Responsibility for social policies lies primarily with national government. The European Commission, through EU funding and the European Semester, supports national efforts to implement policy principles in practice.

Public social services in local authorities have the statutory duty of promoting social inclusion. However, their involvement in decision-making has been weak, our European Semester Reference Group found.

ESN and EU social policy: an overview

The European Commission launched in 2017 the European Pillar of Social Rights as an instrument to reach a ‘Triple A’ social Europe. The European Social Network also launched a position paper on the Pillar, where we make suggestions so that the Pillar reaches out to local communities across Europe.

The Europe 2020 Strategy was launched in March 2010 to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in the EU. The Strategy was built around five headline targets in the areas of employment, research and development, climate and energy, education and the fight against poverty and social exclusion.

The European Semester, introduced in 2011, is the yearly cycle of coordination of economic and budgetary policies between the European Commission and Member States, and a tool for the implementation of the 2020 Strategy in Member States. With its Reference Group on the European Semester, ESN aims to give visibility to social issues and the challenges faced by public social services at local level.

In 2016, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, announced the introduction of a European Pillar of Social Rights, “a reference framework to screen the employment and social performance of participating Member States”.

  • Download ESN’s response to the consultation. In this paper, we analyse the Pillar’s priorities in light of recent social welfare trends, and make suggestions to ensure its implementation.
  • Click here to view our latest news on the topic.

European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) represent a significant share of Member States investment in employment and social inclusion. For 2014-2020, at least 20% of the European Social Fund (ESF) must be allocated to social inclusion

Another major piece of social policy guidance is the Social Investment Package. This policy framework, proposed by the European Commission and adopted by Member States in 2013, encourages investment in human capital and people’s skills and capabilities throughout the life cycle.

The quality of social services has been increasingly important for public authorities, services providers and users. Through the Voluntary European Quality Framework, adopted in 2010 by the Social Protection Committee, the EU encouraged cooperation and the exchange of good practice in the field.

Other ESN resources

For more information on our work at EU level, please contact our policy team at