On 28 April, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held an exchange of views with Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit on the Action Plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) and the upcoming Porto Social Summit, where the plan will be discussed at the highest level.
During the debate held at the EESC's virtual plenary session, the Committee also presented and adopted a resolution on its contribution to the Porto Summit, which will be held on 7 and 8 May and will be organised by the Portuguese EU Presidency.
At the summit, the EESC will take part in a political dialogue between the European institutions and the Member States on how to implement the EPSR while ensuring a European recovery centred on people's well-being.
Opening the debate, EESC president Christa Schweng said:
This Summit is a step forward towards putting people at the centre of the EU's policies. We hope that all stakeholders will make a strong commitment at the Summit to developing the European social model and to helping our economy and society to achieve sustainability, giving equal weight to the economic, social and environmental dimensions.
The president said that, through its work, the EESC aimed to contribute
to the recovery and to preparing for greener and more digital societies and economies the best way we can, using the ideas and recommendations of organised civil society.
Speaking to the plenary, Mr Schmit said:
One priority of the Porto Summit and the Action Plan is to revive social dialogue and empower social partners. This plan is a political document that requires the commitment of a great number of partners. Making it a reality for people and delivering on the ground will take a collective effort. We need stakeholders who can take this plan forward. This means we need you to seal a new social contract
with European citizens. As a hallmark of our social model, employers' and workers' representatives are instrumental in the plan's implementation.
He maintained that there were many reasons to call for a more social Europe, ranging from the changes in the world of work brought about by the digital revolution and the transition to a green economy, to the devastating blows of the COVID-19 pandemic, which
stopped our years-long progress on employment and set us back years in our fight against poverty.
Describing the action plan as
a plan for people, Mr Schmit said it was intended to improve the living and working conditions of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society, such as women, children, the young and people with disabilities. The emphasis is put on promoting a more social environment and investing in people as a prerequisite for competitiveness and innovation.
Economies will not prosper, and the digital and green transitions will not be successful if people are not sufficiently healthy, educated and trained. These are the messages we want to pass on to the Member States in Porto next week. We want to underline that our social model is not a burden, but a distinctive feature and asset that has allowed us to navigate the pandemic better than other regions of the world, Mr Schmit said.
However, he stressed that the Commission was very much aware of the division of competences between the national and EU levels and had no intention of legislating in areas not under its competence. This especially applies to the way in which targets need to be achieved, which is defined by the governments.
The debate also dwelled on the social economy as the embodiment of an
economy that works for people. The EESC has consistently promoted the social economy through its work and pointed to its importance in, among other things, upholding the values of solidarity and creating decent jobs. It is pleased that the social economy is also part of the EPSR Action Plan.
EESC CONTRIBUTION TO THE PORTO SOCIAL SUMMIT
In the resolution entitled European Civil Society Working in Partnership for our Sustainable Future, the EESC said the Porto Summit was a milestone moment and
an opportunity to demonstrate that the EU and Member States act together with its citizens and for their well-being, leaving nobody behind.
According to the EESC, the EPSR Action Plan could not be more timely in the context of the post-pandemic recovery. All citizens, including the most vulnerable ones, must be able to participate in, identify with and find hope in the EPSR's vision and future implementation, through the active engagement of civil society.
The EESC urged the Member States and the European institutions to take action on several fronts. This includes raising awareness of the positive contribution of civil society, increasing the social resilience of European economies and boosting economic growth and job creation.
The resolution was drafted by the presidents of the EESC's three Groups.
The Employers' Group president, Stefano Mallia, said:
Fast economic recovery is only possible now if we ensure that our companies have the right business environment to enable them to be competitive and to create employment. Employers strongly believe that a sustainable economic recovery is the main critical enabler for social progress. We are convinced that a genuine social Europe can be achieved through sustainable economic recovery, growth and a well-functioning internal market. That requires strengthening our economy while removing its weaknesses and boosting resilience.
The Workers' Group president, Oliver Röpke, said:
With this resolution, the Committee is calling for a strong and sustainable Porto declaration that should commit all actors to implementing the action plan, building on civil and social dialogue and endorsing the plan's headline targets. It is a milestone moment for Europe, enabling it to take the essential next step towards a better balance between solidarity and social rights on the one hand and economic freedoms on the other. The paradigm shift in Europe's role in social policy must overcome a certain resistance – therefore, we must aim to convince all stakeholders and build a broad alliance.
The Diversity Europe Group president, Séamus Boland, said:
The Social Pillar must take more account of the medium to longer term impact of the pandemic on European health systems. COVID-19 has clearly illustrated that health can have a direct impact on economic and social stability. In implementing the Pillar, increased and sustainable investments must be made by Member States to upgrade public health services and infrastructure, and to improve coordination on public health within and among Member States.
On 28 April, the EESC also hosted a high-level online conference entitled
Porto Social Summit – New impetus to Europe's social commitment to discuss the importance of social Europe, the key elements of the EPSR, and its implementation at EU and national level. Apart from EESC members, the speakers included Portuguese Minister for Labour, Solidarity and Social Security, Ana Mendes Godinho, and representatives of the EU institutions and social partners.