Social Policy Agenda
Social policy – policy that responds to social need – is a key strand of EU policy. Since the 1970s, the role of the European Union in social affairs has gradually been expanded. European social policies aim to promote employment, improve living and working conditions, provide adequate social protection and combat social exclusion. The European Commission has initiated successive social policy agendas over the past five decades.
Current status and regulatory aspects
European Pillar of Social Rights
In November 2017, the EU Parliament, Council and Commission jointly proclaimed the European Pillar of Social Rights, the most comprehensive effort in a generation to advance the social dimension of European integration. Developed at the initiative of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the pillar aims to guide the EU and its Member States in responding to current and future societal challenges. Moreover, it is intended to revive citizens’ confidence in the EU by ensuring the ‘better enactment and implementation of social rights’.
The European Pillar of Social Rights sets out 20 principles and rights to support fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems, structured around three main headings:
- equal opportunities and access to the labour market
- fair working conditions
- social protection and inclusion
These headings as a reference framework to screen the employment and social performance of participating Member States, to drive reforms at national level and to act as a compass for the renewed process of convergence towards better working and living conditions in Europe – primarily for the euro zone but also for all EU Member States.
- European Commission: European Pillar of Social Rights
The Europe 2020 Strategy, launched in 2010, was the EU’s agenda for growth and jobs in the years leading up to 2020, implemented via the European Semester process. The strategy contains a range of targets in the employment and social policy field, notably the following three flagship initiatives:
- youth on the move, aimed at improving young people’s chances of finding a job by helping students and trainees gain experience in other countries
- an agenda for new skills and jobs, intended to help people gain the right skills for future jobs, to create new jobs and overhaul EU employment legislation
- a European platform against poverty and social exclusion, designed to help EU countries reach the headline target of lifting 20 million people out of poverty and social exclusion by 2020.
In July 2011, a report on the social dimension of the Europe 2020 Strategy examined actions to promote inclusion and reduce poverty, in line with the strategy’s headline targets. The report concentrates on actions in the areas of sustainable and adequate reforms of social protection systems, active inclusion strategies, well-designed universal and targeted benefits for families and groups at risk, future pension adequacy and long-term financial sustainability of pensions, as well as increased effectiveness of healthcare and long-term care. 
- European Commission: The European Semester
- European Commission: Investing in Europe’s youth
- European Commission: Getting more people into better jobs
- European Commission: Poverty and social exclusion
The Commission’s Social Action Programme ran from 1998 to 2000 and was followed by its Social Policy Agenda (2000–2005). After this, the Commission established a high-level group to identify the main challenges and opportunities facing the EU over the period 2006–2010 in the field of employment and social policy. The findings of this group contributed to the development of the next Social Policy Agenda, which ran from 2006 to 2010 under the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs (2000–2010). It found three main challenges facing the EU: enlargement, the ageing of the population and globalisation.
The Social Policy Agenda 2006–2010 focused on providing jobs and equal opportunities for all and ensuring that the benefits of the EU’s growth and employment drive reached everyone in society. By modernising labour markets and social protection systems, the agenda aimed to help people seize the opportunities created by international competition, technological advances and changing population patterns, while protecting the most vulnerable in society.
Related dictionary terms
Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers ; Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion ; Lisbon Strategy ; Social Action Programme ; social competences ; social exclusion ; social objectives ; social pillar ; social policies.