Thank you very much to our speakers and participants for joining us today at this conference dedicated to the Social Summit to be organised on 7-8 May in Porto. I would also like to thank the presidents of our three groups – Employers' group, Workers' group and Diversity Europe for organising this event.
We have the occasion today to discuss on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and the importance of social progress, which is intertwined with economic progress and takes place in a challenging context of recovery and adaptation to the climate, digital and demographic transitions.
Our event today is very timely, given the past and continuous work of the EESC. Our plenary session has just adopted a resolution in view of the Porto Social Summit. Our three groups presidents and rapporteurs on the resolution will share more information on it later. We also work on an opinion on the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, which should be adopted early July, and which will include recommendations on how to best implement the conclusions of the Social Summit.
Allow me to start with some thoughts regarding the Porto Social Summit itself:
I would first like to congratulate the Portuguese Presidency for the initiative of holding this summit. This event will focus on how to strengthen Europe's social dimension to meet the challenges of climate change and the digital transition, in order to ensure equal opportunities for all and that no one is left behind.
It is expected to give political impetus to the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and its Action Plan. It should also provide an opportunity to reinforce dialogue with social partners, civil society organisations and with citizens.
The Summit, and especially the high-level conference on Day 1 is an important occasion for the EESC to contribute to the debate on the Action Plan. I will have the pleasure to participate, together with the presidents of our three groups.
Our resolution on the Porto Summit rightfully says that it is a unique opportunity for the EU "to place citizens squarely at the centre of the European project", "leaving nobody behind". "It should also support our economy and society to achieve sustainability, giving equal weight to the economic, social and environmental dimensions."
The Social Summit raises a lot of expectations in the current situation of social distress from all stakeholders to maintain and develop the European social model.
To say a few words on the current situation, I was asked to "set the scene":
We are still in the middle of the unprecedented Covid sanitary crisis, which is having a profound impact on our economies, people and labour markets.
Many important measures have been taken to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, including by social partners, in particular introduction of short-time working schemes. We do not yet know the exact impact of these schemes – this is something that the Commission will monitor in the coming months and years; and the situation on labour markets remains very uncertain, also increasing the number of people in risk of poverty.
What we clearly see is that companies struggle to maintain their activities and an increasing number of them have to close down. Unemployment rates in Europe have increased, as well as the risk of poverty. About 16 million men and women in the EU look for a job, but cannot find one. 3 million youngsters are unemployed and almost one on 4 children is at risk at poverty.
In this context, I believe that the urgency is to recover from the current crisis and to ensure EU's resilience for future. At the same time, we need to seize this opportunity to create another tomorrow – one that is sustainable, counteracts the effects of demographic decline and reaps the benefits of digitalisation. We need to ensure a sustainable and inclusive growth for the whole of the EU, its Member States, regions, companies and citizens. Europe's companies, workers and people need support to survive, recover and become more resilient.
To be able to further improve Europe's social dimension:
1. Our social policies must go hand in hand with those that bring economic progress, increasing growth and competitiveness across all Europe. This means, among others, fully realising the EU internal market, encouraging investment and innovation, promoting entrepreneurship, having a proactive and strategic trade policy. This also means supporting businesses to maintain their employees and create new jobs and avoiding disproportionate burdens at a time when they are struggling to survive and to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
2. Action needs to be taken at the right level: be it the EU, Member States, regional and local authorities and social partners. Delivering on the EPSR is a shared political commitment and responsibility at European and national level, within the respective competences. The EU social model is based on different national models, which must be preserved. The EU needs to respect the diversity of member states’ social systems, which are based on deeply rooted political choices and societal traditions.
Next Generation EU and in particular the Recovery and Resilience Facility will be deploying an unprecedented amount of grants and loans to support structural reforms in the next years. Resources need to be used in an effective way to generate economic growth and employment while respecting the principles of the Pillar. We must ensure that the funds provided through the Next Generation EU Recovery Plan reach those in need – be it the unemployed or businesses, and especially SMEs which are also most of employers in Europe.
The green and digital transition will be the driving force of the recovery plan for Europe. We must ensure that people are at the very centre of policies. Our measures need to be just, sustainable and socially acceptable. They require social investment, like in education and training, lifelong learning, up-skilling, re-skilling of workers.
To come back more specifically to the Action plan and the European Pillar of Social Rights:
The Summit is inspired by the adoption of the Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights on the 4 March 2021 and aims at political dialogue on how to reinvigorate our European social model and shape a vision for 2030.
The EESC has been very supportive of the European Pillar of Social Rights since the very beginning, in 2016, even before its proclamation. We have worked on various aspects and prepared several opinions for the EU institutions. I am happy to say that our recommendations were taken into account and turned into reality, even if later. For example, we have called for the inclusion of the EPSR into the European semester - as the framework to implement it.
Back in 2016, we organised, together with the Commission, debates with organised civil society in all Member States with close to 1800 participants. By bringing their feedback at the EU level, we contributed to shape the EPSR as we know it today.
The Committee welcomed the proposal of the Action Plan on the 3 headline targets - this responds also to one of the EESC recommendations, namely the need for more clearly defined objectives, scope and content of the EPSR. We invite Member States to be ambitious in setting their own targets.
The European Semester will be the best tool to monitor future implementation of the EPSR. We need more intense monitoring of developments through the social scoreboard and more balanced economic, social and environmental country specific recommendations.
Most importantly – and I would like to finish with this important idea – the involvement of social partners and organised civil society at all levels is key to ensure the effectiveness and the full ownership of social policies in the frame of the Pillar and of the reforms after the current crisis.
Thank you again for joining us today! I wish you a very interesting and fruitful discussion ahead of the Social Summit in Porto!
Distinguished Speakers and participants,
Thank you very much again for all your contributions and discussions on the future of Europe's social policies and the implementation of the Action plan.
Our moderator had the difficult task to wrap up so many excellent remarks and ideas about Social Europe, thank you for that! It is exactly this variety of perspectives, brought together, that makes the richness and the value of the EESC. These ideas will be very useful for our participation in the Summit, especially that they come from organisations representing citizens active at the grassroots level.
We can discuss from different points of view, but at the EESC, we also manage to find agreement on key elements, like we have done this morning, by adopting our EESC resolution "European Civil Society Working in Partnership for our Sustainable Future". This is our joint contribution to the Porto Social Summit, and I invite you to read it.
The Summit will be a milestone opportunity to reaffirm the need for everybody to work in partnership and our commitment to a sustainable future, giving equal attention to the economic, social and environmental concerns.
We will discuss there of how we can achieve a European Union that is resilient and sustainable and, at the same time, competitive and cohesive, in the context of the twin transitions.
What is sure, is that policy makers cannot talk about our common future without engaging with organised civil society. We need, both at EU and national level, effective dialogue with social partners and civil society, and I was happy to hear Commissioner Schmit in our plenary session this morning supporting social dialogue and collective bargaining, as well as civil dialogue.
On our side, we will continue raising awareness about the positive contribution of organised civil society – which we have again seen in the context of the sanitary crisis. Its input in shaping our policies are indispensable to ensure better, more effective policies, which match people's needs and aspirations for their European Union.
Stefano, Oliver, Seamus, thank you for organising this conference dedicated to the Social Summit.
Dear Speakers and participants, I trust you were inspired by these discussions and I am looking forward to our next events! Thank you for your active contributions!