Official Journal of the European Union

C 81/145

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Reflection Paper on the social dimension of Europe’

(COM(2017) 206),

on the ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions Establishing a European Pillar of Social Rights’

(COM(2017) 250 final)

and on the ‘Proposal for a Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights’

(COM(2017) 251 final)

(2018/C 081/20)






European Commission, 5.7.2017

Legal basis

Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union



Section responsible

Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship

Adopted in section


Adopted at plenary


Plenary session No


Outcome of vote



1.   Conclusions


Faced with challenges such as the future of work, rising inequalities and poverty, globalisation and migration, citizens are increasingly calling into question an EU, together with Member States, that are not able to deliver security, social and economic progress and quality employment or which weaken national protection in the Member States. The debate on the social dimension of Europe and the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) could be instrumental to reaching a new consensus on these pressing issues and could help to unblock the EU.


The EESC strongly emphasises that the decisions taken regarding which scenarios or pathways to follow regarding the social dimension is not an academic one but will fundamentally impact on people’s lives. The EESC believes that a realistic future for the European Union can only be based on marrying a sound economic basis with a strong social dimension. In particular, modern welfare provision and fair life opportunities help to empower people and promote social harmony and economic development. The EESC reiterates that delivering on the Treaty objectives of balanced economic growth and social progress leading to improved living and working conditions should be the guiding principle in determining the future orientation of the EU’s social dimension.


The Committee understands that the EPSR is intended as a political declaration of intent and, in itself, does not create any new actionable legal rights. The Committee therefore believes it would be an important signal that the Council is able to support its Proclamation at the Gothenburg Social Summit in November 2017. The EESC believes that a clear road map for the implementation of the Pillar would help foster convergence and achieve its objectives.


However, the Committee also recognises that in the current political context, there are differences of opinion as to how the EU should move forward. The EESC strongly believes that deepening the social dimension is better done with all 27 Member States, focusing on key projects that deliver social and economic progress. However, if this is not possible, alternative pathways should be considered, e. g. with some countries going ahead and inviting all others to follow. The Committee also stresses that more clarity is needed on which measures should apply to the EU-27 and which should cover the Eurozone.


Growing inequality, poverty and social exclusion should be fought at all levels by all stakeholders. With a view to this the EESC believes that further efforts aimed at defining common principles, standards, policies and strategies at appropriate levels are needed on better convergence of wages and establishing or increasing minimum wages to adequate levels with full respect for the autonomy of social partners. The EESC already emphasised in its first opinion on the EPSR (1) that the ILO study (2) is a useful reference point. It highlights that a range of indictors can be used to compare minimum wage levels, which take into account national circumstances, but the most popular is the ration of minimum to median (or mean) wages. Furthermore it is important to ensure that all citizens are covered by a minimum income. The EESC stresses that money allocated for social cohesion and social investment should be increased to face future challenges.


Social policy is a shared competence in the EU legal framework. It will be important to reach a consensus on who should do what in the area of social policy, and notably in which areas the EU should act and how, coupled with more transparency and accountability for the actions taken or, indeed, the failure to act. Within this context, reforms and political initiatives have to be pursued to address multiple challenges and make societies and economies fit for the future. If after an appropriate time the political commitment to the implementation of common principles should prove inadequate, new appropriate measures, including legal and non-legal initiatives, should be considered.


All relevant representative organisations ofcivil society have to be duly involved in the development and implementation of relevant policies, while recognising the specific role of social partners and respecting their autonomy. Promoting collective bargaining and social dialogue at all levels will also be important in providing well-functioning labour markets, fair working conditions for all, increased productivity and sustainable social security.


At the heart of this political project are common EU values, enshrined in fundamental rights. The EESC remains very concerned about the lack of enforcement of existing social rights and the ‘different worlds of compliance’ with EU law. The Commission, ‘as guardian of the Treaties’ is responsible for enforcement but Member States have a duty to properly implement and comply with EU rules. The EESC believes that it could play a more active role in promoting, raising awareness of and monitoring the state of play by creating a permanent forum on fundamental rights and the rule of law.


The discussion on the social dimension of Europe cannot take place in isolation and has to be connected to the debates on deepening EMU, how to harness globalisation while addressing its challenges and how these objectives will be adequately and effectively resourced.


To improve the social dimension action is especially needed in two main areas — EMU and the single market. Social policy has to be embedded in a different EU economic policy with a good macroeconomic policy mix and progress towards deepening EMU. Regarding EMU, the European Semester will play a key role in rebalancing economic and social policy as well as facilitating well-designed reforms in the Member States concerned. The Committee emphasises the need for an economic and social European Semester. The Pillar is also intended to impact on European economic governance. The Social Scoreboard for the EPSR needs to be improved with more adequate and suitable indicators.


The Committee remains convinced that a good future is possible and that a stronger EU can help to better shape globalisation and digitalisation so as to provide good prospects for all citizens. Everyone must, however, realise what is at stake — what could be lost by going backwards or gained by moving ahead.

2.   Introduction (Background, challenges and context)


10 years after the financial crisis, its economic, social and political effects continue to be apparent and have profoundly impacted on the EU and its citizens. The EU needs a vision for the future and to find a new direction, which will enable it to address key challenges such as the future of work, globalisation, migration, rising inequalities and poverty.


The European Economic and Social Committee believes that a realistic future for the European Union can only be based on marrying a sound economic basis with a strong social dimension. It is convinced that the European Union needs a renewed consensus on a sustainable economic and social strategy to deliver its promise to work for balanced economic growth and social progress leading to the increased well-being of its citizens. It therefore welcomes the debate on the social dimension of Europe, anchored in the wider discussion on the future of Europe, as well as the Commission’s proposal for an interinstitutional proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR).


The reflection paper on the social dimension of Europe, published on 26 April 2017, is one of five such documents produced to feed the broad debate among the leaders of the 27 Member States, EU institutions, social partners and citizens, initiated by the Commission’s White Paper on the future of Europe (3). The social dimension paper is the Commission’s contribution to the discussion on how to adapt European social models to current and future challenges, and on the role that the European Union should play in this and to what extent.


The paper explores the question of whether, and if so how, the social dimension can be supported in the light of the different scenarios developed in the White Paper. Whereas the White Paper sets out five, non-exhaustive or prescriptive scenarios, the reflection paper only outlines three possible paths for the social dimension of Europe. It also takes stock of the four major tools the EU currently has to help deliver the objective of inclusive growth: legislation, guidance, funding and cooperation.


The EESC fully supports the Commission’s White Paper initiative: it is time for the European Union to engage in a serious reflection about the way forward for the European Union, which may soon be reduced to 27 Member States. The social dimension is an integral part of this discussion.


At the same time as the social dimension reflection paper, the Commission also presented a Recommendation and a proposal for an interinstitutional Proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR/the Pillar) (4). This followed an extensive consultation during 2016 on a preliminary outline for the Pillar. The EESC set out its initial views regarding the Pillar in an opinion (5) adopted in January 2017, drawing on the main outcomes of debates organised in the 28 Member States.


In this opinion, the EESC is responding to the request from the European Commission to draw up an opinion on the Reflection Paper on the social dimension of Europe. In doing so, the Committee also links this initiative with the Recommendation and proposed Proclamation of the Pillar.


‘Social Europe’ is a very broad concept and, as outlined in the reflection paper, the understanding of what this means varies greatly. Some might even contest the very need for a social dimension of the EU as they regard EU social policy as a threat to Europe’s global competitiveness. Others, however, view ‘social Europe’ as core to the EU’s contribution to democratic, cohesive, culturally diverse and prosperous societies.


A social dimension has always been central to the European Union but, while there is quite a substantial social acquis of the EU — developed over time in parallel with Single Market, Economic and Monetary Union, fundamental rights of workers and citizens — it is sometimes felt to be invisible and absent compared to Member States’ national policies. Nevertheless social realities within Europe differ greatly. The risk is of even further divergence, particularly in a scenario where the EU would actively decide to take a step backward regarding its integration. The Reflection Paper also identifies several drivers of change with consequences for the Member States’ social models, including demographic change towards an ageing population, a more diverse and complex society and changing lifestyles, and the transformation of work, leading to increasingly diverse and irregular working patterns and working conditions.


The EESC believes that a realistic future for the European Union can only be based on marrying a sound economic basis with a strong social dimension. The EU shares competence with the Member States in the social policy field, although responsibility lies primarily at the national level, with governments, the social partners and civil society actors. Going forward, and in the overall context of the consensus arrived at on the future of Europe, it will also be important to reach consensus on who should do what in the area of social policy, and notably in which areas should the EU act and how.


The EESC has also highlighted the problem of the lack of enforcement of existing social rights. The Commission, in its role as ‘guardian of the Treaties’ has the key responsibility for enforcement. However, it is the responsibility of the Member States to properly implement EU legislation and to comply with it. There are ‘different worlds of compliance (6)’ with EU law in the Member States and a certain reluctance by the Commission to properly address this issue. This is also a barrier to more convergence that has to be tackled. The Committee has already emphasised the need to promote and enforce existing social and fundamental rights and to monitor violations (7). The EESC must play a more active role here and can create a permanent forum on fundamental rights and the rule of law to monitor the state of play. Transparency and clarity about who does what is essential, so that citizens can understand where responsibilities lie and who should be accountable.


The EESC has in many opinions (8) stressed the need for a macroeconomic policy mix which supports, rather than works counter to, social policy objectives. Recital 11 of the EPSR Recommendation which states ‘economic and social progress are intertwined and […] the establishment of a EPSR 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 inclusion’, is therefore welcome. The discussion on the social dimension must therefore be demonstrably linked to the discussion on the future architecture of the EMU, also the subject of a separate Future of Europe reflection paper.


A key question is: what impact will the EPSR have? There are a lot of expectations and questions such as will it address the social deficits of the common market or help to end the imbalance between economic freedoms and social rights (9)? The truth is that creating high expectations can have a boomerang effect. The EESC, therefore, recommends a realistic but ambitious approach.


The EESC has previously stressed, in the context of the discussion on the EPSR, that the EU needs to deliver a positive project for all to counter the rise in populism, nationalism and scepticism among European citizens and to prove that the EU is still capable of delivering on the promise to create economic growth and jobs and improve their living and working conditions. It reiterates that this should be the guiding principle in determining the future orientation of Europe’s social dimension.

3.   The reflection paper on the social dimension of Europe


In its resolution on the ‘White Paper on the Future of Europe’, the EESC already underlined that the envisaged debates with the governments and civil society in the Member States should not be about choosing between the five different scenarios outlined in the White Paper, but should be used to illustrate the potential consequences of different choices and pathways. The pathways within the scenarios described are, therefore, not perceived as the only possible options or as ‘models’ describing different, isolated pathways. The same approach should apply to the social dimension reflection paper.


The reflection paper refers to the diverse social realties within the EU, identifies possible drivers of change and sets out three possible pathways:

Limiting the social dimension to free movement (only free movement),

Those who want to do more in the social field do more (enhanced cooperation),

The EU-27 deepen the social dimension of Europe together (deepen social dimension with 27).


To better understand the possible implications, the EESC has considered the three pathways in terms of the challenges and drivers of change described in the reflection paper, and the challenges the EESC addressed in its initial opinion on the EPSR. These are set out by way of indicative examples in the Appendix for illustrative purposes only.


‘Only free movement’ — the first pathway — would represent the biggest change in relation to the status quo and could be seen as a big step backwards. This would become a driver for even more divergence in the EU, with considerable consequences for the life of EU citizens and which could lead to centrifugal forces that could ultimately result in the disintegration of the EU. On the other hand, free movement and the regulation on intra-EU mobility could be of higher quality and greater scope, and also make enforcement and monitoring by the Commission easier (i.e. less but better).


‘Enhanced cooperation’ — the second pathway — could at least trigger more convergence between some Member States, but would also create wider gaps with others (semi-convergence). It would be a step forward with regard to the status quo and escape the current problem of always finding the lowest common denominator or including too many opt-outs that make enforcement of these rules quite complicated. It would, however, lead to different levels of rights for citizens, depending on the Member State in which they live. It would also create new challenges and uncertainties for businesses that operate across the EU and need a level playing field, and which would also be confronted with different worlds of compliance. This could also lead to an erosion of support for the common market if citizens in countries that are not involved increasingly feel left behind.


‘Deepen the social dimension with all 27’ — the third pathway — would bring a significant change to the current situation and would be a major driver for EU-wide convergence. It could include binding measures and benchmarks for the EU27 and EU funding linked to performance regarding the benchmarks and joint goals. However, even if the EESC believes that deepening the social dimension is best done with all 27 Member States, taking into consideration the already complex negotiations about the vague concept of the EPSR, it does not seem realistic to anticipate that this pathway would be supported, especially by those Member States that want to maintain their comparative advantage in terms of lower wage and social standards or by those that fear that their national models and high standards would be negatively affected.


The EESC takes the view that an approach of ‘deepening the social dimension where possible and focusing more on outcomes’ would also support a major driver for more convergence. It therefore supports more binding measures based in the European Semester (10) — with benchmarks, at least for the Eurozone but preferably for the EU-27, related to employment, education, and welfare (for example with a common reference framework for income support for those in need). This should be accompanied by a roadmap setting out joint initiatives in key areas where EU-actions provide clear added value, and, where possible, focused on outcomes instead. Money allocated for social cohesion and social investment should be increased to face the challenges of skills and competences, digitalisation and demographic change in the European Union.

4.   Proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights


The EESC has already stated that the EPSR should contribute to a fair balance between the economic and social dimensions of the European Union. The issue of balancing economic and social objectives surpass the construction of a single pillar and touches upon the horizontal foundations of the European Union.


The stated objectives of the Pillar is to contribute to a ‘fair and truly pan-European labour market’ and ‘serve as a compass for renewed convergence within the euro area’ goes beyond the competences in the field of Social Policy Title X TFEU. They strike at the core of economic and monetary policies, as well as the employment strategy under Titles VIII and IX TFEU.


The Pillar outlines 20 ‘principles and rights’ which the Commission deems essential for fair and well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems in the 21st century, grouped under three categories: 1) equal opportunities and access to the labour market, 2) fair working conditions, and 3) social protection and inclusion.


The establishment of the EPSR has both a retrospective and a forward-looking character. It seeks to reflect the existing EU acquis of social rights, and indicates if and how this should be complemented, where necessary, to take account of the major transformations in the world of work and in society, so as to help achieve well-functioning labour markets and welfare systems in a 21st century Europe.


Some clarification is needed regarding the legal nature of the Pillar, which is presented in the form of two separate, though almost identical, instruments: a Commission Recommendation (11) and a proposal for an Interinstitutional Proclamation (12). According to the accompanying Communication, the choice of instruments takes account of broader political considerations and legal limitations, notably restrictions on the EU’s competences in the social policy sphere.


The Recommendation, in exercise of the Commission’s competence under Article 292 TFEU, is effective immediately. It does not indicate expressly whom it is addressed to, but recitals 17-20 clarify that ‘delivering on the European Pillar of Social Rights is a shared commitment and responsibility between the Union, its Member States and the social partners… and should be implemented at both Union and Member State level within their respective competences and in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity’. In this context, the EESC would also highlight that the autonomy of the social partners should be respected.


In parallel, the European Commission also proposes that the EPSR should ‘be solemnly proclaimed jointly by the EU Institutions’. There is no legal basis in the EU Treaties for the Proclamation, although this instrument has been used once before, with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFREU), which was first proclaimed at the Nice European Council on 7 December 2000. The Proclamation needs to be distinguished from an interinstitutional agreement within the meaning of Article 295 TFEU, and, according to the legal assessment of the Council, the proclamation ‘constitutes an atypical act, which is not legally binding and does not create directly enforceable rights’.


The EPSR Proclamation process is also distinct from the Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers, adopted on 9 December 1989. The latter also has a purely declaratory character, but was signed by all the Member States except the UK. It was not a joint declaration adopted together with other European institutions, although the European Commission did present a Social Action Programme to implement the Charter (COM(89) 568 final). Furthermore, it contains provisions on its enforcement.


Insofar as ‘delivering on the European Social Pillar’ is a shared commitment and responsibility between the Union, its Member States and the social partners, it is consistent for the Council and the European Parliament to join the Commission in the solemn proclamation of the Pillar. The EPSR is also meant to have an impact on the economic governance of the EU (European Semester, Social Scoreboard) and therefore it would be an important signal that the Council achieves a consensus to support the Proclamation. Despite acknowledging that the social partners are competent in many domains, the Committee notes that they have not been formally included in the proclamation process (13).


The Committee understands that the Pillar is intended as a political declaration of intent and, in itself, does not create any new actionable legal rights. The Commission makes a distinction between rights and principles: the former are said to reaffirm some of the rights already present in the Union acquis, whereas the principles are said to be new and tend to address the challenges arising from societal, technological and economic developments. Indeed, according to the Communication, neither the principles nor the rights are directly enforceable.


Despite the lack of a legally binding character, such a Proclamation would entail a political commitment on the part of the EU institutions, as well as the Council and the Member States, to deliver on the EPSR, while respecting the division of competences and the principle of subsidiarity.


The CFREU, unlike the EPSR, has the same value as the Treaties and is thus part of primary law, although it does not create new competences at EU-level and, while legally binding for the EU institutions, it is not directly enforceable by EU citizens. It has a broader approach to economic and social rights alike. If, after an appropriate time, the political commitment referred to above has not led in all Member States to concrete initiatives implementing the pillar, appropriate measures, including legal and non-legal initiatives, should be considered. The EESC already asked for a framework directive for a minimum income (14). New legal opinions, e.g. commissioned for the Ministry of Labour in Germany, explore how this could be done (15).


The EESC already highlighted in an opinion in 2011 (16) that fundamental social rights are ‘indivisible’ from civil and political rights and therefore require special strategic attention. It proposed further measures and promotional activities in order to boost the effectiveness of a fundamental rights implementation strategy. The Commission does not sufficiently address the problem of the lack of enforcement of existing social rights and the EESC believes that there is a certain risk that the EPSR blurs the specific role the Commission has to play as ‘guardian of the Treaties’.

5.   Relationship between the Reflection Paper on the social dimension and the European Pillar of Social Rights


The relationship between the EPSR and the social dimension reflection paper, as well as the other reflection papers in the wider future of Europe debate, must also be considered. An analysis of the EPSR shows that several of the scenarios from the White Paper/social dimension reflection paper can indeed be combined in the implementation of the Pillar.


The EPSR is aimed primarily at the Member States in the euro area. In this respect, the philosophy of the EPSR comes closer to a scenario in which ‘those who want to do more, do more’. Monitoring the implementation of the Pillar through the Social Scoreboard with more adequate and suitable indicators and which should be integrated into the European semester, could possibly offer some progress in this direction. Civil society and the social partners should be consulted on these indicators as the current proposal is not sufficient.


Some of the suggested ‘follow-up’ measures advanced in the Communication on the EPSR accord with the EU-27 scenario, while others might seem to be primarily aimed at the ‘those who want to do more’ scenario. Thus, the measures, such as the initiative to promote Work-Life Balance for Working Parents and Carers, presented as part of the Social Pillar package, are intended to be applicable to the EU-27. In the same vein, measures related to the enforcement of existing legislation and social dialogue are also meant to apply to the EU-27. The need to function at a more restricted geographical level could also pose new challenges for the social partners, who are represented at EU level.


Other measures proposed in the Recommendation, such as those related to the European Semester and completion of Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union, are only applicable to and intended for the euro area. They fit better with a ‘those who want to do more’ scenario. In fact, the Reflection Paper mentions, as an example of such a scenario, stronger convergence towards more integrated labour markets and towards the most effective social systems and strongest education and health systems.


EU financial support through the European Social Fund fits better with an EU-27 approach. The idea of making more funding available is in fact mentioned in the Reflection Paper as an example of the EU-27 deepening the social dimension.

6.   Relationship with the other Future of Europe reflection papers


The discussion on the social dimension of Europe cannot take place in isolation and it is, therefore, also important to consider the relationship with the other Future of Europe reflection papers and their key messages on the social dimension and the way forward, even though the EESC will produce separate opinions on some of these papers (17).


The reflection paper on ‘Deeping the Economic and Monetary Union’ outlines jobs, growth, social fairness, economic convergence and financial stability as part of the guiding principles for the deepening of the EMU. This rather seems like a quite limited concept of the social dimension of EMU. First of all, it is not consistent concerning economic and social convergence or especially upward convergence and secondly mainly referring to ‘social fairness’. There is no explanation about the concept or perception of ‘social fairness’, and why it does not refer instead to ‘social justice’ in accordance with Article 3 TFEU.


The EMU reflection paper refers to the strengthening of the coordination of economic policies within the EU Semester, as the key tool. Within the Semester, the EPSR would work as a ‘renewed compass for many such policies towards better working and living conditions’. This would make it necessary to ‘foster further the cooperation and dialogue with Member States, involving national parliaments, social partners, national productivity boards and other stakeholders’ with the aim of ensuring ‘stronger domestic ownership and encourage better reform implementation.’ In the reflection paper, the Commission also emphasises the link between national reforms and existing EU funding. In essence, the discourse on the need for more ownership, involvement of social partners and conditionalities for EU funding are nothing new and just highlights the need for better governance and delivery of the European Semester.


The proposals with regard to a renewed convergence process in the EMU reflection paper are centred on using the EU-level framework to converge, strengthening the coordination of economic policy and reinforcing links between national reforms and existing EU-funding. Views differ on making EU funding conditional on reforms and the EESC recommends that this should only be only possible with the full involvement of the European Parliament in the whole process, on equal terms and with a clear role for the national parliaments also. Greater convergence and stability are expected to occur by pursuing the right structural reforms. While the EESC shares the view that well designed reforms in the Member States concerned can be essential to achieve more upward convergence and make social systems more adequate and resilient, it also emphasises the need for an improved macroeconomic policy mix and a better involvement of social partners within the macroeconomic dialogue, the design of the European Semester process and the connected reforms.


Within the toolbox of the EMU, the Social Scoreboard within the context of the EPSR is seen as one element of the Economic Union, together with the National Boards, to monitor productivity developments. This indicates the connection between deepening EMU and EPSR. The EPSR is intended to be a compass to achieve certain structural reforms in the areas described by the 20 principles.


Annex 2 to the EMU paper mentions the importance of a new start for social dialogue and qualifies the attempt of the European Commission to establish an EPSR as ‘an important step’ (pp. 32-33). In this regard, it is crucial to have a broad understanding of social dialogue, which cannot just be limited to the framework of the Social Policy Title. Although the obligation of the European Union to promote the role of social partners is mentioned in the Social Policy Title, this obligation needs to have implications, where applicable, outside this single policy.


In the reflection paper on ‘Harnessing Globalisation’, the European Commission tries to address growing fears and criticism about current globalisation policies and outcomes. The Commission therefore emphasises that globalisation can be beneficial where properly harnessed, so that not too many people feel left behind.


According to the Commission, robust social policies play an important role in protecting and empowering citizens in this process. They see this as a prerequisite for fostering citizens’ trust and confidence regarding challenges and benefits of globalisation.


The Harnessing Globalisation reflection paper refers specifically to the one on the social dimension. The EESC supports the view that ‘a better distribution of the benefits of globalisation, coupled with effective social protection, will help people find a decent job and adapt to change. More broadly, a fair and equitable redistribution of wealth, as well as focused investments fostering social inclusion of more vulnerable categories of people including migrants, will help to strengthen social cohesion’. This is very much in line with the emphasis the EESC put on the need for fair transitions in the context of digitalisation and globalisation. The Commission also stresses that ‘the EU should also be an innovative and competitive economy with world-leading companies and citizens who can adapt to change and are able to generate the wealth needed to uphold our social model’.


The EESC also supports the view that it is essential to improve global social and labour standards and practices, in close cooperation with the ILO, the social partners and civil society organisations particularly involved in this agenda, such as social economy organisations.


The EESC agrees that the EU can shape the global rulebook not only because it is the world’s largest single market and the largest trade and investor, but also because it believes in global solutions for global challenges. Therefore the European social model, our key values and fundamental rights should be our ‘compass and reference model for a fair globalisation’.


Although the reflection paper on the Future of EU Finances was the last one to be published, the EU budget will be fundamental but will, of course, be determined by the choices made regarding the Future of Europe. The EU finances reflection paper assesses the implications for EU spending according to the five scenarios outlined in the White Paper, which will have a huge impact on citizens, regions and the groups of people who need the most support. Only in the fifth scenario — where Member States agree to do much more together — will a higher amount be spent on economic, social and territorial cohesion.


The departure of the United Kingdom from the EU will have major consequences for the EU budget. The EESC is conscious of the risk that this could result in a reduction of the social funds. The EESC emphasises that the European Social Fund is an important driver for more convergence and should not be reduced if the future challenges are to be met.

7.   The EESC’s priority areas and action on different levels, by relevant actors


In its initial opinion on the EPSR, the EESC has already identified the following main areas where it believes action at EU and/or national level, according to respective competencies, is necessary:

investment and innovation,

employment and quality job creation,

anti-poverty measure, including minimum income,

fair and smooth transitions supported by active labour market policies,

framework conditions in labour markets to support new and more diverse career paths and which support fair working conditions for all,

social protection for all (new forms of work e.g. platforms, etc.),

social investment (skills, transitions etc.),

social services of general interest.


In achieving a consensus on how to proceed, key projects within these areas should be identified. The EU should start with projects that have a direct positive impact and that will be supported by all.

8.   Next steps from the Gothenburg Social Summit (2017) and beyond: a road from principles to rights  (18)?


It has been three years since President Juncker first stated that he wished to deliver a ‘Social Triple A’ for the EU (19). The Juncker Commission started quite late with its initiatives and needed considerable time for the consultations on the EPSR (1 year). Further time elapsed with the launch of the debate on the Future of Europe, without any practical recommendations from the Commission on how to proceed. The European Parliament elections will take place in 2019 and there will also be a new Commission. For many, this time-paradox — on the one hand running out of time to stabilise EMU and the European social model(s) before 2019 and on the other trying to gain time before major elections take place in autumn 2017 — unfortunately prevents the EU from getting back on track.


The Commission’s proposal in April 2017 for a joint Interinstitutional Proclamation on the European Pillar of Social Rights has received mixed reactions. Some think this is important progress, others see it mainly as a symbolic act which is not tangible enough to address the social crisis, and there are even some who fear that it might go too far. After the Gothenburg Social Summit (November 2017), on the basis of the Proclamation of the EPSR and the discussions on the reflection paper on the social dimension of Europe, the EESC encourages all three EU-institutions to develop a positive agenda for the citizens of the EU aimed at reinforcing a European economic and social model fit for the future, by promoting economic growth, employment, the well-being of citizens and upward convergence in employment and social outcomes.


Much uncertainty still surrounds the Pillar, not least whether it will be proclaimed by all the Member States. If it is, a key question for the EESC will be to determine what steps need to be taken to ensure it can be an effective instrument. The EESC believes that further steps will need to be taken at the most appropriate level, including joint initiatives in key areas where EU action provides clear added value and, where possible, should be focused on outcomes. The EESC believes that a clear roadmap for the implementation of the EPSR would help to foster convergence and achieve its objectives.


The EESC also proposes that impact assessments should also include an evaluation of compatibility with the EPSR. Within the better regulation agenda, there should be more focus on whether and how initiatives facilitate social progress for citizens and can be easily complied with and enforced.


The EESC sees its role as monitoring this process, supporting it via debates at national level, and as insisting that more transparency and participation of civil society is necessary. It also warns against new complex processes or approaching the future of the EU mainly via an institutional perspective.

Brussels, 19 October 2017.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS

(1)  OJ C 125, 21.4.2017, p. 10.

(2)  Building a Social Pillar for European Convergence, ILO 18 July 2016.

(3)  https://ec.europa.eu/commission/white-paper-future-europe-reflections-and-scenarios-eu27_en

(4)  https://ec.europa.eu/commission/priorities/deeper-and-fairer-economic-and-monetary-union/european-pillar-social-rights_en

(5)  OJ C 125, 21.4.2017, p. 10.

(6)  Complying with Europe: EU Harmonisation and Soft Law in the Member States, Gerda Falkner, Oliver Treib, Miriam Hartlapp, 2007.

(7)  e.g. OJ C 376, 22.12.2011, p. 74.

(8)  OJ C 271, 19.9.2013, p. 1.

OJ C 451, 16.12.2014, p. 10.

OJ C 13, 15.1.2016, p. 33.

(9)  OJ C 143, 22.5.2012, p. 23.

OJ C 271, 19.9.2013, p. 1.

(10)  This is the proposal from the Commission regarding ‘Deepening the EMU’.

(11)  OJ L 113, 29.4.2017, p. 56.

(12)  Additionally, the Recommendation and Proclamation were accompanied by a headline Communication and a number of other accompanying non-legislative initiatives including a Social Scoreboard to monitor progress, two social partner consultations, and a legislative proposal for a Directive on Work-Life Balance, which is the subject of a separate opinion by the EESC.

(13)  See European Commission Communication Establishing the European Pillar of Social Rights, p. 6, COM(2017) 250 final.

(14)  OJ C 170, 5.6.2014, p. 23 (this opinion did not receive the support of the Employers’ Group; see http://www.eesc.europa.eu/resources/docs/statement-minimum-income.pdf).

(15)  ‘Ein verbindlicher EU-Rechtsrahmen für soziale Sicherungssysteme in den Mitgliedstaaten’, Legal opinion by Prof. Dr Thorsten Kingreen, September 2017.

(16)  OJ C 376, 22.12.2011, p. 74.

(17)  Deepening EMU by 2025 (ECO/438) (see page 124 of this Official Journal), EU finances by 2025 (ECO/439) (see page 131 of this Official Journal).

(18)  Note: this is an important chapter related to governance and implementation issues, such as the European semester and the role of the social partners, as well as what role the EESC can play. It must be fully developed. The following text provides an overview of the (political) steps taken regarding the EPSR.

(19)  22 October 2014, European Parliament.


Synopsis of the Social Dimension


Scenario 1

‘Only Free Movement’

Scenario 2

‘Enhanced Cooperation’

Scenario 3

‘Deepen Social Dimension with all’

EESC Scenario 4

‘Deepen Social Dimension where possible & focus more on outcomes’

Demographic development and new family patterns

Could create new pull and push factors especially for qualified citizens to leave country, look for better pay.

27 solutions/less convergence to new family patterns/gender roles in society

Could also create new pull and push factors especially for qualified citizens to move to ‘avant-garde’ MS.

Innovative solutions for new work-life balance, gender-equality/better participation of women in labour market, etc. in avant-garde countries.

Better use and design of EU labour market via common standards, more convergence.

Same pension age in EU, linked to life expectancy (but big protest in many countries).

Strong benchmarks for labour market outcomes (participation women/vulnerable groups/older people, decent work)

Benchmarks for social protection (benefits and services)

Legislative and non-legislative measures for work-life balance measures to improve living & working conditions


Transformation of work

Instead of 1 EU regulation, will have 27 solutions concerning platform work, working time, AI, etc. but national answers will be limited

New solutions could be found to better protect and enable citizens and embark on changes, by limiting risks. Other MS might follow later. Easier to find qualified workers via common standards & single social security number.

1 standard/rules employment status platform workers, new innovative solutions & projects.

EU IT systems

Make future of work a positive project

Benchmark effective and targeted active labour market policies (ALMP) to reach good employment outcomes

Transition to Work 4.0 to be accompanied by a parallel transition to Welfare 4.0

Framework conditions in labour markets need to support new and more diverse career paths

Need for framework for fair working conditions for all

Enable citizens to make the necessary transitions (skills, new jobs)


EU Social model no reference model for fair globalisation, harder to set standards globally

Avant-garde limited reference model for globalisation. Avant-garde via joint tools and funds provides better for transitions/provide skills

EU Social model can be stronger reference model for fair globalisation, helps to set standards globally by setting standards for biggest common market worldwide.

An EU economic and social model based on increasing employment, social progress and productivity

Implementing SDGs, especially 1 (No Poverty), 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 5 (Gender Equality) and 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth)

Disparities between MS and within MS

Increase disparities, no EU funding any more for creating more convergence. MS have to create their own funds, will further increase disparities

Disparities between avant-garde countries and rest of MS increase. Could lead to different ‘business-models’ and new pull-push factors for companies

Would significantly decrease via upward convergence.

Special monitoring/action via benchmarks and financial incentives

Benchmarks in social protection (eligibility conditions, benefits duration and levels)

European Fund for Strategic Investment and European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) to create jobs and promote territorial and social cohesion

Rise in inequalities/poverty

Will continue even faster in some MS, others will be able to protect their citizens better by limiting intervention of ECJ rulings etc. Will increase inequalities by more social/wage dumping

Reduced inequalities through better compensation via social policies in avant-garde countries, probably more inequality in others

Could be reduced via common standards and policies.

Workers to be covered by fundamental labour standards and adequate social protection

Further efforts towards convergence of wages and establishing minimum wages in Member States

Examine the idea of a European minimum income

EU and national initiatives to enhance social protection (social security, social assistance, social services, healthcare, housing)

Competiveness of companies

Less EU regulation but more costly to comply with 27 different regulations concerning health & safety, working time etc.

In general, more complexity in monitoring/enforcing rules. Competitiveness could also improve by more convergence & new innovative solutions in avant-garde countries but also for some business models by less regulation in ‘left-out-countries’

Equal level playing field, less bureaucracy by 1 standard and best use of EU labour market and skills policies (e.g. improved Erasmus* etc.)

Reduced costs via joint IT solutions and also through simple recognition of diplomas etc.

Sound macroeconomic policies fostering a favourable business environment for employment growth

Rooting the agenda for new skills and jobs in the notion of balanced flexicurity

Solution oriented social dialogue contributing to competitiveness

Acceptance of EU integration by citizens

Social regulation can be done closer to citizens, but acceptance for integration could diminish if race to the bottom increases

Acceptance in countries left out probably shrinks, if social realties get worse because MS might lower social standards to attract business. In avant-garde it might increase


EPSR to be a positive project for all to help regain trust in the EU’s ability to improve life prospects, sufficient employment opportunities and fair working conditions for all

More effective and democratic economic governance, notably in the euro area, to tackle imbalances


Divergence driver

Big change/step back

Considerable consequences for life of citizens

‘Kind of Soft-Brexit-Scenario’ for all

Risk ‘race to the bottom’

Free movement mobility regulation could be of higher quality (less but better) and also better implemented/controlled by Commission

More convergence between some MS, but wider gaps with others (increase semi-divergence)

Not policy by lowest common denominator

Rights of citizens vary in MS

Risks erosion of single market

Driver for convergence, major change

Joint values/rights strengthened

Binding measure, benchmarks 27 MS (employment, education, welfare systems)

EU funding linked to performance benchmarks (conditionalities)

Driver for convergence, major change

Joint values/rights promoted and enforced

Common reference frameworks for income support for those in need

Binding measures in the European Semester, benchmarks 27 MS (employment, education, welfare systems)

Increased EU funding for social cohesion and investment (respecting the Stability and Growth Pact, no conditionalities)

Tools to achieve the goals in Scenarios 1-4

EU Semester

Social Scoreboard as part of EU Semester

Financial incentives via MFF

EPSR, guiding rights and principles

Road map to implement EPSR (including legislative and non-legislative measures).

Social dialogue