Lacking ambition or endorsing ‘business as usual’? SOTEU 2021 according to SOLIDAR

Every year, The State of the Union (SOTEU) address is a long-awaited moment in the EU debate, as it is the opportunity to hear the vision of the European Commission on priorities for the near future.

Weathering the EU out of the pandemic and the fight against climate change remained the focus of the address, as it was last year. However, SOLIDAR’s aspirations for the SOTEU, to put forward an ambitious agenda for achieving Social Justice through a Just Transition, were poorly met and civil society not even mentioned once. This despite the crucial role that solidarity actions and Civil Society Organisations have played in preserving social cohesion and awarding access to rights throughout the pandemic. SOLIDAR regrets that the President essentially failed to provide a vision for a ‘Just Transition’ that connects climate action with the advancement of social justiceOnce again, we were reminded that the Commission views ‘Just Transition’ as mainly providing financial support to industries and companies to prevent job losses, rather than using climate action as an opportunity to tackle socio-economic inequalities,  advancing access to social rights and to create decent work opportunities.

The President did, however, positively urge for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), calling for decent jobs, fair working conditions, improved health and safety at work and better work-life balance. Nevertheless, no clear strategies to achieve these objectives were outlined. Moreover, the first principle of the Pillar, aiming at ensuring universal access to quality education and lifelong learning opportunities, was barely present. Education was mentioned twice only and with a labour market-driven approach that fails the ambitions of the EPSR. SOLIDAR will keep advocating for the mainstreaming of lifelong and lifewide learning policies across the EU strategies to overcome the challenges posed by climate crisis as well as digital transformations. Education and lifelong learning are pivotal to overcome these challenges, and to advance social inclusion and tackle the striking inequalities that still leave too many behind.

The failure to refer to the Porto Declaration, notably to the three headline targets of the Action Plan of the EPSR, was a missed opportunity to send out a strong signal regarding the commitment of EU institutions to fight poverty and inequalities. As rightly spelled out by MEP Pedro Marques, “the Porto Social Summit was not a beauty contest.” Participants – including SOLIDAR and other CSOs represented by the Social Platform – “were there to make a difference for the future”. On the other hand, we welcome von der Leyen’s clear statement on the need to build a fair taxation system as an instrument to ensure social equality, as it is indeed a matter of fairness.

For the EU to achieve and guarantee social justice for all, addressing the shortcomings of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum would be essential. SOLIDAR insists that the Pact fails to propose a much-needed reform of the labour migration framework, and, far from being a ‘’balanced and humane system that works for all Member States’’, it shows a striking lack of solidarity both towards people coming to Europe and between Member States. The continued prioritisation of borders protection, fighting irregular migration and returning people goes against the European values of human dignity and solidaritySOLIDAR stands for the rights of all migrants, including asylum seekers, refugees, and migrant workers.

It is further disheartening that President von der Leyen did not address the lack of European unity in response to the recent events in Afghanistan, when it comes to ensuring the right to asylum for people fleeing Afghanistan, allowing safe passage, maintaining humanitarian corridors, continuing humanitarian aid, enhancing family reunification and demanding EU member states to stop  the deportations towards Afghanistan. SOLIDAR launched a Call for Action about the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

On a positive note, SOLIDAR welcomes the announcement of a new proposal regarding Global Trade which will ban products resulted from forced labour. This can be a useful tool for the EU to end the use of forced labour and put pressure on trade partners. Moreover, SOLIDAR calls on the EU to keep promoting the signature, ratification and implementation of the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and its Protocol (P029) as well as of the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105) and the Forced Labour Recommendation, 2014 (No. 203).

In a moment of socioeconomic recovery  and rapid climate change, SOLIDAR urges the European Commission to develop concrete proposals and actions now  to rapidly transition towards sustainability and tackle the increasing inequalities and poverty magnified by the pandemic, across and outside the EU, as well as for making full use of the instruments already existing, not least the Social Pillar and its Action Plan. The time for social protection, wealth redistribution, quality essential services, and support to fair and socially just digital and green transitions is now.

Copyright picture: European Union, 2021