Sunday, 8 October 2017

Future of Europe: social dimension

In the European Commission’s so called (so called, because it did not contain concrete proposals) White Paper on the Future of Europe: Reflections and scenarios for the EU27 by 2025; Brussels, 1.3.2017 COM(2017) 2025 final, the proto-executive promised to contribute to the discussion by publishing five reflection papers:

  • developing the social dimension of Europe;
  • deepening the Economic and Monetary Union, on the basis of the Five Presidents' Report of June 2015;
  • harnessing globalisation;
  • the future of Europe’s defence;
  • the future of EU finances.

You can follow the discussion or participate under the Twitter hashtag #FutureOfEurope.


Social dimension: official documents  

We turn to the first Reflection paper in the series, accompanied by two short annexes, all available in 23 official EU languages:
Reflection paper on the social dimension of Europe; Brussels, 26.4.2017 COM(2017) 206 final (33 pages)

Annex to the Reflection paper; Brussels, 26.4.2017 COM(2017) 206 final ANNEX 1 (2 pages)
Annex to the Reflection paper; Brussels, 26.4.2017 COM(2017) 206 final ANNEX 2 (2 pages)


Social Europe reading
In February and March, before the Reflection paper was published,  I wrote a number of blog posts related to the theme and compiled in the entry EU social market economy and social pillar.


My latest posts, in English, have presented the Social Pillar package, also launched on 26 April 2017: Consultation report on European Pillar of Social Rights and Establishing a European Pillar of Social Rights plus Companion to European Pillar of Social Rights.


Legal context

There is a short overview of UN, ILO and European international conventions in the Commission staff working document, which accompanied the consultation communication: The EU social acquis SWD(2016) 50, page 17. Usually they bind the EU member states, mostly without the union as a party to the conventions.

Here, I am just going to offer a reminder of the main EU provisions.

One of the main objectives of the European Union is “a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress”, found in Article 3(3) TEU.

Among the horizontal provisions (having general application), we have the social clause Article 9 TFEU, flanked by Article 8 on gender equality and Article 10 on combatting discrimination. Article 18 TFEU prohibits discrimination on grounds of nationality.

Title X Social Policy (Articles 151-161 TFEU) spells out the more operational EU powers and their considerable limitations.  

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union compiles social rights and principles, applicable to the EU, but to the member states only when they implement union law.


Political context   

We should bear in mind the United Nations’ 2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the SDG agenda until 2030, not forgetting the mirror effect of the New European Consensus on Development.

Under the fifth of the Juncker Commission’s ten priorities, A deeper and fairer economic and monetary union -  #deepeningEMU - we find the policy area a European Pillar of Social Rights - #SocialRights on Twitter.

The approaching  Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth on 17 November 2017 -  #SocialSummit17 on Twitter - and the ongoing discussion about the future of the European project keep both short and long term issues of social policy at the forefront.

A Tripartite Social Summit with the social partners is scheduled for 18 October, and the European Council convenes 19-20 October 2017. After the Tallinn Digital Summit the EUCO president Donald Tusk promised to consult with all the member states and to present a “Leaders Agenda 2017/18” regarding the future of Europe issues.


Social dimension reflection    
The really short route is the Commission web page on the social dimension, which sketches three scenarios: only free movement (cross-border issues), willing countries (euro area) doing more, or the whole EU27 doing more together.

The press release IP/17/1008 offers a brief introduction to the reflection on the social dimension of the European Union by 2025.

The Commission hopes that the debate would clarify two questions: What challenges should our countries tackle together? What added value can EU level instruments provide?   

Back to the official Reflection paper on the social dimension of Europe COM(2017) 206, which does not take long to refer to the 25 March 2017 Rome declaration by the leaders of 27 of the EU member states. Social Europe is sandwiched in as paragraph 3 among the four aims they called the Rome Agenda: a safe and secure Europe, a prosperous and sustainable Europe, a social Europe, and a stronger Europe on the global scene:

A social Europe: a Union which, based on sustainable growth, promotes economic and social progress as well as cohesion and convergence, while upholding the integrity of the internal market; a Union taking into account the diversity of national systems and the key role of social partners; a Union which promotes equality between women and men as well as rights and equal opportunities for all; a Union which fights unemployment, discrimination, social exclusion and poverty; a Union where young people receive the best education and training and can study and find jobs across the continent; a Union which preserves our cultural heritage and promotes cultural diversity.

Despite the differences between the EU member states, the global and European  trends and challenges described are worth reading. At a minimum, the profound - even disruptive - changes should stimulate the interest of the EU countries to learn from each other, pointing to the need for the union to monitor and to coordinate policies.

Besides the human aspects, the need for (upward) euro area convergence and resilience weigh in favour of further steps at the European level.  

It is good to keep in mind that only 0.3% of total public social spending takes place through the EU budget, and the tools of the union are limited in the areas of legislation, funding, guidance and cooperation (pages 24-25).

The discussion continues about the future options for social Europe: limiting the social dimension to free movement, avant-garde groups doing more in the social field, or the EU27 deepening the social dimension together (from page 26). A healthy reminder of the stakes:

The political option chosen will have implications beyond the social field, stretching to the competitiveness of Europe, its capacity to harness and shape globalisation, the stability of the Economic and Monetary Union, cohesion within the Union and solidarity between its people. Any political option should also be seen in the light of the identified challenges, asking where the EU level can provide an added value. As each of the three options suggests a number of concrete proposals for action, also the choice among the possible instruments must be made in light of the challenges. Most of the examples given for the second option are also valid for the third and vice versa.

Dear reader, I leave you with the two questions about the EU’s social dimension mentioned earlier:

What challenges should our countries tackle together?

What added value can EU level instruments provide in this struggle?



Ralf Grahn