The European Semester, introduced in 2010, provides an annual framework for the coordination of proposed budgetary and economic policies across the EU and the euro zone, in line with both the Stability and Growth Pact and the Europe 2020 strategy. Each year, the European Commission undertakes a detailed analysis of EU Member States’ programmes of economic and structural reforms and provides them with recommendations for the next 12–18 months.
European Semester process
The timetable of the European Semester covers a six-month period and includes the following stages:
- In January, the European Commission publishes the Annual Growth Survey, to be discussed by the European Council and the European Parliament before the Spring Council in March
- At the Spring Council, Member States identify the main challenges that the EU faces and set economic policy priorities based on the Annual Growth Survey. These provide the foundation for recommendations on budget and economic policy in the Member States
- In April, Member States present and discuss their medium-term budgetary strategies through their stability and convergence programmes, based on recommendations from the Council. They also draw up national reform programmes detailing their actions on issues such as employment and social inclusion. They are expected to do this in consultation with their respective national social partners
- In May and June, the Commission evaluates these programmes and provides country-specific recommendations as appropriate. Commission representatives visit Member States to present the recommendations and, if possible, meet the social partners. The Council discusses the recommendations and endorses them, and gives policy advice to Member States before they start to finalise their draft budgets for the following year.
- At the end of June or in early July, the Council formally adopts the country-specific recommendations, concluding the six-month cycle. The following February or March, the Commission publishes reports assessing the progress made on the implementation of these recommendations in the Member States.
According to the Commission, one of the main aims of this approach is ‘to ensure that collective discussion on key priorities takes place at EU level before, and not after, national decisions are taken’.
Involvement of the social partners
The European Semester is expected to involve national parliaments, social partners, regions and other stakeholders. In 2014, the EU-level cross-sector social partners issued a declaration on social partner involvement in European economic governance. It stated that throughout the European Semester process, it is essential to involve social partners in the development and implementation of policies that directly or indirectly affect employment and labour markets, to ensure that social partners’ positions are taken into account. It further stated that ‘social partner consultations should be timely and meaningful, allowing the necessary analysis and proposals and fitting within decision-making processes’.
- European social partners: Social partner involvement in European economic governance: Declaration by the European social partners
Since 2016, Eurofound has closely monitored the involvement of national social partners in policymaking as part of the European Semester cycle. In 2020, the focus was on their involvement during the first months of the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Publication series: National social partners and policymaking
- Publication: Involvement of social partners in policymaking during the COVID-19 outbreak
Recent changes to the European Semester process
In 2018, for the first time, the country reports put a special emphasis on mainstreaming the priorities of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which was endorsed in November 2017. The country reports also make use of the data gathered through the Social Scoreboard to keep track of employment and social performances.
- European Commission: Social Scoreboard – Supporting the European Pillar of Social Rights
In 2021, the European Semester was temporarily adapted to align with the Recovery and Resilience Facility. The publication of the Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy launched this year’s cycle and fully continues last year’s growth strategy, based on the European recovery plan, the European Green Deal and the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan. These three documents can be considered to have replaced the former Europe 2020 strategy.
The Member States were encouraged to submit national reform programmes and recovery and resilience plans in a single integrated document to provide an overview of the reforms and investments that they will undertake. The Commission’s assessments of these documents will replace the European Semester country reports in 2021. Furthermore, in 2021, there will be no structural country-specific recommendations for those Member States that have submitted recovery and resilience plans.
Monitoring of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan
At the Porto Social Summit on 7 May 2021, Members States validated the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan and its 2030 objectives: (1) to ensure that at least 78% of people aged 20–64 have a job; (2) to ensure that at least 60% of adults participate in training activities every year; and (3) to decrease the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by at least 15 million. 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’ that will be monitored in the framework of the European Semester.