FEPS Fresh Thinking

Social Europe – Finally?

Today’s gathering in Gothenburg might be a real advancement for Social Europe and for prioritising the social and welfare concerns of European citizens. Let us remind ourselves that on November 16th 1997 the then prime minister of Luxembourg, Jean Claude Juncker, held the first European summit on social issues. This summit should have been the starting point for a more social and more equitable Europe that would enable the European Union to fight against unemployment and social inequalities. Now it is again Jean Claude Juncker who has invited heads of state to a summit on Social Europe. This is an achievement, even if it comes 19 years too late for compensating the devastating austerity policies of the last years.

For him and his political EPP family, this may represent a great success and the culmination of a political project. For the progressives it is nothing more than the first achievement in a long-term strategy and battle to look more thoroughly at the establishment of a Europe with a triple social AAA. The need for defining a concrete Social Action Plan, as the Party of the European Socialists (PES) is urging, will hopefully give real bite to some of the points solemnly declared today.

Let us also remind ourselves that a Fundamental Rights Charter was signed with great pomp in 2000 and it was only made enforceable seven years later with the Lisbon Treaty. So, let us be confident that today’s Declaration will help us providing a better legal framework to protect social rights and that it won’t take another 7 years to implement it.

Let us also remind ourselves that, according to the latest published figures, unemployment is still at 8.9% in the Euro area and unemployment of the younger generation is still over 20% in some member states. The question of social dumping within the European Union is still not solved. Divergences among national welfare systems show the urgent need for an EU-wide approach to social and welfare policies. The resurgence of national populism and old-style welfare chauvinism, combined with ongoing tax competition and reduced procurement of public goods, this should inspire us to develop new strategies and to make steps to promote real social investment and to develop new instruments and means of higher and more targeted spending on active labour market policies, childcare, education, research and support for the disabled.

The overall challenge we face in times of globalisation is how to rethink social policy so that labour markets and families are welfare optimisers and that there is a guarantee that tomorrow’s adult will be productive and resourceful to make our societies just and more equitable.

If this is achieved we can applaud for a real Social Europe, which should be the final goal of our path that began 60 years ago in Rome.

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