The European Pillar of Social Rights – concrete proposals?

The College of European Commissioners held its first orientation debate on Wednesday (27 January 2016) on the European Pillar of Social Rights, a proposal we have been waiting for since it was first announced last summer.

Unfortunately, the orientation debate provided little concrete news.
“I have secured support by all my colleagues in the College”, announced Commissioner Thyssen, responsible for employment and social affairs within the Commission. “It should be a self-standing reference document, of a legal nature, setting out key principles and values shared at EU level and there will be a broad consultation”, the short communication on the debate reads and continues “The Pillar would serve as a framework to screen employment and social performance in the light of rapidly changing work patterns and societies. The Commission wants to ensure that workers can be offered decent protection today and tomorrow. As a result of the Pillar, EU legislation may need to be revised or complemented to ensure common rules are up-to-date. In areas where Member States are directly competent, better exchange of good practice and benchmarking may help to foster upward convergence.”

For SOLIDAR this raises questions about the content of the upcoming proposal especially as there seems to be confusion between the terms “minimum rights” and the “provision of rights”.

First of all, there is no such thing as minimum rights. A right is a right. Rights cannot be quantified. Social safeguards are guaranteed by a variety of legal acts and treaties, but not always coherently implemented. Therefore, priority should be given to seeking to efficiently reduce the structural gaps affecting social safeguards in Europe whilst not creating overlapping policy reforms.

Nevertheless, the Commission repeatedly refers to “minimum rights”, such as Minimum measures to ensure awareness of rights and access to justice, Right to equal treatment regardless of the type of employment contract, Minimum health and safety rights, Minimum working time protection rights etc. In SOLIDAR’s view, the pillar of social rights could be a step in the right direction for a more social Europe, but only if it ensures fundamental social, economic and cultural rights for its citizens and the people arriving in Europe today rather than only focussing on minimum provisions. The SOLIDAR network considers an EU-wide applicable set of common and high-level social safeguards as an indispensable element for empowering people and constructing a social union. Poverty and inequalities can only be efficiently tackled by adopting a set of unequivocal safeguards for everyone living in Europe. This is what is needed to achieve the social and territorial cohesion stipulated in the Treaties.

For SOLIDAR, this set of safeguards consists of:

  • Adequate minimum income schemes
  • An adequate minimum wage
  • Guaranteed non-discriminatory universal access to quality and affordable social, health, inclusive education and training and lifelong learning services as well as basic financial services.

As the Employment and Social Development Report 2015 has stressed once more, only investment in people can bring Europe back on track for sustainable development and more cohesive and just societies.

Photo © European Union, 2016 / Photo: Georges Boulougouris

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