Social security is intended to provide protection, in the terms used in Council Directive 79/7/EEC of 19 December 1978, on the progressive implementation of the principle of equal treatment for women and men in matters of social security: ‘to the working population… whose activity is interrupted by illness, accident or involuntary unemployment and persons seeking employment – and to retired or invalided workers and self-employed persons’. Despite this potential broad scope, the principal interventions of the EU in the sphere of social security have concerned the free movement of workers and equal treatment of women and men.
The expansion of social policy following from the amendments adopted in the Maastricht Treaty’s Protocol on Social Policy allowed for the adoption of directives on ‘social security and social protection of workers’ (now Article 153(1) TFEU). The potential function and scope of social security in the EU appears from Article 34 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union:
The Union recognises and respects the entitlement to social security benefits and social services providing protection in cases such as maternity, illness, industrial accidents, dependency or old age, and in the case of loss of employment, in accordance with the rules laid down by Community law and national laws and practices.
Everyone residing and moving legally within the European Union is entitled to social security benefits and social advantages in accordance with Community law and national laws and practices.
In order to combat social exclusion and poverty, the Union recognises and respects the right to social and housing assistance so as to ensure a decent existence for all those who lack sufficient resources, in accordance with the rules laid down by Community law and national laws and practices.
However, the extent to which the EU will seek to achieve this aspiration remains limited by factors indicated in the additional provision inserted by the Treaty of Nice (now Article 153(4)) TFEU: ‘The provisions adopted pursuant to this Article: … shall not affect the right of Member States to define the fundamental principles of their social security systems and must not significantly affect the financial equilibrium thereof….’
See also: Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers; European Social Charter; European social model; free movement and social security; portability of social security rights; social competences; social exclusion; social protection; third-country nationals.