Editor's note

International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Saturday, 16.12.2017, 03:36

Creating a new social standards union

Eugene Eteris, European Studies Faculty, RSU, BC International Editor, Copenhagen/Riga, 21.11.2017.Print version

Commission’s new round of talks with trade unions and employers' organisations at the EU level and in the member states will show the ways to support moves to social protection for people in various employment schemes as well as self-employed. Thus, a new - “social standards union” shall be created, but is the three year-old idea really feasible?

The present Commission has made a priority of building a fairer and more social Europe, as was reflected in the Political Guidelines of July 2014. In September 2015, on the occasion of President Juncker's first State of the Union, the Commission President underlined that the EU and the states had “to step up” the work for a fair and pan-European labour market. The European Pillar of Social Rights was supposed to be an integral part of these efforts to take into account the changing EU’s social realities and global labour situation.


The Commission presented the Pillar of Social Rights as a Commission Recommendation, which became effective as of 26 April 2017; together with a proposal for a joint proclamation by the Parliament, the Council and the Commission. The text of the proclamation was signed by all parties at the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth (17 November 2017 in Gothenburg, Sweden), following discussions between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the EU states.


Presently, the EU states’ national social systems remain diverse and generally separate. In order to avoid social fragmentation and social dumping in Europe, the EU member states should adhere to the European Pillar of Social Rights’ principles.


It is a necessity that corresponding EU social institutions and bodies, as well as those in the member states should work for a unique European Social Standards Union, in which both sides shall agree on what constitutes a socially fair EU, involving all employment structures. 

Social rights’ pillar as a background for a new “social union”

An important step towards a new “social standards union” should be a practical implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which has been recently proclaimed at the Social Summit in Gothenburg  by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission.  


Commenting on the proclamation, Commission Vice-President for the Euro and Social Dialogue, Valdis Dombrovskis, said that a new system of labour relations should provided some protection regardless of the type of jobs involved, which was the main rationale behind the Pillar of Social Rights. In the new “world of work system”, all workers need to have access to social protection, whether they are employed with standard contracts, new types of contracts or self-employed.


He added that the Commission wanted the EU’s social protection systems to be sustainable, adequate and fair; therefore consultations with social partners were needed to create a right system.

Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen added that the Commission moved forward with another concrete initiative under the European Pillar of Social Rights. It is about the EU-member states’ efforts to cover every worker with some social protection schemes based on workers’ contributions. “This is important to make sure that the EU social protection systems is adequate, sustainable and in respect of inter-generational fairness”, she added. 


Suffice it to say that in 2016, less than 40% of employed people in the EU were in non-standard employment or self-employed, half of whom were at risk of not having sufficient access to social protection and related employment services. References and additional estimates can be seen at:  

Commission Staff Working Document: 'Analytical document' accompanying the Consultation document: “Second phase Consultation of Social Partners under Article 154 TFEU on a possible action addressing the challenges of access to social protection for people in all forms of employment in the framework of the European Pillar of Social Rights”.

Second round of talks

Present situation in the labour market is characterized by quick changes, by new forms of contracts and working conditions are emerging, people move and change more frequently their jobs- and employment- statuses. The share of non-standard employment and self-employment is increasing in the labour market, especially among young people.


Nowadays, due to their employment status, persons in non-standard employment and self-employed are not sufficiently secured; as a consequence, they are exposed to higher economic uncertainty and lower protection against social risks.


The Commission aims to support access to social protection on the basis of contributions from all people in line with the relevant principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights.


The Pillar is making the European “social market model” adequate to social needs and future-proof for inter-generational fairness.


To achieve this goal, and in line with the Union’s TFEU and its commitment to social dialogue, the Commission is asking the opinion of the social partners by launching a new stage of partners’ consultation. The social partners now have 7 weeks to let the Commission know if they are willing to negotiate. In parallel, a wider public consultation is also open to collect the views of all relevant stakeholders such as public authorities, companies, the self-employed, platform workers and the civil society.


Drawing on the conclusions of these consultations, the Commission intends to present a proposal in the first half of 2018.

Common efforts needed

The implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights needs efforts from both sides, i.e. social issues are the shared responsibility between the EU institutions and the member states.

From the side of the EU, the Commission presented several legislative proposals to implement the Pillar, including a recent proposal to improve the work-life balance of working parents and carers. The Commission also launched two social partner consultations: one to modernise the rules on labour contracts, and another one on access to social protection for all.


From 26 April to 23 June 2017, social partners had the occasion to express their views on both topics. Then, during 21 September 2017 until 3 November 2017, a second stage on modernising the rules on labour contracts went on.


On 20 November 2017, started a new stage of the consultation on access to social protection. Together with this stage, the Commission is organasing consultations with key stakeholders, e.g. representatives of the self-employed groups, civil society, trade unions and social protection providers. In the recent State of the Union address (13 September 2017), the President confirmed the Commission's commitment to move forward with the Pillar as an essential means to create a deeper, fairer and more social internal market. 

Conclusion

The ideas of the European-wide social rights’ pillar and a new “social union” are good enough and quite perspective: the EU integration definitely forms a background for social protection for all kind of “workers” included. Thus, social security network should involve as well all citizens and wide population in the member states.


Besides, the idea of implementing “social union” in the member states, generally, shall include both political and economic decision-making; and here lies the actual problems. On the political side, it is about adopting the national development model with the trend to social security; on the economic side –the desire and real intention to devote a bigger share of national budget for social needs and ultimately, to people’s wellbeing.     


In this regard, “common efforts” are simply quite enough: the main stumbling block is still there, i.e. existing big differences in wages among the member states. For example, Latvian/Bulgarian, etc. doctors lose incentives to stay in the country as wages in Germany are 4-5 times higher. Then, unemployment benefits are completely inadequate among the member states: having a residence status in France or Belgium, a Latvian/Rumanian, etc. worker can get 3-4 times higher remuneration than at home. Such examples can go on and on…


Thus, the idea of creating a new “social standards union” –just three years old- might sound good enough, but there are quite a few existing conditions to deliver. Anyone knows a good advice on practical introduction of such “standards” in so different -in the quality of life- EU member states?   


More information on: = MEMO: Delivering on the European Pillar of Social Rights, and =Website on the European Pillar of Social Rights.


Reference: Commission press release “Moving forward on the European Pillar of Social Rights: Commission seeks to promote social protection for all”, Brussels, 20 November 2017. In:

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-4709_en.htm?locale=en; Latvian version at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-4709_lv.htm; and Lithuanian version at:

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-4709_lt.htm   





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