The forthcoming period will be decisive for the future of the EU institutions in general, but in particular for the living and working conditions of EU citizens. This is why the Workers' Group of the European Economic and Social Committee is organising an extraordinary meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, to discuss the social achievements of the ending Bulgarian EU Presidency and to look ahead at future challenges on the way towards a social Europe for all. Speakers will include the Deputy Prime Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva. As the European Pillar of Social Rights will be a fundamental element and have a decisive role to play in achieving greater social and economic cohesion, discussions will focus on its implementation and financing on the basis of a comprehensive, pioneering study carried out by the European Social Observatory.
On the first day, the Workers' Group President Gabriele Bischoff will welcome the participants, after which the Deputy Minister of the Bulgarian EU Presidency Oleg Petkov is invited to hold the official opening speech.
The debate kicks off with interventions by Sultanka Petrova, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Plamen Dimitrov, President of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, and Dimitar Manolov, President of the Podkrepa Confederation of Labour. The discussion will focus on the social achievements of the Bulgarian Presidency and the ongoing negotiations on the post 2020 Multi-annual financial framework (MFF). The MFF sets the annual budget for the EU's policies for seven years and is therefore of great importance for reaching the goal set out in the European Pillar of Social Rights: to be a compass for upward social convergence, ensuring social and economic cohesion by providing equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions, fair pay, social protection and inclusion for all.
The first day of the meeting will conclude with a presentation by Philippe Pochet, General Director of the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), and a debate on "Benchmarking Europe 2018". The presentation is based on an ETUI study that demonstrates that, despite renewed economic growth in GDP terms, the proceeds of this growth are being unequally shared and structural problems remain in the areas of education, infrastructure and research & development due to the EU's preference for labour market deregulation and fiscal austerity.
Ekaterina Zaharieva, Deputy Prime Minister for Judicial Reform and Minister of Foreign Affairs, will open the meeting during the second day, focusing her intervention on the economic and social aspects of EU external policy including issues that Europe is facing currently such as EU enlargement to the Western Balkans and migration.
Building on the recent study on "Implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights: what is needed to guarantee a positive social impact", the Workers' Group will go on to debate and propose concrete funding measures of the Pillar. Sebastiano Sabato, co-author of the study, will present its key findings. The study highlights the need for adequate funding at EU level within the MFF (via the European Fund for Strategic Investment and the EIB) and at Member States level (more budgetary scope for social investments under the “golden rule”). It also calls for a roadmap for implementation and binding social targets, for example within the European Semester process.
Wage inequalities in the EU are one of the root causes of the social and economic inequalities that fuel populists' propaganda. A strong enforcement of the Social Pillar could reverse this trend, and the Workers’ Group will dedicate one session specifically to this issue, with interventions by Lyuben Tomev, Director of the Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR) and Vanya Grigorova, economic adviser of the Institute for Social, Economic and Trade Union Research (ISETUR).