The European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker has initiated an effort to achieve a deeper and fairer Economic and Monetary Union within the EU. As part of this process, the European Commission has entered into a dialogue with social partners, civil society and citizens about the current and future opportunities and challenges for Europe’s welfare systems.

The key instrument within this process is the Commission’s proposal for a Pillar of Social Rights and the on-going  public consultation, which is gathering views on three key areas: access to employment, fairer working conditions and social protection. This consultation takes place in the context of a changing world of work, demographic ageing, and rising inequalities. Its results are expected to feed into the development of new social policies, that are better suited to find effective responses to pressing problems.

Bringing the Pillar to the local level

On the occasion of ESN’s meeting of the Reference Group on the European Semester, Commission’s representatives and those with social services responsibilities in regional and local authorities discussed the proposal, its main topical areas and the consultation process. The third area on adequate and sustainable social protection is closest to ESN members’ competences, because it features themes like integrated social benefits and services. It also addresses long-term care, childcare, housing, and the access to essential services. Gelu Calacean (European Commission) outlined milestones in developing the pillar, two of which are a closing conference (early 2017) and a White Paper on the Economic and Monetary Union (foreseen for spring 2017).

During the discussions about the potential of the emerging Pillar of Social Rights, Bart Vanhercke (European Social Observatory), who works with ESN on the Semester group, explains that the time frame for the open consultation is “unusually long” and argues that stakeholders should see this time frame as an opportunity to explore ways to link it with the European Semester. This link can be created by drawing on statistics from public administrations and by incorporating the view of social service practitioners on their work with vulnerable groups like young people in public care, long-term unemployed, or isolated older people. Participants agreed that a combination of data and professional experience can provide an evidence base for informed policy development.

Conclusion

In these discussions, it was agreed that a more social Europe was desirable. To make that happen, the European Commission and representatives of public social services entered into a dialogue to determine ‘what is needed’ and ’what works’ in policy and practice. This dialogue across governance levels shifts the consultation into a unique opportunity to shape a more social Europe for the future.