BRIEFING PAPER #106:  SOLIDAR Reviews EU POLICIES on Access to Essential Services

December 28, 2023

In June, the European Commission (EC) released its first-ever assessment report on Access to Essential Services in the European Union. This comprehensive and long-awaited report examined the extent of access to Essential Services listed in Principle 20 of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), Europe’s guiding tool towards Social Europe. 

In this briefing paper, SOLIDAR conducts an in-depth and critical review of the EC’s report and sheds light on the key challenges to access to essential services in the region.

Central to SOLIDAR’s review is the statement that access to essential services was largely overlooked in EU policies, which, directly or incidentally, reduced it. Enduring liberal economic policies and deregulation of key sectors, including the energy, transport, and water and sanitation sectors resulted in higher costs for consumers, and turned essential services into unaffordable commodities.

In the energy sector, privatisation resulted in skyrocketing costs for people and staggering profits for big business. In 2022, 9.3% of the EU population had difficulties keeping their homes warm. Energy prices remain high, and it is unlikely they will drop to pre-Ukraine war levels.

In the transport sector, liberalisation of public transport and a lack of investments in rail have increased costs, isolated people living in remote areas, and boosted aviation with damaging consequences on mobility and the environment.

In the water and sanitation sector, EU regulations failed to guarantee access to safe and clean drinking water to people living in the EU. Around 4% are at health risk due to limited access to quality drinking water. EU regulations also failed to recognise the Global right to access water.

Local communities’ control over their resources and infrastructures has also diminished in the past decade.

Far more must be done to mainstream the EPSR in EU policymaking, and a complete review of EU regulations is needed to protect access to essential services in the EU “, said Carlos Roldán, Social Affairs Coordinator at SOLIDAR.  “This briefing paper offers constructive criticism and a series of recommendations, adopting a holistic approach that puts efforts to realise a social Europe for all, in line with efforts to achieve a socially just transition».

To be just, EU transition policies should address structural inequalities”, added Sarah Zaarour, co-author of the briefing paper. “Instead of austerity measures, better regulation of key sectors, progressive taxation, and redistribution of excess profits should be considered.

This briefing paper was co-developed by Social Affairs Fellow Philip Freeman and Sarah Zaarour, Just Transition Policy Officer at SOLIDAR.

Read the report or download it below.