A revamped European Semester
In 2022, we see the return to a more regular cycle of economic policy coordination while integrating the implementation of the RRPs. The European Semester is back with the country reports, which the Commission will publish in the 2022 Spring Package. These streamlined reports will apply the Recovery and Resilience Scoreboard and will include an assessment of progress on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, in line with the commitments of the associated Action Plan. Along with all the challenges identified, country-specific recommendations will be proposed by the Commission. With the aim of achieving better articulation with the RRPs, the national reform programmes (NRPs), delivered in April 2022, remain the means for Member States to report progress in implementing structural reforms in the mid-term. The NRPs will also report on the implementation of the RRF, meeting one of the two biannual reporting requirements of Member States under the RRF (the second one should be delivered by mid-October).
Interestingly, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been integrated into the European Semester, and the annual SDG monitoring report, issued by Eurostat, will be part of the 2022 Spring Package.
Figure: 2022 European Semester cycle and RRF integrated processes
Legend: ASGS: Annual Sustainable Growth Survey; EAR: Euro Area Recommendation; JER: Joint Employment Report; AMR: Alert Mechanism Report; DBP: Draft Budgetary Plans; EA: euro area; RRF: Recovery and Resilience Facility; SGP: Stability and Growth Pact.
Source: European Commission, ASGS 2022
Key role of the social partners
The 2022 Annual Sustainable Growth Survey (ASGS) notes that ‘the systematic involvement of social partners … is key for the success of the economic and employment policy coordination and implementation … at all steps of the Semester cycle’. Since 2016, Eurofound has monitored the involvement of the national social partners in the European Semester process and documented this process in a series of reports.
The COVID-19 outbreak severely challenged economic and social activity, resulting in a change of priorities in the Member States’ political agendas. While the policy measures adopted during the first months of the pandemic prioritised ensuring the resilience of healthcare systems and preserving employment and business continuity, the evolution of the pandemic highlighted how effective social dialogue can be used to find solutions to emergency situations affecting businesses, workers, the economy and society. As reported by Eurofound, the challenges resulting from the economic and social crisis have underlined the valuable contribution the social partners make in building social cohesion and supporting economic recovery.
Based on the views collected directly from national social partners’ representatives, a recently published Eurofound report shows that the quality and intensity of their involvement in the preparation of the RRPs has been uneven and particularly weak in many countries. Overall, the social partners consider that the consultation process in the design of the RRPs could have been better planned and organised.
Insufficient consultation and feedback overall
In this regard, the lack of timely and meaningful consultation remains a critical issue widely shared by the social partners. In just a few countries have both employer organisations and trade unions reported receiving adequate feedback on their contribution to the RRP. Significantly, while the RRF Regulation asked Member States to reflect the views of the social partners in the RRPs, many of them have only summarised some milestones of the general consultation process involving all stakeholders, without explicitly documenting the social partners’ views.
As the Proposal for a Joint Employment Report (JER) stresses, most social partners ‘largely saw their involvement as informative and, to a lesser extent, as a consultation. Going forward, an adequate involvement of social partners in the RRP implementation will be important to ensure successful delivery of the measures planned.’ The Council Conclusions adopted the JER in March 2022, calling on the Member States ‘to systematically involve social partners and other relevant stakeholders in a timely and meaningful manner at all stages of the European Semester cycle, as this is key for the success of the economic, employment and social policy coordination and implementation.’ The Eurofound report similarly underlines that the timely and meaningful involvement of the social partners in the implementation of the RRPs is essential to foster domestic ownership and support the effectiveness of the policy action and reforms envisaged.
Increasing the ownership and effectiveness of reforms
The 2022 European Semester frames the implementation of the policy reforms and investments needed to overcome the effects of the pandemic. Both employer organisations and trade unions are willing to engage and should be involved in consultation processes that will help to implement the measures set out in the plans. This engagement is even more critical due to the negative consequences of the war in Ukraine for the global economy, already challenged by rising energy and commodity prices, high inflation, and the risk of lower GDP growth.
The social partners’ involvement in the implementation of the RRPs increases the ownership and the effectiveness of the structural reforms needed to achieve fair and inclusive sustainable economic growth and to ensure social recovery, particularly as Europe faces the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. Their commitment is essential to attaining the EU’s twin transition goals, while supporting the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan.
Image © Grecaud Paul/Adobe Stock Images
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