The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is starting to take stock of progress made so far in implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights ("the Social Pillar"), a tool for social policy proclaimed by the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission at the Gothenburg Summit in November 2017.
The Social Pillar is a key element in Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's commitment to achieving a 'triple social A' for Europe. It aims to build a fairer and more social Europe by delivering effective rights for citizens, which are essential for fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems in 21st century Europe.
To kick off the evaluation process, the EESC held a hearing on 28 March to assess what impact the Pillar has had at EU and national level and what measures have been taken to put into practice the rights and principles it espouses.
The findings from the hearing will feed into the EESC's own-initiative opinion on "The European Pillar of Social Rights – Evaluation of the initial implementation and recommendations for the future", which should be adopted at the Committee's plenary session in July.
The hearing on Thursday gathered together more than 180 participants representing a wide range of organised European civil society, including EESC members, representatives of trade unions and employers' organisations, and other civil society stakeholders.
The participants heard from policy-makers and policy influencers including the European Commission, the Romanian Presidency, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the European social partners and organisations representing various civil society interests such as the Social Platform and the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN).
Since its proclamation, the EPSR has served as the framework for various initiatives such as those concerning directives on work-life balance for parents and carers and on transparent and predictable working conditions, the establishment of a European Labour Authority and a Recommendation on Access to Social Protection for Workers and the Self-Employed. Although these legislative and non-legislative measures cover some of the principles contained in the Social Pillar, a number of its other rights and principles still remain unaddressed.
In order to ensure the implementation of the EPSR, the hearing concluded, legislative and non-legislative measures need to be evaluated at both European and national level and be linked to the European Semester and its country-specific recommendations.
The forthcoming European elections will signal a change in the European Commission, as well as a new mandate for the European Parliament. This EESC opinion will set out recommendations for the new institutions on how to continue implementing the principles and rights outlined in the Social Pillar. The EESC has previously called for a clear strategy for implementation of the Pillar that also takes account of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
To keep the Pillar in the public eye, the EESC will issue three own-initiative opinions on the subject in 2019: alongside the opinion on the initial evaluation of the EPSR and recommendations for the future, the EESC will also examine the delivery of accessible, affordable and reliable essential services and look at the role of public employment services.
The EESC was positive about the creation of the Pillar for all of the EU since it was first announced and has played a key role in supporting its proclamation, including adopting two previous 'headline' opinions on the Pillar, and insisting on the involvement of civil society.
The European Pillar of Social Rights, established under the current Commission and jointly proclaimed by European Union leaders in November 2017, sets out rights and principles grouped under three chapters: equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions, and social protection and inclusion.
The Pillar should help translate these rights and principles into legislation and policies at both EU and national level. Its implementation is the joint responsibility of the EU institutions, governments and social partners.
The EPSR has been partially mainstreamed into the European Semester, a framework for the coordination of economic policies in the EU, which now features some social criteria in its country-based analysis and country-specific recommendations.
The Committee has made sure that European civil society is involved in this initiative. In 2016 it organised EU-wide national debates about the Pillar with nearly 1 800 representatives of civil society. After the consultations, it adopted two opinions on the EPSR in which it considered how to secure social rights for all.