The social pillar of the EU must be legally codified, demands Jutta Steinruck.
In April, the European Commission published a policy paper with 20 articles, renewing its commitment to a social Europe. Known as the “European Pillar of Social Rights”, the text contains a set of basic principles on gender equality, fair pay, worker safety, pensions and housing.
At the Social Summit on 17 November in Gothenburg, the heads of state and government of the 27 EU Member States will meet with the Presidents of the European Parliament and the Commission to sign the negotiated text.
This meeting marks a rethinking of the head of the European Union. Away from the dictates of pure austerity and towards a more sustainable economic development and the strengthening of social standards of the 500 million EU citizens.
However, the initiative announced by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to strengthen social rights at European level is far behind its own objectives. In his State of the Union address at the beginning of his term in office in 2014, Juncker promised the best possible social standards. Today, three years after this speech, the situation of many workers in Europe has not improved.
In addition to its non-binding nature, the Social Pillar is merely a pooling of pre-existing principles enshrined in other European legal texts, such as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The quality of jobs throughout Europe has deteriorated in recent years. In many Member States, including Germany, we see a strong increase in the low paid sector. The austerity policies in much of Europe have aggravated this trend and social safety nets have been greatly weakened.
Millions of European workers have zero-hour contracts that allow employers to hire staff without a fixed weekly working time. In most cases these workers are not entitled to sickness benefits.
Initially, the Social Pillar now presented does little to change this reality, as it has no legally binding character. In addition to its non-binding character, the social pillar is only a mere bundling of already existing principles that are enshrined in other European legal texts, such as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Emphasizing equality and protection in the workplace is important, but as long as social rights are mere proposals without a legally binding character, little will change in the realities of many European citizens.
The Brexit and the strengthening of European-critical parties show that it is people with lower incomes who turn away from the European project. If Europe does not finally start to focus on the social rights of workers, children and older people, more people will turn their backs on Europe.
To equate citizens’ social rights with economic interests at European level would be a real game changer.
How does that look in concrete terms? We need to look more closely at the situation of workers who are currently working officially as self-employed, but who are actually tied to a single employer. Just last week, taxi service provider Uber lost in London to two drivers who claimed their right to social security and minimum wages.
These basic rights must apply to all workers who work in similar employment relationships. That is why we are calling on European Socialists and Democrats to create a directive on decent working conditions for all types of employment, including temporary workers, seasonal workers and gig economy workers.
In a Europe with modern social minimum standards, exploitative zero-hour contracts are also abolished and a European child protection system introduced in all member states – a basic security for children from low-income families, ensuring free access to medical care, school meals and education in all EU member states is.
Europe can offer real added value in the social field. But just a mere declaration of intent is not enough. That is why my S & D Group is calling for the social pillar now being included as an annex to the EU Treaties.
At European level, this would equate citizens’ social rights with economic interests. That would be a real game changer. For the first time since the founding of the European Union, fundamental social rights have the same meaning as fundamental economic freedoms.
Translated by Alfons from German.