Gothenburg, Sweden. Host of this year's EU Social Summit. Wikimedia. CC.The implementation of neoliberal austerity policies has weakened the welfare state and damaged social and regional cohesion in the EU. In this context, the EU leaders that will be gathering at the Social Summit in Gothenburg this Friday, need to adopt concrete solutions and reach specific targets regarding the European Pillar of Social Rights. Any ‘wish list’ or big words will serve absolutely nothing.
Since 2000, the European Commission and the European Council have been pushing for the adoption of an economic model that deepens social and income inequalities and de-regulates the labour market, thus causing high levels of poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. In this framework, a large part of the European labourforce is compelled to accept insecure jobs with zero-hour contracts and low wages. At the same time, divergence between the European South and North is widening via shortage of EU funding and over-concentration of capital.
The steps that have to be adopted are very specific, although it takes a progressive political majority in the European Parliament and the European Council to bring them about, as well as a political leadership in the European Commission committed to push for pro-social policy guidelines.
The critical challenge for these progressive forces is to shift political balances in decision-making mechanisms and boost a progressive agenda based on the fundamental values of the European Union. One of these core values is the European Pillar of Social Rights and how this Pillar can be binding for all parties involved, at the benefit of the citizens and the working people.
In this respect, there are five major steps that EU must follow in order to reinstate social rights and implement a convincing legislative package that will have a positive impact on people’s daily lives.
The first step has to do with the implementation of an action plan that includes concrete actions and commitments for all member-states and stakeholders, tackling the side effects of austerity politics and assisting in the recovery of crisis-affected states such as Greece and Spain. In this process, all national governments, EU institutions and trade partners will need to cooperate in many and different levels.
The second step deals with the creation of a roadmap for the successful implementation of these commitments, so that every member-state can work within a mutually agreed legal framework that protects the working people from the dire consequences of market deregulation.
The third step refers to the increase of EU budget and relevant funds towards supporting the successful implementation of the Pillar, thus allowing effective access to social housing, health care and essential services, especially for the most vulnerable parts of the population.
The fourth step embarks from the enforcement of the current EU legal framework and the role that independent authorities can play in view of supporting the trade unions and the unions of workers against a wide range of ‘threats’, from flexible labour conditions to the protection of whistleblowers.
The fifth and final step has to do with the essential support and respect of the provisions of the Pillar from all EU institutions, including the European Court of Justice and the European Central Bank.
The elections for the European Parliament in 2019 provide a great chance for the progressive forces to build an alternative agenda and change political balances in the EU, with the aim of pushing for necessary reforms and revitalizing the core values of the European establishment.
Otherwise, the process of political and economic restructuring in favour of EU citizens will remain an unfulfilled promise.