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A unifying agenda for Europe must still empower and protect workers

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Europe is still troubled by high levels of unemployment, affecting in particular young people. The risk of social exclusion and poverty has never been so high and the problem of the working poor undermines social progress. When you add the unresolved migration crisis and the low levels of trust in democratic institutions, citizens might feel lost and fear for the worst.

On International Labour Day, however, we need to look at the glass half full, rather than the one half empty. Let's not forget that Europe is home to the world's most advanced welfare systems and the European Social Model is a success story. It has proved its resilience during the extremely harsh economic, financial and social crisis that hit Europe in 2007.

The EU has reacted well. The economic recovery is clearly there. Since 2013, no less than 8 million new jobs have been created, out of which almost 5 million since 2014. In 2017, the employment rate of persons aged 20-64 in the EU was of 72.2 %, the highest rate ever recorded for the EU-28.

On top of that, EU leaders sent a strong and clear political message through the signature, on 17 November 2017, of the European Pillar of social rights which, if fully and properly implemented, will allow us to earn what we call a "social Triple-A". The pillar put forward 20 social principles. The most prominent include strengthening workers' rights, revamping employment law by bringing the gig economy into national social systems and introducing new rules on parental leave.

Creating a Europe that empowers and protects workers makes perfect economic sense and goes hand in hand with social progress. In fact, social progress and economic progress are faces of the same coin.

We should not shy away from our responsibilities. The world is changing at an unprecedented speed. We have no time to lose to tackle the challenges with vision and responsibility.

The risk of technological unemployment, which Maynard Keynes raised for the first time in 1930, is resurfacing today and is still just as worrying. However, fear is undermining our power to find targeted solutions that will provide us with the ability to swiftly adapt to the new world.

We must move towards the future with confidence to encourage innovation and creativity, deliver positive outcomes for a sustainable, cohesive and competitive social market economy. This confidence is the right compass for a race to the top for a renewed convergence on better living and working conditions.

That is the core of a powerful humanistic and concrete revolution and a transformation similar to that of the Renaissance. As new president of the EESC, the house of European civil society, I proposed last week a unifying agenda for the future, which could give this “rEUnaissance” a real chance to succeed.