European Pillar of Social Rights
The European Pillar of Social Rights is defined by the European Commission as ‘a self-standing reference document, of a legal nature, setting out key principles and values shared at EU level’. Its aim is to serve as ‘a guide towards efficient employment and social outcomes when responding to current and future challenges’. According to the Commission, the establishment of the European Pillar of Social Rights is:
'part of wider efforts to build a more inclusive and sustainable growth model by improving Europe’s competitiveness and making it a better place to invest, create jobs and foster social cohesion.'
- European Commission: Frequently asked questions: The European Pillar of Social Rights
The initiative to create a social pillar was announced in then Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s ‘State of the Union’ address in September 2015, and was part of the European Commission’s work programme for 2016. Throughout 2016, the Commission engaged in a debate with EU authorities, social partners, civil society and citizens on the content and role of the pillar, with the aim of moving towards a deeper and fairer Economic and Monetary Union. The social pillar was drafted based on the outcome of this debate.
The pillar is structured around three main strands:
- equal opportunities and access to the labour market – including skills development, lifelong learning and active support for employment
- fair working conditions – focusing on the rights and obligations of workers and employers, ensuring that there is a balance between flexibility and security to facilitate job creation, the take-up of jobs and the adaptability of firms, as well as on the promotion of social dialogue
- social protection and inclusion – including access to health, social protection benefits and high-quality services (such as childcare, healthcare and long-term care).
The Commission intended the pillar to build on and complement the EU’s social acquis (body of social law) to guide policies in a number of fields essential for fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems. These principles do not replace existing rights but offer a way to assess and work towards more effective and better-performing national employment and social policies. It was planned that, once established, the pillar would become the reference framework for determining the employment and social performance of participating Member States and driving reforms at national level, and, more specifically, that it would serve as a compass for the renewed process of convergence within the euro zone.
The Member States endorsed the European Pillar of Social Rights at the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth in Gothenburg, Sweden, on 17 November 2017.
- European Union: European Pillar of Social Rights
A number of concrete initiatives were subsequently put forward during the presidency of Jean-Claude Juncker, such as measures to tackle youth unemployment through the youth employment initiative, a recommendation on combating long-term unemployment, a European Accessibility Act and the directive on work–life balance. More generally, greater prominence was given to social considerations in the coordination of economic policies carried out through the European Semester. The Commission, on the social pillar website, maps its recent initiatives to each principle of the pillar.
- European Commission: The European Pillar of Social Rights in 20 principles
- European Commission: The European Semester
On 4 March 2021, the Commission published a European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan. It sets out three major objectives to be achieved by 2030:
- to ensure that at least 78% of people aged 20–64 have a job (compared with 73.1% in 2019)
- to ensure that at least 60% of adults participate in training activities every year (compared with 37% in 2016); and
- to decrease the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by at least 15 million (from 91 million in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic).
For the most part, this action plan draws together the various initiatives already adopted by the Commission (proposal for a directive on adequate minimum wages, proposal for a directive on pay transparency, etc.) and those included in its work programme, which come under the auspices of one of the 20 principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights.
- European Commission: European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan
This action plan is accompanied by a Commission recommendation to encourage a recovery that will create jobs. This recommendation promotes ‘job creation and job-to-job transitions from declining sectors towards expanding sectors, notably the digital and green ones’.
On 8 May 2021, at the Social Summit in Porto, Portugal, the Member States adopted the Porto declaration, reaffirming their ‘pledge to work towards a social Europe’. Member States’ representatives pointed out that the social dimension, social dialogue and active involvement of social partners ‘have always been at the core of a highly competitive social market economy’. With this step, the Member States confirmed the social chapter of the new EU strategy, based on the NextGenerationEU recovery plan and the European Green Deal. In concrete terms, they validated first the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan and second the three targets to be achieved by 2030. The progress made by Member States towards achieving these targets and applying the pillar’s 20 principles will be measured each year ‘as part of the policy coordination framework in the context of the European Semester’ and followed ‘closely, including at the highest level’. These social commitments constitute ‘a fundamental element of the recovery’, which is intended to deliver a ‘digital, green and fair transition’.