At a Committee of the Regions meeting earlier this year, Ana Paula Zacarias, Secretary of State of European Affairs in Portugal, which holds the rotating EU presidency and is hosting the Social Summit in Porto today, said that local and regional leaders are “the driving forces of local communities and play a key role in response to the crisis”. Indeed, the proximity of local public social services to those they serve puts them in a unique position to better understand the reality on the ground. This knowledge is key in decision-making to fund transformation programmes and deliver services that make a difference to people.

Public social services, represented by the European Social Network (ESN) at European level, are hoping the Social Summit can produce an agenda that guarantees a post-pandemic economic recovery that integrates an important social dimension alongside the environmental and digital objectives already set. This means prioritising social inclusion and supporting public social services that protect the most vulnerable in our societies and who are facing very serious challenges in the wake of the pandemic.

Asked about their expectations regarding Portugal’s presidency, our members highlight that in the current context of an escalating economic and social crisis generated by the pandemic, it is crucial to strengthen the social dimension within national policy reform plans so that resources are made available through the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility.

European policies, such as the Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights and its 20 principles, the Disability Strategy, the Child Guarantee, or financial instruments such as Recovery Funds and the European Social Fund Plus, could be a transformational opportunity for public social services. In an environment of severe global uncertainty, the role of public authorities has been increasingly seen as more reliable than individual interests and free market principles. This being the case, European policy and funding decisions represent an important opportunity to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

The European Commission (EC) is taking steps to provide a roadmap and clear targets for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights launched in 2017. Indeed, the Porto summit has been presented as a follow-up effort to ensure the objectives of 2017 are enacted. But this will only be effective if applied through partnering with regional and local social services that have a statutory duty to advance social inclusion. As of now, there is a lack of specific proposals for how this engagement could take place.

In addition, the proposed actions could be reinforced to include investment in important areas of improvement for social services like workforce strategies, community and home based approaches for older adults, or family-based support for children. These are key to the implementation of most Pillar principles and a crucial economic investment to ensure that nobody is left behind and everyone can contribute to our societies.

National governments’ support for stronger social cohesion and inclusion is very much needed considering that the Covid-19 crisis has had a devastating impact on the economic and social life of many European countries. However, the Covid-19 crisis is not only leading to further impoverishment and social exclusion, the negative employment and social consequences could also endanger the functioning of the internal market itself and the foundation for long-term economic recovery. For all these reasons, there are high expectations that the Porto Social Summit will conclude with a clear commitment to implementing the agreed principles and providing the resources to make them a reality.