European Pillar of Social Rights: what deeds will follow the words?

The European Commission concluded the ten-month consultation on the design of a European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) with a high-level conference in Brussels. Numerous interest representatives expressed their views on the Commission’s deliberations in more than 16,000 contributions. The European Parliament also set out its position. The final Commission proposal is scheduled to be presented at the end of April 2017, in close conjunction with the reflection paper on the social dimension of the EU.

In the political debates on EPSR, one idea articulated many times was that this this could help to address the increasing frustration and concern of people in Europe through a clear social policy contribution. Thus, EPSR could help to strengthen the European project.

Existing European social acquis very extensive and adequate

However, the debate disregards the fact that already today there is an extensive social acquis. Minimum social standards which are binding on all Member States are enshrined in 57 EU directives and four EU regulations, inter alia on equality of treatment, work-life balance, working time, information and consultation, health protection and safety at the workplace.

A concrete and detailed inventory of this social acquis and above all its implementation in the individual Member States must therefore be the starting point for any discussion on the design of the pillar. The European Parliament has also backed the fact of an EU already being the most socially regulated economic area in the world.

EP vision of a social Europe comprises new legislative proposals

Nevertheless, in their resolution adopted in mid-January, MEPs advocated that EPSR must contain not only a review of the EU’s social acquis but also legislative proposals, in particular a new “framework directive on decent working conditions for all forms of employment”. Furthermore, the introduction of minimum wages at national level was recommended, with the objective of achieving 60 per cent of the relevant national average wage. In addition, according to the EP, EPSR could only be credible if it is accompanied by additional financial instruments at both European and national level.

German employers have repeatedly pointed out that there is currently no need for new European legislative measures in the area of social policy.

European Commission President Juncker: “The time is now to put in place the European Pillar of Social Rights”

At the European Commission’s closing conference to evaluate the results of the public consultation on EPSR, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recalled that, since his appointment, he has said time and again that he would like to see a more social Europe but without going into detail as to how he would achieve this.

He announced a European social summit for fair jobs and growth on 17 November 2017 in Göteborg. In his closing words, Juncker underlined that the European Commission would be in favour of all EU Member States introducing a minimum wage/minimum income for workers and the unemployed. However, each Member State would still be free to decide autonomously on the introduction of a minimum wage/minimum income.

EPSR should be better intermeshed with white paper on future of Europe

Yet the concrete design of EPSR remains unclear. The Commission continues to follow a dual approach, seeking to strengthen the economy and opportunities for all – inter alia opportunities for young people, a better work-life balance and adjustment of employment skills with a view to the digital transition.
Furthermore, cabinet members have referred to a keen consciousness within the Commission that no mistakes can now be made with proposals which might give Euro-sceptics further ammunition. This explains why the final Commission proposal has provisionally been delayed until the end of April. It is now timed to be presented in parallel with the “reflection paper on the social dimension of Europe by 2025” so that EPSR appears to be better intermeshed with it. Information about the text
drafted by: Séverine Féraud (BDA)

Séverine Féraud
Senior Adviser