In this era of digitalisation and globalisation, the EESC is calling for major efforts to implement balanced policies that put social, economic and environmental sustainability on an equal footing
To overcome the new imbalances and inequalities that have widened not only between the EU's different regions but also between social classes, genders and generations in European society, European policy-makers should ensure that social sustainability is taken into account in all their policies, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) said at its last plenary.
Arguing that social sustainability has frequently been incorrectly considered as antithetical to economic and financial sustainability, the EESC also warned against putting up the European social model for discussion, advocating strengthening it instead.
Presenting her opinion on the socially sustainable concept for raising living standards, boosting growth and employment as well as citizens' security in the digital era, the rapporteur, Giulia Barbucci, said that the policies put in place in the wake of the economic crisis, along with current challenges such as a declining birth rate, an ageing population, globalisation and digitalisation, had widened inequalities and created new imbalances between and within Member States.
In this opinion, Ms Barbucci explained,
we argue that there can't be social sustainability if these imbalances and inequalities persist. For this reason, it is essential that social sustainability is achieved in the same way as environmental and economic sustainability.
This disparity has been confirmed by the latest Eurostat report on progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in the EU. The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 SDGs represent a milestone and act as a boosting factor for the improvements that need to be made in many areas of our society.
Although progress on the environmental SDGs has improved significantly, there has been barely any improvement on the more social SDGs – such as "quality education", "gender equality", "no poverty", "zero hunger" and "reduce inequalities".
This is why we reassert the value of the European social model, which in recent years has guaranteed high social protection for all citizens as well as citizenship rights for all, Ms Barbucci maintained.
We believe that the European social model is a unique asset in Europe's identity.
The EESC opinion also fully supports the European Parliament's recommendation that the Commission and social partners should be urged to work on a proposal for a directive on decent working conditions in all forms of employment, including the new ones. "This proposal would combat the sense of mistrust felt by citizens and workers towards Europe and would provide more security for their rights", Ms Barbucci said.
The opinion highlighted a "connection between competitiveness, productivity and social sustainability" and recommends stepping up efforts to promote inclusive growth and guarantee decent working conditions, adequate remuneration and respect of workers' social rights. It is also important to guarantee smooth transitions between jobs while ensuring continuity of income.
Integrating migrants into a more inclusive world of work, increasing women’s access to digital jobs (not least for the purpose of eliminating gender-based wage differences and policies) and protecting motherhood also play a key role on the path towards a fairer society. The EESC also called for special account to be taken of people with disabilities, as they were the most likely to be affected by the digital transformation. This is in line with the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities and the European Disability Strategy. To this end, the EESC recommends reworking the mechanism for collective bargaining at all levels so as to adapt it to the current digital era and respond to its challenges.
The opinion also took into consideration the phenomenon of digital illiteracy, reaffirming the importance of not leaving anyone behind. The EESC considers it essential to increase the number of fair life-long learning and digital literacy training opportunities, in order to tackle digital exclusion and reduce the skills deficit.
Last but not least, the EESC considers it necessary for the impact assessment of measures to analyse how policies affect the lives of the many.