EESC Employers' Group gets solid backing for counter opinion on Social Progress Protocol

15 June 2023 - The Employers' Group of the European Economic and Social Committee today pushed through a counter-opinion to strongly voice its concern about adding a Social Progress Protocol that would fundamentally change the nature and functioning of the EU social market economy.

Following a request of the upcoming Spanish Presidency of the EU Council, the EESC adopted an exploratory opinion on the introduction of a Social Progress protocol which obtained 132 votes in favour, 102 against and 7 abstentions.

The Employers' Group, which voted united against the opinion, and presented a counter opinion as it considers that such protocol would seriously risk undermining the very basis for social progress.

Indeed, the proposal for a Social Progress Protocol would introduce the primacy of social rights over economic freedoms. By contrast, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has followed the right approach by protecting social rights and economic freedoms as part of the same instrument of the same legal value.

"Giving a general priority for social rights over the economic freedoms would be as wrong as giving general priority to economic freedoms," said Stefano Mallia, President of the Employers' Group. "The current opinion looks like a table with two legs. We risk that it will topple over and make us lose all that we have achieved so far," he added.

A Social Progress Protocol would indeed call for a Treaty change, putting an end to the existing balance between social rights and the four freedoms underpinning the internal market, a balance currently ensured by several provisions of the Treaties.

The EESC Employers' Group counter-opinion, which has obtained 101 votes in favour, 133 against with 7 abstentions, will be appended to the EESC opinion.

Such Social Progress Protocol was initially proposed by European Trade Union Confederation in 2008, following the decisions by the EU Court of Justice in a number of judgements, like the Viking, Laval, Rüffert and Luxembourg cases concerning posting of workers. The proposal was again put forward in the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

"Social policy decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the citizens of the EU and in full respect of the competences shared between the EU, the Member States and the social partners," said Mariya Mincheva, EESC Employers' Group member, who introduced the counter opinion, stressing that the subsidiarity principle, as enshrined in the Treaty, should remain at the centre of policy orientation.

Rather than the EU coming up with a Social Progress Protocol which would distort the balance between economic freedoms and social rights, and interfere with well-defined EU and national competences, it is important to progress towards a shared understanding of what constitutes the added value of EU, in terms of employment and social policies.

According to the Employers' Group, the employment and social policy objectives should continue to be addressed within the current Treaties and the existing legislative and policy framework at EU and national level, while fully respecting the autonomy of the social partners. As such, Article 3(3) of TEU, stresses that the EU shall work for sustainable development based on “a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress”.

For more information: Daniela Vincenti, Employers' Group Communication Advisor +32 497 412095

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Counter Opinion SOC756 Social Progress Protocol