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’. The stated 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 should be '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'.
The initiative to create a social pillar was announced in European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's 'State of the Union' address in September 2015 and it 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 outcome of this debate should feed into a final text of the pillar.
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, and 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 European Commission intends the pillar to build on and complement the EU’s social acquis (body of social law) in order to guide policies in a number of fields that are essential for well-functioning and fair labour markets and welfare systems. These principles would not replace existing rights, but offer a way to assess and, in the future, work towards more effective and better performing national employment and social policies. Once established, it is intended that the pillar should become the reference framework to screen the employment and social performance of participating Member States, to drive reforms at national level and, more specifically, to serve as a compass for the renewed process of convergence within the euro area.
The European Trade Union Confederation has welcomed the creation of the pillar, stating that it contains many good principles. However, it also states that it has some doubts about where and how it will be implemented, and about policies such as flexicurity (a policy aimed at increasing flexibility and security in national labour markets) that could undermine workers' rights.
European employer organisation BusinessEurope also welcomed the pillar, stating that it could be useful if it contributes to improving Europe's global competitiveness. BusinessEurope has also said that it shares the objective of establishing a pillar that drives the reform process at national level to achieve better performing labour markets and social systems.
On 17 November 2017, the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth will take place in Gothenburg, Sweden. It is here that the Commission will seek endorsement of the European Pillar of Social rights and where discussions will take place between government and social partners to promote fair jobs and growth in the European Union.