Written by Nora Milotay,
The Gothenburg Social Summit (17 November 2017) is an important milestone in the ongoing discussions on the future of Europe. This is particularly the case as the last EU Social Summit took place two decades ago, during the Luxembourg Presidency. The 2017 Summit signals the increased attention paid to social and employment issues within EU policies, in response to ongoing, and even strengthening, divergence on unemployment, institutional capacity, or social progress, between and within Member States.
The Summit gathers EU Heads of State or Government, social partners such as employers, actors, civil society organisations, and other key stakeholders, for an open discussion on how to promote fair jobs and growth throughout the EU Member States. The main topics include labour market access, working conditions, and transitions to a more automated digital economy. The interactive format of the Summit should allow everyone to participate in discussions aiming at finding tailor-made solutions for the issues that arise in varying contexts across the Member States.
The discussion forms part of the broader reflection process on the future of the EU, and particularly of its social dimension. As envisaged in the 2015 Five Presidents’ Report on completing the economic and monetary union, a white paper process on the future of the EU was launched at the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, and will conclude by the next European Parliamentary elections in June 2019. The white paper explains the major challenges facing Europe, and describes five possible ways forward and their implications. The report was accompanied by five consecutive reflection papers on specific topics central to future EU policy: the social dimension; globalisation; economic and monetary union (EMU); defence; and finances. Each of these papers explain possible scenarios for future EU action in these fields. Some of the outcomes of the debate to date, involving leaders of the EU27 Member States (other than the United Kingdom), EU institutions, social partners, stakeholders and citizens, were put forward in President Juncker’s State of the Union speech in September 2017, which envisages a more united, stronger, and more democratic EU for the future.
Finally, the Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights, endorsed by the Council and the Parliament in October 2017, should be signed officially at the Social Summit by Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani, and Jüri Ratas, Prime Minister of Estonia, current holder of the Council Presidency. The Social Pillar contains 20 principles and rights that support the renewal of the current EU labour markets and welfare systems. It addresses three main topics: equal opportunities and access to the labour market; fair working conditions; and social protection and inclusion. Although, according to the Proclamation, the European Pillar of Social Rights was conceived for the euro area, it nevertheless addresses all Member States, and should serve as a reference framework for the future development of EU labour markets and welfare states. The Pillar builds on the existing EU social acquis, but extends them to new categories of workers, such as the self-employed.
Implementation of EU policies for fairer labour markets and welfare systems that respond to the current socio-economic situations in the different Member States remains a major challenge. According to the joint Proclamation, responsibility for implementation should mainly remain with the Member States, with the involvement of social partners. To monitor the process, the European Commission work programme 2018 plans to integrate the social scoreboard accompanying the Social Pillar, into the European semester process (the framework for coordinating economic policies at European level).
The European Parliament has come forward with several proposals on how to strengthen the social dimension of EU policies. The resolution on the Pillar itself took a life-cycle approach, and touched upon legislation, governance, and finances, including additional financial instruments for the euro area. Other resolutions focusing on the social and employment aspects of EU economic governance emphasised the importance of giving the same weight to social and employment indicators as to economic measurements in the analysis. Finally, other resolutions suggested the introduction of a ‘convergence code’, i.e. targets in relation to taxation, labour mobility, and pensions, compliance with which would allow Member States to access EU funds and fiscal incentives.