States.
All of these options are feasible within the current Treaties.
The choices we will make all have important practical repercussions, and these should be part of the reflection. The social Summit in Gothenburg in November will be an important moment to take this discussion forward.
Second, we have adopted the European Pillar of Social Rights. This is a promise made by President Juncker at the start of the mandate and on which we have conducted broad consultations. The Pillar sets out 20 key principles and rights to support fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems. It is designed to offer direction for a renewed process of upward convergence towards better working and living conditions in Europe. And it is accompanied by a number of concrete deliverables.
As Margaritis mentioned, there will be a dedicated press conference on this later, by Commissioners Thyssen and Jourova. Delivering on Social Europe can only be a joint endeavour. We therefore aim to reach political agreement on the Pillar at the highest level through a joint proclamation of the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission.
In our view, we should aim for such a proclamation by the end of the year.
We have also today discussed the legal issues and respect for EU fundamental values in Hungary. I won't say too much now, as First Vice-President Timmermans will be in the European Parliament this afternoon to explain in detail.
What I can tell you is that we will publish, this afternoon, our response to the 'Stop Brussels' consultation of the Hungarian Government; to set the record straight on several incorrect or highly misleading claims and allegations. We have also decided to take legal action on the Higher Education Law, by sending a Letter of Formal Notice to the Hungarian Government on the basis of an in-depth legal assessment. We will continue our dialogue with the Hungarian authorities on other outstanding concerns, including in the field of asylum, and will follow closely the draft law on registration of NGOs which has also raised concerns.
And finally, we discussed developments in Turkey. The situation concerns us greatly. There are nevertheless a number of areas in which we must work together.
Over the last months, there have been few bilateral contacts. So we now have to start engaging again, step by step.