One year after the proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, how many of these vitally crucial priorities for the future of a Social Europe are left standing in European Commission Work Programme for 2019?
Background: Each year, the Work Programme is adopted by the European Commission setting out the priorities and list of actions that the Union prioritises for the year ahead. The Work Programme for 2019 has been released on 23rd October and presents initiatives and reviews existing EU legislation for the upcoming year.
It is common sense when Commission President Juncker states that “there would be no better message to voters taking to the polls next year than if we were to demonstrate that this Union delivers concrete, tangible results for them”; the Work Programme 2019 fails to address social issues that truly matter to Europeans: In the Eurobarometer of last year, 63% of respondents stated that the EU must do more to ensure better health and social security and 78% of respondents wish to see more action on unemployment.
SOLIDAR finds that the Commission Work Programme 2019 does not fully respond to these concerns. The Programme approaches the diverse fields of social policy as a labour-only issue utterly neglecting Chapter 3 of the EPSR: Social protection and inclusion. One of the major shortcomings of the Commission Work Programme is therefore the reduction of the Social Pillar to labour market issues. However, in the programme we do not find specific initiatives to protect vulnerable people from social exclusion, inequality and poverty which are relevant.
Only a Europe that responds to societal challenges of an escalating gap between the rich and the poor, and a Europe that invests in education, equal opportunities, social protection, housing and gender equality, among other issues, will be able to face the current anti-democratic dangers. If the EU wants to “deliver”, as Juncker puts it, these are the exact investments for the future of Europe that will prove the credibility of the European project.
Therefore, when the Commission states that it is “ultimately it is business which creates jobs and growth”, it fundamentally underestimates the importance of social investment. Such spending enables equal societies to prosper and tackle pertinent challenges such as the skyrocketing of housing prices all over Europe. While a few social initiatives are under way such as the European Labour Authority, the European Accessibility Act or proposals for a better work-life balance and more transparent working conditions, these should not be proverbial drops in the ocean. We need to follow our social agenda and truly act upon it!
On the topic of migration, being a central heading of the work programme 2019, the European Commission sets as top priority the agreement of a well-functioning Common European Asylum System “based on the principles of responsibility and solidarity”. This approach fundamentally contradicts the notion of the reinforcement of border controls that have been put in place by various Member States. SOLIDAR warns against militarisation of borders and the criminalisation of solidarity highlighting that the rhetoric of “illegal migration” should be abandoned.
SOLIDAR is equally concerned by the very weak reference to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its SDGs. Indeed, the Work plan only engages the European Commission to “reflect on the road towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030 to follow up on the UN Sustainable Development Goals”. Three years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, this is worryingly beyond the repeated demand coming from CSOs and from the recent Report of the High level multi-stakeholder platform on the SDGs to develop and implement “an overarching visionary and transformative Sustainable Europe 2030 strategy, guiding all EU policies and programmes”.
SOLIDAR calls on the European Commission to truly prioritise the social agenda of the EU – as set out in the European Pillar of Social Rights - reconciling divisions in inequal societies and contributing to sustainable and inclusive growth for all. SOLIDAR is convinced that in times of democratic erosion within and beyond the EU, the safeguarding of this European project and the welfare states very much depends on how seriously we act upon the utmost necessity of delivering this social agenda.