What Kind of Europe do we want for our children?
by Mike STANNETT
The Salvation Army EU Affairs Office recently attended a meeting that was hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee, and organised by Eurodiaconia to discuss the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR).
The Pillar is a set of 20 ‘principles’ to give a renewed focus on social protection and employment as a consequence of austerity. It is currently limited to only the Eurozone countries but is open to other Member States on a voluntary basis. Whilst the Pillar is not binding, (although some legal initiatives will accompany the Pillar); the initiative should encourage necessary changes and improve the implementation of existing social and labour protection rights.
Opportunities and obstacles
Speakers highlighted that the Pillar gives the EU the opportunity for a new social era after austerity and that it could give a new vision for a social Europe. ‘A New commission will be elected in 2019, the EU needs to show this (pillar) works by this date to encourage people to vote and trust the EU’ said Gabrielle Bischoff EESC Rapporteur on the EPRS. However many stressed that the Pillar must become more than a set of principles and intentions but should be implemented to make positive changes and strengthen social rights.
Member of European Parliament Maria Joao Rodrigues said this was an ‘opportunity to correct the imbalances of the growing divergences without which there is no future for the EU’… However she stressed that economic and financial conditions are not the main limitations to adopting the Pillar but rather a lack of political will. The Pillar offers the opportunity as a project to reaffirm trust from EU Citizens she said.
Officer for EU Affairs, Major Mike Stannett raised the question whether the Pillar would actually lift people out of poverty or only reduce the flow of people falling into poverty? In response to this, it was acknowledged that the EU is limited in the impact of the Pillar as it is essentially up to the member states to interpret and implement it. Therefore we must push our governments, and engage in how the Pillar is implemented in our areas of interest.
Legal adviser from the Church of Finland stressed ‘It is the call and duty of the church to reach out to the most vulnerable of society, and asked what kind of Europe do we want for ourselves and our children’. The churches can contribute to promote unity as facilitators/bridge builders and awareness raising she said.
Klaus Heeger Secretary General of CESI (independent trade unions) stress that ‘Awareness raising is key to everything for employees to the functioning of the rights…We should use the pillar to confront government at all levels’. He argued that a general framework directive on decent work would be needed and raised the question whether social insurance should be considered as an obligation or as a right. He questioned whether new types of work such as 0 hours contracts etc. could also be considered forms of exploitation…
The Pillar has so far been proposed by the European Commission to be (hopefully) jointly proclaimed by the European Parliament and the Council later this year. There is opportunity for the Pillar to relate more to the EU 2020 Semester, as well as the Millennium Sustainable Development Goals.
Although the principles are non-binding, other legal initiatives are being proposed accompanying the Pillar such as a Directive on work-life balance, which would include EU legislation on paternity/ parental and carers leave for example. (See more here). The Pillar will be supported by a scoreboard to track trends and performances, but these criteria need to be commonly accepted throughout the EU.
Disappointingly the Pillar makes no specific provision for undocumented / irregular people. They are generally covered by a number of human rights conventions but many countries and municipalities ignore these to some degree or another.
Conclusions for the Salvation Army
The Pillar is most likely to be endorsed and therefore we will have to work with it. We should see this as an opportunity to use it for the benefit of those we serve.
- It is an opportunity for us to hold local municipal and national authorities to account.
- We should engage in helping to interpret and implement the Pillar at all levels of opportunity, as a best support for those in our care.
- There are still the undocumented/irregular people, not just migrants but other vulnerable people that we need to help receive social justice and protection.
- The Millennium Sustainable Developments Goals for Europe/EU. We should look to what we are doing throughout Europe and see how what we do relates to these goals and perhaps publicise more where we are having an effect and bearing sustainable fruit. This could also relate to what the ISJC do in this regards but add a European element to the successes we have in the developing and developed world.
Learn more about the European Pillar of Social Rights HERE
Read the full event report here