We had a very rich and solid political debate today. It really met the objectives the President had set for it. The debate showed that the Commission is ready to take the social dimension fully on board in all its policies.
Ongoing work on the European Fund for Strategic Investments, the Digital Single Market, Energy Union and also on the European Semester on socio-economic reform are already testimony of working in this spirit.
However, the challenge remains significant. And the debate also captured this.
The most recent forecast confirms a clear improvement in the economic outlook ahead. This has however not yet been accompanied by a strong recovery of Europe’s labour markets and social situation.
Unemployment remains intolerably high. We still have over 23.5 million fellow European citizens who remain without a job, 4.7 million of which are young people.
The crisis has brought the EU further away from its social inclusion targets, with little signs of improvement so far. Today, about one in four Europeans is at risk of poverty or exclusion. Unfortunately, many European citizens do not yet feel the effects of the economic recovery.
Today, we have looked at how we can best address our current employment and social challenges and support an inclusive economic recovery. The aim is to achieve upward social convergence and to bring concrete results to the European citizens. This means that job creation will continue to be our number one priority.
Raising our level of ambition, beyond what we are already doing, is the only way forward. The conclusions of today's debate make it clear how we can best achieve this in the future.
Labour markets are changing fast in the face of globalisation and technological innovation. To protect workers against the risks of today and tomorrow, we need to keep our legislation up to date. To this end, there are three areas where I see the need to modernise our rules: rules on working conditions, health and safety rules at work and last but not least labour mobility
Also our social protection systems need to remain sustainable for the future. I believe that upwards social convergence is the key to achieve this. We can encourage gradual convergence by establishing minimum standards, expressed in benchmarks. These can cover for example the duration and level of unemployment benefits, minimum income or access to child care or basic health care. I believe the European Semester would be the appropriate instrument to monitor its application.
The Commission will continue to pursue its agenda of structural reforms, investment and sound fiscal policy. Having our social partners on board is of course key to achieve the right balance between competitiveness and fairness. At the same time Europe must invest in skills and training.
In short, we need to make full and better use of the instruments that EU has at its disposal to achieve a triple A social rating for Europe. That is the only way to bring Europe back to people, by delivering what people care most about: having a good and decent job.