Eurofound: Supporting a Social Europe

For those of us of a certain age, the European Union has always been a driver for peace, freedom and citizens’ rights. It is an integration project that has carried the idea of social progress in its DNA since the Treaty of Rome. The EU can only advance if it is able to combine economic progress, freedom and social justice, so it is not surprising that one of the first Agencies created by the European Communities was the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions or Eurofound for short (often referred to in the past as the ‘Dublin Foundation’ due to its location).

The fates have conspired to bring together as the New Founding regulation takes effect on 20 February – 43 years after the establishment of the agency in 1975 – the joint signatories of this article in the process to reappraise the agency’s mandate and operation: the first signatory having the role of Director of the Agency and the second the role of European Parliament Rapporteur for the founding regulation reform. It has been a privilege, considering the mandate of the European Agency, which is to provide knowledge to assist in the development of better social, employment and work-related policies at EU and national level.

In the current context of post-truth and scepticism, it is more critical than ever today for political and social stakeholders – at every level – to base their decisions on accurate knowledge and scientific evidence. Eurofound's work helps to identify the social and employment challenges, anticipate future changes, analyse best practices and shape effective policies on the basis of sound facts and figures. The EU policymaking process requires that each of its political initiatives be justified on the basis of evidence to demonstrate its added value and evaluate its potential impact. Without doubt, this is a positive practice we would all wish to see introduced more systematically at a national level. Scientific evidence plays a key role in providing knowledge for better social and work-related policy decisions. For example, Eurofound's research contributed to the justification and focus of the EU-wide ‘Youth Guarantee’ scheme; more recently, and still under discussion by the European Parliament and Council, Eurofound has contributed to the proposals for European Directives on work–life balance for parents and carers, and on transparent and predictable working conditions. The impact of digitalisation on work, and the monitoring of trends in the convergence or divergence of working and living standards in Europe, are other key examples where Eurofound is helping to identify future social challenges within the Union, which may justify the introduction of new initiatives.

Eurofound has been playing this role for decades. So, what's new?

Firstly, the language used in the 1975 regulation has been updated and institutional arrangements adjusted to the common approach for EU Agencies. Secondly, the new regulation seeks to adapt the Agency’s mandate to the present time, with its new technologies and demands for ethics and accountability. The regulation is more explicit regarding Eurofound’s tasks, for example concerning the management of European surveys. It extends Eurofound’s services to the EU institutions, social partners and national stakeholders and invites cooperation with tripartite institutions. It calls on the European institutions to take Eurofound's research into account before making decisions. The new regulation maintains and expands the participatory and democratic aspects of its governance system, with a new role for the European Parliament. It retains its tripartite structure in its entirety, which is a core element of Eurofound’s operations. Social dialogue is not only intrinsic to the European social model, but remains one of the few good practice models for resolving differences via debate, compromise and agreement rather than confrontation.

The political consensus for the adoption of Eurofound’s new founding regulation is, in this context, good news for European citizens. Fostering this spirit of cooperation and rigour is essential in order to continue providing the best evidence to shape better informed policies and help offset some of the despair and lack of trust that citizens still experience. The obvious improvement in the economy and employment has led to an increase by more than 10 points in levels of optimism and trust in the EU since 2013. Despite this, there are still too many citizens who have little or no trust in the European project, Brexit being the most obvious example. Whether it is due to the scars of the crisis, to globalisation, migration, or inequalities, it is clear that cooperation, integration and multilateralism do not seem to be in vogue. The fact that trust in national institutions is still low is of no help when we see the growing gap between values such as solidarity and rising support for isolationism, populism and nationalism.

This is where we need to refocus European politics back to the social aspects – which will translate into the values of solidarity, integration and cooperation for all citizens. And thereby promoting policies based on clear evidence that improve their quality of life and work. It is now over a year since the European Pillar of Social Rights was proclaimed and signed at the Gothenburg Summit on 17 November 2018 – a set of 20 principles that European Union, governments and social partners are required to put into practice and for which a new, modernised Eurofound can help to make a reality on the ground.

Enrique Calvet Chambon is a Member of the European Parliament of the ALDE group (Liberals). He has been Rapporteur for the reform of the Founding Regulation of Eurofound.

Juan Menéndez-Valdés is Director of Eurofound, the tripartite EU agency, based in Dublin, providing knowledge to assist in the development of better social, employment and work-related policies.

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