On 1 December, our annual Conference dedicated to Social Europe took place in the European Parliament. This year, the event was co-organised with Social Platform, and co-hosted by MEP Marc Angel, S&D. The telling title of the Conference was “Social Europe in the Answer!” and the discussions revolved around the future of social protection and the welfare state in Europe.
To analyse this dense topic, we could count on a panel of experts from civil society, trade unions, academia and EU institutions, who exchanged ideas and perspectives in a panel discussion, moderated by Alva Finn, Social Platform's Secretary General. Before the panel discussion kicked off, the Conference was opened by Mikael Leyi, SOLIDAR's Secretary General and Marc Angel, who shared some initial remarks.
After the panel discussion, SOLIDAR and Social Platform presented two key initiatives to advocate for a stronger Social Europe: the new methodology of the Social Rights Monitor and Social Platform's campaign on the cost-of-living crisis.
Dana-Carmen Bachmann, Head of Unit for Social Protection at DG EMPL, intervened first pointing out that the topic of the Conference was very much in line with the mandate of the High-Level Group on Future of Social Protection and the Welfare State. After acknowledging the work done by the Commission for the implementation of the Social Pillar recently, like the Minimum Wages Directive, the Council Recommendation on Long-Term Care and on Minimum Income, she stressed the importance of making sure that all these instruments are duly implemented, avoiding competition and reaching all people living in Europe. To conclude, she mentioned some additional instruments that give member states the opportunity to build a more Social Europe, like the European Semester and the RRF.
Esther Lynch, acting General Secretary at ETUC, brought in the perspective of trade unions. In her speech she reflected on the need to build our social protection systems with a rights-based structure. Moreover, she insisted on the importance of our social protection systems to have a pre-emptive approach to unemployment and to offer prompt and targeted reskilling programmes to people who exit the labour market. To this end, career guidance, quality training, paid time off for training are all essential measures, in the ETUC's view. She concluded by reminding the need to empower trade unions and empower workers to be agents on their own behalf and bargain for what they rightly deserve.
Paola Panzeri, Policy Officer for Local Governments and Gender Equality at EPSU in her intervention clarified that social protection should encompass much more than just keeping people out of poverty, such as employment, housing, childcare, and be available to all who need it when they do. For this reason, social services should not be approached as a commodity, but rather as a right, and this is possible only through public services, she noticed. Paola Panzeri explained that the way to finance these services is through progressive taxation. Finally, she concluded that women are the most users of social services, the most workers in social services and are paid less, which implies that a just transition must be feminist and include individualised social rights that break the dependence on the male breadwinner social structure.
Bianca Luna Fabris, Research Officer at ETUI intervened about the shortcomings of social protection systems in the EU, with a particular focus on young people. She noticed that the COVID-19 pandemic exposed all the inadequacy of the welfare state and made it even clearer that it is paramount that an adequate level of social protection for all is guaranteed, regardless of employment status or history. Consequently, Bianca Luna Fabris stressed that young people are more at risk of poverty and social exclusion and that non-take-ups rate is higher among young people. Moreover, she added that minimum income schemes could be a useful tool to tackle this issue, but in many EU countries young people under a certain age have no right to minimum income.
The speakers were then asked to identify one aspect of welfare state that they would prioritise:
Esther Lynch mentioned housing, which is included in the Social Pillar, but that is not adequately implemented across the Union.
Dana-Carmen Bachmann identified increasing the access to social protection for people working in non-standard employment or self-employed as a priority.
Bianca Luna Fabris stressed the need for adequate access to social protection for all.
Paola Panzeri echoed the need for accessibility to social protection and also highlighted the need for universality.
A Q&A session followed, during which topics such as the impact of the current crises on social services providers, the need for progressive taxation – especially targeting wealthy people and corporations – as well as the necessity for targeted (public) social services were touched upon. MEP Pierre Larrouturou, who was present at the Conference, provided insights from his experience on economic and fiscal matters within the EP.
The new methodology of SOLIDAR Social Rights Monitor
Carlos Roldán Mejías introduced the Social Rights Monitor, SOLIDAR flagship publication on the state of social rights in Europe. This publication is based primarily on the input provided by SOLIDAR's members and their partners, civil society actors and experts working on the ground, which is combined with scientific data and reports. Its objective is to monitor the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights at national level and to use this analysis to produce policy recommendations for EU-level policy makers. In 2022 SOLIDAR has redefined the methodology of the Monitor to make it more effective. In addition to a revision of the data gathering process, the Social Rights Monitor will also change the way in which it is presented. In fact, SOLIDAR will launch the Social Rights Web Map, an online interactive tool that will display the findings of the Monitor in a way that will be easily accessible and that will show more action-oriented content, like clear policy recommendations, as well as a score for each of the countries analysed. The new Social Rights Monitor will be published in summer 2023.
Social Platform campaign on the cost-of-living crisis
Hannah Grieve outlined the concept of the Social Platform's upcoming campaign titled “Over the line”, about the current cost-of-living crisis. She pointed out that the one of the cost of living is not a new crisis as 1 out of 5 people in Europe are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, which calls for more long-term solutions, beyond the contingent crises. For this reason, Social Platform intends to push for a European directive on minimum income to ensure that national schemes are adequate to lift people out of poverty. To this end, Social Platform has designed the campaign “Over the line”, open to all social actors that want to ask for more ambitious EU measures on minimum income schemes in Europe. The campaign was launched in the second week of December and will run until the elections of the European Parliament. Read more about it and share it within your network.
With the concluding words of Mikael Leyi and Alva Finn, as well as their wish to keep collaborating with progressive actors to strengthen social protection systems and the welfare state in Europe, the Social Europe Conference came to an end.
SOLIDAR will continue working on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and its Action Plan in 2023, stay tuned not to miss our initiatives!
These activities have been executed in the framework of the project ''Realising Social Europe For All and With All'' with the financial support of the European Union, through the EaSI strand of the ESF+ programme.